Newly filed felony riot charges against four men detail how hundreds of thrill-seekers have swarmed Minneapolis intersections for street racing and other dangerous stunts that have unnerved neighborhoods for the past two years.
These "intersection takeovers," as law enforcement calls them in criminal complaints filed Thursday in Hennepin County District Court, involve high-powered sports cars spinning just feet from spectators.
Along with the obvious danger — spectators have been struck, and two people were shot and killed at separate meetups last year — the gatherings "have been used as open-air drug markets, where illegal drugs are sold and consumed," according to Thursday's charging documents, which focused on numerous episodes in Minneapolis.
Prosecutors have identified a 24-year-old Minneapolis man as a major organizer of the gatherings. A felony riot complaint filed Thursday calls Ayyoob Dawood Abdus-Salam "a known promoter" of intersection takeovers.
"These meetups are often organized and coordinated via promoters on social media, where they direct large groups to several locations through an evening," the complaints against him and others read.
"Organizers will ask for people to go to a particular intersection to perform an 'intersection takeover.' These events have been known to draw large crowds, sometimes several hundreds of people," the court filing continued. "Participants and spectators will use their vehicles to intentionally block public roadways to create an open space in an intersection."
Named as fugitive accomplices are 23-year-old Desmond L. Walker Jr. of St. Paul Park; 24-year-old Elijah M. Grove-Thomas of Cottage Grove; and 31-year-old Ahmed A. Ghedi of Minneapolis.
"Street racing causes a massive disturbance to public peace and public safety," Dan Mabley, chief criminal deputy county attorney, said Friday. "These individuals have been destructive to public and private properties … and these takeovers have been the sites of numerous other criminal activities like shootings and homicides."
The gunfire, roaring engines, squealing tires, loud music and the odor of burning rubber have spanned Minneapolis — downtown, Uptown, on the North Side and on E. Lake Street — and have prompted 299 calls to 911 in Minneapolis this year through July 8, the criminal charges revealed.
"Residents, visitors and others from across our Minneapolis neighborhoods have expressed frustration with the dangerous, disruptive conduct that takes place during street racing and hot rod gatherings," said Interim Police Chief Amelia Huffman. "This is not harmless fun and our officers will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to address criminal behavior that places people at risk."
Rachel Jensen lost her 19-year-old daughter, Vanessa, to gunfire in June 2021 that erupted amid street racing at a north Minneapolis intersection that remains a popular takeover target.
The street racers and spectators "are still going to the corner where my daughter's memorial is," said Rachel Jensen, of Lindstrom, Minn. "How can you do that?"
The day after Vanessa Jensen's death, 17-year-old Nicholas Enger, of Cambridge, Minn., died when he was shot while watching street racing on E. Lake Street, where Hiawatha Avenue passes overhead.
The Jensens established their own reward fund in hopes of finding the shooter, and it stands at $17,000. More than a year later, Jensen's killer and Enger's are still at large.
By the time police arrive at any intersection takeover, the perpetrators have driven or run from the scene, leaving behind damage to street surfaces so extensive it "can be observed on a satellite view on Google Maps," the charges pointed out.
The price of road repairs often runs into the thousands of dollars from even one night's mayhem. After barely an hour of burnouts, doughnuts and spinners one evening last summer at W. Broadway and N. Penn Avenue, nearly $10,000 in road damage was left for the city to repair, according to an account in one of Thursday's criminal complaints.
In May 2021, dozens of people converged near the Farmers Market on the edge of downtown, where a driver hit and critically injured a 14-year-old boy and slightly injured two other teenagers among the dozens of people watching.
Markques Floyd, 21, of Little Canada, charged with criminal vehicular operation, expressed regret in a brief conversation with the Star Tribune a month later: "I sincerely apologize and hope the 14-year-old is OK." He pleaded not guilty, and his case remains unresolved.
Arrests are pending for all the men charged in Hennepin County this week, and the court has issued warrants for their apprehension. The County Attorney's Office said it has recently filed nine cases in connection with street racing and related disruptive behavior. The office said it has dedicated two of its senior attorneys to pursuing such prosecutions.
One meetup downtown on the Fourth of July included fireworks brandished as weapons by participants. Residents in high-rises documented the violence, posting videos on social media and sharing their fear and concern.
On Friday, one day after the charges were filed, Mayor Jacob Frey said in a statement, "Our police are stepping up to get the perpetrators of these violent crimes off the street and to keep our residents safe. Our officers have a tough job on their hands, and they deserve credit for this progress."
Thursday's complaint against Abdus-Salam focused on the April 9 intersection takeover, where Vanessa Jensen was killed 10 months earlier.
"Vehicles were lining all sides of the intersection," the complaint read, describing a gathering of brightly colored Dodge Chargers in the midst of vehicles stacked up to five deep at times as a large group of people swarmed the scene.
A green Charger "does donuts in the intersection with a person hanging a majority of their body out the car," the court filing continued. "Another person is seen getting onto the vehicle and is hanging [on] while the spinning continues. … The purple Charger enters the intersection with multiple people hanging off each side."
Yet another Charger joined in and struck a spectator. Undaunted, the driver continued going in circles for 3 minutes, the complaint noted.
Rachel Jensen said there are numerous videos online of the chaotic car scenes at that spot where her daughter was shot.
"I see these every week," she said. "I see her cross in the video. It's heart-wrenching."