Representative Craig’s assault highlights our broken criminal justice system

On Thursday morning, February 9, Minnesota’s 2nd Congressional District Representative Angie Craig was physically assaulted by a homeless man named Kendrid Hamlin in the elevator of the apartment complex she uses during her time in D.C. Hamlin had snuck into the building earlier in the morning, defecated in the entryway, and then paced around the lobby.

The assault occurred when Rep. Craig went to the lobby to get her morning coffee. As she re-entered the elevator, Hamlin stuck his arm between the doors and told Rep. Craig that he was going to her apartment to use the bathroom. She told him he could not do that, and he became agitated, eventually striking her with a closed fist in the face and grabbing her shoulders and collarbone area to prevent her from leaving. The Representative was able to poor hot coffee on Hamlin and hold him off until the elevator door opened. He eventually fled the building and was arrested later that day. Representative Craig suffered cuts and bruising to her lip and chin.

U.S. criminal code 18 USC 351(e) makes it a felony to assault a member of Congress and inflict personal injury. There is no indication Hamlin knew who Rep. Craig was or her position in Congress, however, subdivision (h) offers a unique legal advantage, whereby “the Government need not prove that the defendant knew that the victim of the offense was an individual protected by this section.”

As a result, Hamlin was charged in U.S. District Court with felony assault and has been ordered detained without bond pending trial. See the federal complaint document here.

The incident was no doubt terrifying for Rep. Craig, as it would be for anyone in that situation. It is the type of incident that has likely shattered her sense of security and left her feeling vulnerable. No one should have to feel that way.

In interviews with the press this week, Rep. Craig has sounded the alarm about Hamlin’s record and has called the criminal justice system “broken.” I fully agree with Rep. Craig’s assessment of our criminal justice system’s failure to hold offenders accountable.

It’s inexcusable. 

Not a week goes by without another example of a convicted offender out earlier than statutes or guidelines called for, committing a new crime and creating a new victim whose sense of security is also shattered. I’ve written extensively on the failures of our courts in Minnesota to properly sentence violent offenders. In 2021, for example, Minnesota judges departed downward from sentencing guidelines on over 55% of sentences for armed robbery and/or 2nd degree assault (shooting someone).

Representative Craig is correct — the criminal justice system is broken.

At the time Hamlin assaulted Representative Craig, he had racked up a reported 24 bench warrants for failure to appear in court, spanning every year from 2015-2022. His record included a reported 12 previous convictions in the D.C. area since 2016, yet no appreciable confinement. The assault on Rep. Craig was not his 13th assault, as the representative mistakenly suggested to Kare 11, but the complaint against him did list 12 previous convictions for crimes including assault, theft, false info to police, and robbery. His most recent encounter with authorities had come in December 2022 when he assaulted a police officer in D.C.

None of those incidents involved a member of Congress, and none were subject to media attention. As such, the courts dealing with Hamlin treated his offenses with the level of attention given to the masses of other criminal offenses that churn through our system daily.

It is a fact if Hamlin did exactly what he did to Representative Craig to a citizen in Minnesota, he would be charged with 5th-degree assault, a misdemeanor, and would likely be conditionally released from jail after making a first appearance in court.

Until we wake up and begin demanding change, we will see the same ineffectual response and continue to see repeat offenders victimizing us with impunity. Our courts need to begin using our jails and prisons to separate us from offenders who demonstrate their threat to society. Yes, ensure that they receive the mental health and chemical dependency treatment they need, but do it in custody. Until the courts do, we will continue to face the likelihood that someday our elevator will be held open, and we will be assaulted as Representative Craig was.

None of us deserve that. We deserve a criminal justice system that works. We deserve law makers, federal and state, that pass legislation demanding more offender accountability. 

While Representative Craig’s assault was tragic, the silver lining should be a given — we now have an advocate in congress who will demand that accountability.