Defendant's friend says shooting of Somali men wasn't justified

Anthony Sawina
Anthony Sawina
Hennepin County Jail

A friend of the Lauderdale man charged with attempted murder for shooting two Somali-American men testified in Hennepin County District court Thursday that he didn't think the shooting was justified.

The attorney representing Anthony Sawina, 26, has said Sawina fired his gun at several men in a car in order to protect himself.

Jacob Johnson, 22, testified that he'd been friends with Sawina for just a few months before the incident on June 29, 2016. Earlier that evening, Sawina and Johnson were drinking at a Dinkytown bar where they met up with a few other people. Johnson said he also noticed a gun in Sawina's pocket.

After the bar closed, Johnson said some of the people in the group agreed to meet up later.

Some of the Somali-American men testified that they heard someone with Sawina and Johnson's group say an expletive directed at Muslims as they passed by them on the sidewalk sometime after bar closing. The Somali-American men were heading to early morning prayers after playing basketball.

Johnson said later a car pulled up to him and Sawina, with the Somali American men inside. He said the driver called out to him and asked him why he would say that about Muslims. "They were calling me racist," said Johnson, who is white.

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The men in the car were angry and aggressive and Johnson said he was a little afraid. "But it didn't need to be resolved with a hand gun," testified Johnson.

After he turned to walk back and get a Muslim friend to come over and talk to the men in the car, Johnson said he heard gunshots. However, he said he didn't see Sawina fire.

Sawina's attorney, Murad Mohammad, challenged Johnson's assessment of justifiable self defense.

"Are you a lawyer?" asked Mohammad.

"No," replied Johnson.

"Has anyone even told you what the legal definition of self defense is?" continued Mohammad.

"No," replied Johnson, who was a reluctant witness.

Johnson, who was subpoenaed to appear in court, said he didn't want to be there. And he said at one time he considered that by talking to the police, he may be the target of retaliation. However, when asked by Mohammad if Sawina ever threatened him, Johnson said no.

Sawina has pleaded not guilty to nine felony counts including attempted murder.