Disturbances involving large groups of people setting off fireworks — at times targeting civilians, police or their vehicles — erupted after dark across Minneapolis on July 4th and into early Wednesday despite efforts by city officials to prevent such mayhem.
Law enforcement agencies tackled dangerous incidents, including the "brazen and reckless" discharge of fireworks at motorists and at least four shootings, overnight that resulted in 16 arrests, said Minneapolis Police Chief Brian O'Hara. In one case, an officer chased down and arrested a 17-year-old after he was caught on video firing a barrage of Roman candles at an occupied squad car.
"We're very fortunate that there were no serious injuries this year in these incidents because of this egregious behavior," O'Hara said during a late afternoon news conference at City Hall, where he praised the professionalism and "extreme restraint" of responding officers.
"Last year, the MPD was overwhelmed and overrun," he said. "[This year] we kept these groups on the run throughout the night."
In preparation for holiday chaos, MPD more than doubled its staffing and sought assistance from the Minnesota State Patrol and the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office.
The Park Board also made the Stone Arch Bridge downtown off-limits all weekend from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. in hopes of preventing a repeat of last year's July 4th.
Those 2022 Independence Day gatherings in or near downtown Minneapolis at times turned violent. Fireworks were launched at buildings, cars and first responders. Fewer than a hundred on-duty officers responded to more than 1,300 calls to 911, and a shooting at Boom Island Park wounded five people.
The pedestrian bridge closure this year did little to prevent a series of disturbances that spread from northeast Minneapolis to the Chain of Lakes several miles south. The Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association, already critical of the decision to restrict access to the Stone Arch, characterized the effort as an "utter failure."
"People just hopped in cars and it was happening all over town," said neighborhood association president Vic Thorstenson, who questioned the strategy of putting so many assets into protecting one corner of town and leaving others exposed. "It was such a lame-brained idea, I just don't get it — except that they may have been responding to some wealthy condo owners who got alarmed seeing people they didn't like to see on the bridge. That's no way to approach public safety."
Under questioning from reporters, O'Hara defended the bridge closing as a successful mitigation effort, saying that it helped disrupt traffic patterns in places where the city had problems last year.
"But obviously, we can't cover every inch of the city at the same time," he said, noting that at one point after midnight an estimated 200 young people converged near Bde Maka Ska. "It took us time to clear everybody out."
Officers deployed 40-millimeter rounds several times in response to "imminent threats" by people aiming fireworks at police or others, O'Hara said, but never as a crowd-control measure.
Elsewhere in Hennepin County, the Sheriff's Office fielded more than 225 fireworks complaints from Monday into the first hours of Wednesday, said sheriff's Maj. Pat Enderlein.
The most serious trouble occurred about 1:45 a.m. on Brown's Bay in Orono, where five boats and a portion of the marina dock were damaged by the detonation of fireworks, Enderlein said. An 18-year-old man was arrested, he said.
Enderlein added that his deputies supported police in Minneapolis, and he heard of houses also being the targets of fireworks.
Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board spokeswoman Dawn Sommers outlined numerous problem spots in this July 4th's final minutes that drew park police officers:
At 11:30 p.m. Tuesday, 40 to 50 teenagers and young adults shot fireworks from the Plymouth Avenue Bridge at Boom Island Park and targeted people and police officers. A 17-year-old boy launched fireworks at a park police squad car. He was arrested on suspicion of second-degree assault. In another incident captured on video and posted to Twitter, a WCCO videographer was in the middle of an interview when a large firework exploded on the ground.
About 12:30 a.m. Wednesday, park police, Minneapolis police and State Patrol troopers converged on "a large group of teens and young adults involved in a riot at Bde Maka Ska." This included targeting fireworks at people and officers. Park police stopped a 20-year-old man from Maple Grove and cited him for being in a closed park.
At 1:35 a.m. Wednesday, park police, Minneapolis police and State Patrol troopers responded to a report of a shooting during a gathering at Columbia Park. Park police located 19-year-old Blejay Gboweay, 19, of Brooklyn Center, who was shot in the back while inside a vehicle. He was taken to HCMC, where his condition was not yet disclosed. No arrest was made.
At 2:10 a.m. Wednesday at Lake Nokomis, park police were dispatched to a report of gunfire. They arrived to see about 100 vehicles in the main beach parking lot. As fireworks went off, a Tesla was "being driven recklessly from the scene." Officers stopped the car and cited the driver, a 20-year-old man from Minneapolis, for multiple offenses.
About 2:30 a.m., a 19-year-old woman was shot. She made her own way to HCMC with a noncritical wound to her right leg.
At 2:38 a.m., Minneapolis police were dispatched to a report of commercial-grade fireworks being launched from a vehicle "into a crowded area within feet of pedestrians," at Minnehaha Regional Park. The driver of a pickup truck was stopped, and four men in their early 20s were arrested: two from Minneapolis and one each from St. Paul and Fridley.
In St. Paul, police were called about 1 a.m. to the 1600 block of Maryland Avenue on a report of a shooting and "encountered a chaotic scene with a large crowd of people in a parking lot in the area," said spokeswoman Molly McMillen.
A man was hit by gunfire and taken by emergency responders to Regions Hospital with "life-threatening injuries," McMillen said. No arrest has been made.
O'Hara credited the focused enforcement initiative with the sheriff's office for helping contain the number of shootings thisJuly 4th weekend to 12 — down from 25 last year.
Half as many victims is "not a success," he said, "but that is progress."
Star Tribune staff writers Maya Rao and Dave Orrick contributed to this report.