The justice system quietly continues its work in response to the 2020 riots

The back pages of this week’s Star Tribune were a quiet reminder of the investigative clean-up that continues some 2 ½ years after the George Floyd-related riots. This is a sliver of sun shining on a very dark period in Minnesota’s history.

In the week following Floyd’s May 25th, 2020 death, protesters throughout the Twin Cities set fire to more than 1,000 buildings, including the Minneapolis Police 3rd Precinct. It is estimated that the damage in Minneapolis alone exceeded $107 million according to the Minneapolis Assessor’s Office. In the aftermath, law enforcement worked to bring felony charges against approximately 100 people, and misdemeanor charges against more than 500 people. 

Of the felony cases, the U.S. Attorney’s Office charged 17 people with federal riot and arson, including four who were responsible for the arson at the 3rd Precinct. Those four men were subsequently convicted and sentenced to federal prison for 27-48 months, with restitution amounts of $12 million each.

Of the misdemeanor cases, not surprisingly, nearly 95% of the 520 citations issued were dismissed.

While some officials suggested that most of the rioters were out of state “extremists,” those who were prosecuted for various crimes related to the riots paint a different picture. In fact, most of the rioters were Minnesotan’s taking advantage of an apparent opportunity to riot without consequence. 15 of the 17 federal cases (the most serious cases changed) involved Minnesotan defendants.

Read more about the status of cases in this May 2021 update article from the Minnesota Reformer found here.

This week’s developments: 

Jose Felan Jr., 36, was sentenced to 6 ½ years in federal prison and ordered to pay $39,000 restitution for his role in three arson fires he set in St. Paul as the riots swelled across the Twin Cities in May 2020. Felan damaged Gordan Park High School, a Goodwill store, and a 7 Mile Sportwear store all located in St. Paul. Felan’s wife, Mena Yousif, 23, and a co-defendant Mohamed Abdi, 21, were also charged with crimes related to the arsons. Yousif received probation, and Abdi awaits sentencing after a guilty plea. Read more about this case here.

The FBI also renewed their efforts to identify a figure in some of the activity on East Lake St. in Minneapolis. The FBI is again asking for the public’s help in identifying “Umbrella Man” who was filmed smashing windows at a Minneapolis Auto Zone store and later taking part in the damage at the Minneapolis Police 3rd Precinct — prior to both burning due to arson in May 2020. It is interesting to note that Minneapolis Police believed they had identified “Umbrella Man” as a known Hells Angel gang member, based on a tip. Given the FBI’s request for help from the public, it appears that tip has yet to be corroborated. Read more about this request for assistance here.

The actions of the rioters in May 2020 were representative of what far too many people will do if they believe they can rampage, destroy, and cause chaos without consequence. Fortunately, many dedicated law enforcement investigators and prosecutors are continuing to work to ensure there are in fact consequences in the end.