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4 charged in shooting attack on Minneapolis protesters

4 charged in shooting attack on Minneapolis protesters
Police respond on Nov. 23 to the scene where five demonstrators were shot. The demonstrators were protesting the fatal shooting of a black man on Nov. 15 by a Minneapolis police officer. (Chris Juhn / Associated Press)

A man who allegedly shot at demonstrators protesting the killing of a black man by Minneapolis police was charged Monday with assault with a dangerous weapon and rioting, while three others also face rioting charges.

Also Monday, Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges asked demonstrators to end their encampment outside the police precinct, saying the group's ongoing campfires are making the air harmful to children and older people in the neighborhood with respiratory problems. She also said the protesters' barricades are blocking access for emergency vehicles and snowplows. Protesters have been there since Jamar Clark was fatally shot by police on Nov. 15.

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According to a criminal complaint, Allen Lawrence Scarsella, 23, of Lakeville, shot at protesters during the Nov. 23 attack that left five injured; they did not have life-threatening wounds. The other men charged are: Nathan Wayne Gustavsson, 21, of Hermantown; Daniel Thomas Macey, 26, of Pine City; and Joseph Martin Backman, 27, of Eagan.

Hennepin County Atty. Mike Freeman said he has filed the toughest charges possible in what he called a racially motivated attack because the felonies carry tougher potential sentences than any kind of hate-crime-related charge. Police have said that Scarsella, Gustavsson and Backman are white, and that Macey is Asian.

Scarsella is being held on $500,000 bail, while the others are being held on $250,000 bail, according to the Hennepin County Jail roster. All will make their first court appearances at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday. Authorities said the men had attorneys, but it wasn't immediately clear who they were.

According to the criminal complaint, the group went to the protest with plans to stir things up. A group of protesters tried to escort them away before the shots rang out.

A search warrant says that after the Nov. 23 shooting, Scarsella called an old high school friend, who is a Mankato police officer, and confessed. That officer said Scarsella had negative opinions about African Americans.

The criminal complaint also says Scarsella and another friend, identified by the initials J.S., went to a protest on Nov. 19 wearing camouflage clothing and face masks, and made a video en route that contained derogatory terms. In the video, Scarsella said they are on a "search and recovery mission" and J.S. displayed a handgun and ended the video with the words "stay white," the complaint said.

Protesters have maintained a presence outside the 4th Precinct since Clark, 24, was shot Nov. 15 by police and died a day later. They've vowed to stay until authorities meet their demands, which include the release of video of Clark's shooting.

Wesley Martin, 18, who was injured in the Nov. 23 shooting, was among roughly two dozen people at the encampment Monday morning. He said city officials can do what they want, but protesters will continue to stand their ground.

"They can have the street. We can take the sidewalk," he said. "To be honest, we're not going nowhere."

Clark, 24, died in a confrontation with police who were responding to an assault call in which Clark was a suspect. Police say they arrived to find him interfering with paramedics trying to treat an injured woman. They say a scuffle followed and Clark was shot once in the head.

Some community members have alleged Clark was handcuffed when he was shot, which police have disputed. State and federal investigations are underway.

One of the officers involved was sued just 10 days before Clark's death, for allegedly using excessive force during an arrest four years ago.

The lawsuit alleges that Dustin Schwarze, who was working as a Richfield police officer, used a stun gun on a passenger in a vehicle that was pulled over by Richfield officers in December 2011. It also accuses Schwarze of threatening to beat that passenger and another if they exited the vehicle.

Two other officers and the city of Richfield also are named in the lawsuit, which gained media attention when it was moved from Hennepin County District Court to U.S. District Court last week. Daniel Kurtz, an attorney for Schwarze, said the plaintiff in the 2011 traffic stop had kicked an officer in the face, and the officers used reasonable force to arrest him.

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