In warning that “outside agitators” had infiltrated local protests over the death of George Floyd, a black man killed by Minneapolis police, state officials outlined a list of concerning developments, including cars stripped of their license plates driving around town.
But at least one case charged Tuesday in Hennepin County District Court showed that a group of mostly local young men were riding in one of the mysterious vehicles.
Police allegedly recovered two guns, a hammer and an “electric grinding tool” from the men.
Authorities charged Junior G. Smith, 24, of Rochester; Augustine Z. Livingstone, 22, of Ramsey, Minn.; and Peter Shin, 29, of St. Paul.
They face one count of second-degree riot, armed with a dangerous weapon.
State authorities warned at a Sunday news conference focused heavily on the alleged threat of outsiders that such cars had been found loaded with rocks and weapons, and that caches of incendiaries had been discovered near sites of protests and vandalism.
They later backed off the claims after some arrest data didn’t support the claim that outsiders were the bulk of the troublemakers.
According to the complaint against the three suspects: Minneapolis police were responding to looting and someone with a gun near S. Pillsbury Avenue and E. Lake Street about 12:50 a.m. Sunday.
“The area was recently subject to many instances of arson, structure fires, burglary, looting, assaults, vehicles driving with no license plates at high speed and other riotous activities,” the charges said.
The city was under a curfew issued by Gov. Tim Walz that went into effect at 8 p.m. in an attempt to curb widespread vandalism and arson that ultimately damaged more than 300 businesses in the metro.
Police saw a Mercedes sedan with no visible license plates speed down Lake Street.
The car turned onto Pillsbury, pulled into a parking area and backed out onto Pillsbury, the charges said.
“Officers ordered the vehicle to stop with guns drawn,” according to the complaint.
The vehicle’s occupants complied.
Police ordered the men out of the vehicle and found Smith with a loaded pistol in his waistband, the charges said.
Smith also allegedly carried a backpack containing a hammer and spray paint.
Shin allegedly had a backpack with a firearm and an “electric grinding tool,” the charges said.
Livingstone was allegedly driving.
A fourth man who was not charged told police he was from Portland, Ore., and traveled to Minnesota to witness the protests.
Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington on Sunday said authorities had intercepted such cars, which often had their lights turned off and windows blacked out.
Some suspects fled while others were arrested, he said, adding that he didn’t have “any credible evidence of any specific group being here in Minnesota.”
On Monday, Matthew Lee Rupert, 28, of Galesburg, Ill., was charged in federal court for traveling to Minnesota to riot.
He allegedly lit a store on fire and looted an Office Depot. Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets every day for a week after officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck on May 25, killing him as he said he couldn’t breathe.
Bystanders, one of whom recorded the incident on video seen around the world, also pleaded with Chauvin and his three colleagues to stop.