Activist who toppled Columbus statue at Capitol gets community service

A statue lies face down on the ground.
People stand around the toppled Christopher Columbus statue at the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul in June. Prosecutors have agreed to drop felony charges against Mike Forcia of New Brighton, a member of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.
Evan Frost | MPR News file

Prosecutors have agreed to drop felony charges against the American Indian Movement activist that toppled the statue of Christopher Columbus in front of the Minnesota Capitol in June.

Mike Forcia of New Brighton, a member of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, faced felony criminal damage to property charges for the incident.

It happened shortly after after the killing of George Floyd and days of violent unrest in Minneapolis and St. Paul in response. It also followed renewed controversy around the country about monuments to the Confederacy and other aspects of American history.

Sarah Cory, as assistant Ramsey County attorney, told Ramsey County District Court Judge Leonardo Castro that prosecutors and Forcia’s attorneys had met with community members to discuss the case, rather than using traditional court proceedings.

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“This practice allowed both parties to hear viewpoints and perspectives that we would not have had we proceeded to trial,” Cory told the judge in a hearing held Monday morning via video conference. “The consensus was that jail and prison time and conviction would not be what was the best response to this action.”

Forcia will get 100 hours of community service and will have to address the matter in a letter. "I look forward to the community service, I look forward to the discussions we're going to be having,” Forcia told the judge.

Cory said that the long history of colonialism and its impact on Native Americans were part of the discussions in the case, over a series of three meetings. She noted that a review of the case found there had not been a legal mechanism to express opposition to the statue or ask for its removal.

She called it an incident of civil disobedience. “This is not to say that this act was not unlawful. It is not to say that Mr. Forcia will not be held accountable for what happened,” she added.

Cory said the deal did not address restitution for damage to the statue and the small plaza that at the statue’s base estimated at more than $150,000. She said the restitution is being put off while discussions about the statute continue. It has not been replaced.

The incident drew both praise from Native activists at the time, and later condemnation from Republican state senators, who held a hearing on the incident and said Minnesota State Patrol troopers should have acted to prevent the toppling.