Protesters charged with riot in I-94 protest post bail, released

An bus waits to transport arrested protesters.
A Metro Transit bus waits to transport arrested protesters during the Black Live Matter shutdown of I-94 on Saturday.
Christopher Juhn for MPR News

Lawyers supporting Black Lives Matter protesters charged with third-degree riot in St. Paul say all 46 have posted bail and been released. Attorneys are working to put together a legal team to represent them.

The protesters were arrested after blocking off Interstate 94 late Saturday night and early Sunday morning. They were protesting the killing of 32-year-old Philando Castile last week by a St. Anthony police officer.

They were charged Monday with third-degree riot. Some of the protesters also face misdemeanor charges of unlawful assembly and public nuisance.

Minneapolis attorney Jordan Kushner said the protesters each posted $1,500 bail and were released by Tuesday morning. Their arraignment hearings have been pushed back until late August. At that hearing, protesters could enter a plea.

Police say that people were throwing rocks, firecrackers and bottles at officers during the protest preceding the arrests. St. Paul police at the time say 21 officers were injured, including one officer who suffered a spinal compression injury after being hit with a chunk of concrete. Police used smoke, blast balls and marking rounds against the protesters.

Black Lives Matter organizers have blamed outsiders for throwing things at police.

"I certainly haven't talked to everyone, but the picture is clear here, that people were arrested for being part of a non-violent protest and are being blamed for violence that was committed by other people that were not connected to the protest," Kushner said.

A protester is held back by other protesters.
A protester is held back by others trying to calm the situation down, as he walks up to the police line during the shutdown of I-94.
Christopher Juhn for MPR News

Kushner is coordinating with other attorneys and Black Lives Matter Minneapolis to organize a defense team. Kushner said third-degree riot charges are "inappropriate" and "clearly politically motivated."

"It's a way of creating scapegoats for people that apparently the police couldn't find, and also to chill the movement that's growing," Kushner said.

St. Paul City Attorney Samuel Clark declined further comment on the cases. But a statement released Monday afternoon said attorneys from his office reviewed police reports, photos and videos from the protest and "determined there is sufficient evidence to charge individuals."

The criminal complaint filed Monday alleges that protesters were given 20 warnings to disperse before they were arrested.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota has also condemned the third-degree riot charges.

"These charges seem to be an overreach for individuals who were engaged in nonviolent civil disobedience," said ACLU of Minnesota Legal Director Teresa Nelson. "The fact that a handful of people, probably unconnected to the demonstration, committed acts of violence, should not elevate this act of nonviolent civil disobedience into something that poses a possible jail sentence of up to a year."

The possible punishments associated with these charges could prevent people from demonstrating at a time when protests have broken out all over the country over police killings of African-American men, Nelson said.

"In this time, when we want to react to police taking the life of an individual, it's really important that we leave breathing space for people in the community to express their disapproval," Nelson said.

A Black Lives Matter Minneapolis organizer didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. But the group has been posting requests for donations for legal defense on Twitter. It's also called for supporters to contact authorities to ask them to drop the charges.

Another 50 or so protesters were cited for unlawful assembly and public nuisance and then released early Sunday morning following the closing of the interstate. Kushner said the legal team he's helping to put together would also represent these protesters.

Clarification (July 12, 2016): An earlier version of this article included outdated information on an injured officer's condition. This post has been updated to reflect their current status.

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