Prosecutors filed criminal charges Friday against eight counter-demonstrators who attended a pro-Trump rally in March at the State Capitol where scuffles broke out.
Two men were charged with felonies, including using tear gas and obstructing the legal process.
Six other people face lesser misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor charges, including fleeing on foot and concealing their identity in a public place by wearing masks.
“When people seek to prevent others who are peacefully assembled from making their voices heard, it threatens the very foundation of our democracy,” Ramsey County Attorney John Choi said at a news conference announcing the charges.
Added St. Paul City Attorney Samuel Clark, “From the beginning, this has never been about what anybody had to say at the Capitol on March 4.”
The charges stem from a confrontation at a rally of about 400 people at the Capitol rotunda in support of President Donald Trump. The rally-goers had a permit. “Protesters, most of whom were peaceful, arrived for a counter demonstration,” according to a statement from the county attorney’s office.
Some of the counter demonstrators had their faces covered, wore goggles and tried to enter the rally from a second-floor staircase, according to the charges. Some of them used smoke bombs, a chemical irritant and fireworks. State troopers and St. Paul police arrested several people.
Choi’s office originally declined to file felony charges but asked for more investigation, leading to the charges brought Friday.
Anton Bueckert, 26, of Ontario, was charged with two felony counts of obstructing the legal process and use of tear gas, and third-degree riot, a gross misdemeanor. A state trooper had his thumb broken during Bueckert’s arrest.
Francis Sagermerek, 29, of St. Paul, made a first court appearance on Friday. He is charged with use of tear gas, and third-degree riot.
Also charged by the city attorney’s office for misdemeanors or gross misdemeanors were Jonathan Marc Adams, 26, of Minneapolis; Starr Vann-Jackson, 20, of St. Paul; Glenn Kimball, 22, of Minneapolis; Isabell Kimball, 26, of Minneapolis; Hayley Ryan, 23, of Webster, Minn.; and Linwood Kaine, 24, of Minneapolis. Kaine is the son of U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., the Democratic candidate for vice president in the 2016 election.
Teresa Nelson, interim executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota, said some charges raised troubling questions.
“We believe that laws prohibiting concealing your face in public violates the First Amendment because there are exceptions in the statute for entertainment purposes, so they are telling you can wear a mask for some reasons and not others,” she said. “This is a broad restriction on speech.”