Jury finds Scarsella guilty in Jamar Clark protest shooting

Allen Scarsella
Allen Scarsella
Hennepin County Sheriff's Office

Updated 5 p.m. | Posted 4:29 p.m.

A jury on Wednesday found Allen Scarsella guilty on all charges tied to his shooting of five black men in north Minneapolis who had been protesting the police killing of Jamar Clark.

Jurors turned aside arguments by Scarsella's attorney that the 24-year-old Bloomington man shot in self-defense on that Nov. 23, 2015 night as he and other companions were pursued by men attending a demonstration near the 4th Precinct police station.

Prosecutors, however, said it was hatred of African-Americans that led him to pull the trigger and that Scarsella and three other men had gone to the encampment — built to protest the police killing of Clark, a black man — to cause trouble.

Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Judith Hawley on Tuesday pointed the jury to text messages from Scarsella's phone in which he allegedly talked about "shooting black guys" and other texts containing racial slurs, including one where Scarsella talked of "tempting a chimp to chimp out so you can shoot him" in reference to black people.

Scarsella had pleaded innocent to the charges. Laura Heinrich, Scarsella's public defender, said Scarsella had good reason to fear for his life, telling the jury Tuesday that the men heard taunts of "White boy, you're going to die."

Heinrich added that many of the people at the protest were furious at police for the shooting death of Clark. No matter how many times Scarsella told them to stay back, the protesters kept coming.

Hawley, however, told jurors that Scarsella's self-defense claim didn't hold up against state law, noting that a person claiming self-defense must "avoid danger" and has "a duty to retreat ... just because you have a gun doesn't mean you can be a gunslinger."

The courtroom was packed with people Wednesday afternoon as the verdict was read. Among the observers was one of the men shot by Scarsella, Cameron Clark. Three extra deputies were posted in the room; five deputies escorted Scarsella into the court.

The jury deliberated for a full day before reaching its decision. He was found guilty on a total of 12 counts, including assault with a dangerous weapon and riot.

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said he was pleased by the verdict.

"As I said at the time we charged Mr. Scarsella and his companions, the racist language he used in the videos and on social media is just not acceptable and the actions he took as a result of those racist beliefs were heinous," Freeman said in a statement. "The jury obviously saw it the same way."

Freeman noted that Scarsella's been off the streets for 14 months and "we will be seeking the stiffest possible sentence to keep him confined even longer."