Charges: Prejudice drove Mpls. man to vandalize East African-owned shops

Storefront glass is shattered on a few window panes on Franklin Avenue.
Several East African-owned stores on a stretch of Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis were vandalized on Sept. 18.
Mukhtar M. Ibrahim | Sahan Journal

Updated: 3:45 p.m.

A Minneapolis man suspected of smashing the windows of several East African-owned businesses last week along Franklin Avenue now faces five counts of damage to property as well as bias crimes for allegedly asserting that he acted out of hatred for Somalis.

Harlin St. John, 36, was charged in two separate complaints with two counts of first-degree damage to property, two counts of second-degree damage to property because of bias and one count of third-degree damage to property because of bias, the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office said Friday.

He’s expected to make his first court appearance Monday. Prosecutors said “other cases have been submitted” to their office and additional charges are likely.

Minneapolis police were called to East Franklin Avenue and 24th Avenue South at about 4 a.m. on Sept. 18 on reports of a man throwing rocks through business windows. Total damage was estimated at more than $8,000.

The next day, security officers saw St. John at the Hennepin County Government Center. He matched the description of the suspect, down to wearing the same clothes, the prosecutor’s office said.

He was arrested that day but released after 36 hours because police said they needed more time to investigate the case.

Eventually, “he told officers that he broke the windows and he would pay for them. Later, he told investigators he did it in retaliation because someone shot at his family members and he believed it was Somalis and that he hates ‘the Somalis,’” according to the charging documents.

St. John also allegedly told police that “Somali people are selling meth and heroin to Native people.”

Authorities believe St. John is a threat to the Somali community.

Abdirahman Awad, who manages Capitol Cafe, which had the most extensive damage, said Somali and non-Somali community members came to his cafe after the vandalism to show their support. Some of them donated money and bought sambusas along the way, he said.

"We got new clients who never came to our cafe before," he said.

Abdirahman said he welcomed the charging of St. John. "He is a danger to our community.”

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