Several demonstrators gathered outside the Ramsey County courthouse Thursday and called for the dismissal of all criminal charges against Philando Castile’s cousin in connection with a demonstration on Interstate 94.
Louis B. Hunter, 37, of St. Louis Park, was charged in July with two counts of felony second-degree riot with a dangerous weapon. Hunter was the only protester to face felony charges after demonstrators took to I-94 on July 9 to protest Castile’s death at the hands of a St. Anthony police officer.
Hunter pleaded not guilty during his hearing Thursday afternoon as several supporters packed the courtroom. Hunter’s and Castile’s grandmothers are sisters.
“It’s absurd,” Hunter said afterward. “I’m innocent.”
Castile, 32, was fatally shot by officer Jeronimo Yanez on July 6 during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights. An estimated 500 people blocked I-94 in both directions near the Lexington Avenue exit during the protest.
Hunter is accused of throwing rocks and construction debris at police. Twenty-one officers were injured. More than 40 other demonstrators were charged with gross misdemeanor riot charges.
Fifty-eight people who have been arrested and charged in demonstrations signed a pledge vowing not to settle their cases until Hunter’s charges are dropped.
“Philando Castile’s death, and Louis Hunter’s charges, are among the most tragic examples of the many injustices people of color endure in our country,” their pledge read in part.
A few dozen supporters, including activists who were also arrested, rallied outside the courthouse before Hunter’s pretrial hearing. Pastor Danny Givens, Jr., a clergy liaison with Black Lives Matter Minneapolis, called for apologies from city and state officials and for the dismissal of all charges against activists.
“What we’re saying here is Louis Hunter, his life matters,” Givens said. “This was a brother who was … targeted by the police department.
Eli Lartey, who has been arrested at a few demonstrations, spoke at the rally, saying that police continue to suppress protesters. He called law enforcement’s response an “injustice.”
Hunter’s attorney, Tim Phillips, is representing another protester, Erica Seltzer-Schultz, facing lesser charges for the same demonstration. Phillips challenged the constitutionality of Seltzer-Schultz’s case, arguing in a motion to dismiss her case that state laws used to charge Seltzer-Schultz violate her right to free speech.
Assistant Carver County Attorney David Hunt, who is prosecuting Hunter’s case in Ramsey County due to a conflict of interest, said Ramsey County District Court Judge G. Tony Atwal’s pending decision in the Seltzer-Schultz case could impact Hunter’s case.
Ramsey County District Court Judge Leonardo Castro, who is presiding over Hunter’s case, said Atwal’s decision could inform Hunter’s case, but that he and attorneys are not bound to Atwal’s findings.
“It’s persuasive for [Castro], because if there are inconsistent rulings, that detracts from people’s confidence in the judicial system,” Phillips said of his constitutional challenge.