ST. PAUL, Minn. (FOX 9) - More than two months after protesters toppled the Christopher Columbus statue at the Minnesota State Capitol, the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office has filed charges against the man authorities believe organized the protest.
American Indian Movement organizer Michael Anthony Forcia, 56, of New Brighton was charged Thursday with first-degree criminal property damage—a felony. The maximum penalty for that charge is five years in prison or a $10,000 fine, but it does not appear Forcia will get anything close to that.
“We are working on developing a restorative process to give voice to those divergent opinions and bring people who hold them together to determine how best we hold Mr. Forcia accountable while healing our community from the harm that was caused,” Ramsey County Attorney John Choi said in a statement.
Choi says restorative justice would be better than waiting more than a year for "an adversarial trial that would not provide adequate closure for our community and likely create additional division."
On June 10, Native American protesters with the American Indian Movement pulled down the Columbus statue, which has stood on the south lawn of the Capitol since 1931. The protesters tied two ropes to the statue's neck and pulled it down, with no resistance from the Minnesota State Patrol.
The protesters said toppling the statue was a healing moment because Columbus conquered, enslaved and killed Native People.
State officials have been unable to explain why they did not act more quickly to prevent the statue from being torn down.
The day after the incident, Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington said he had more than two hours' notice about protesters' plans. Additionally, the Minnesota State Patrol was first notified about the plans at 11:28 a.m. June 10 -- more than five hours before the protest started, email records obtained by FOX 9 through an open records request indicate.
According to the charges, on the morning of June 10, the State Patrol learned about a Facebook event planned for 5 p.m. at the Capitol titled “AIM rally against racism! Bring your drums!” The post made it clear the event’s purpose was to remove the Columbus statue.
When state troopers arrived at the Capitol grounds at 4 p.m., they saw Forcia and another person standing in front of the statue. Forced said they were there to pull the statue down.
State Patrol Capt. Eric Roeske approached them and informed Forcia about the process for removing or changing monuments on the Capitol complex, offering him a copy of Minnesota Statute 15B which outlines the process. Forcia said they had been through the process many time without any action and that they were taking the statue down that day.
At 4:59 p.m., Roeske saw Mr. Forcia and another individual climb up on the statue to put ropes around its neck. The crowd pulled the ropes and by 5:01 p.m. the statue was on the ground.
In an interview with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, Forcia said he had attempted to remove the statue for the last two years without success. He said in the last few months, he had spoken to government officials about it and, following that discussion, he decided to “go through the processes” to have it taken down.
Forcia admitted to creating the Facebook event to remove the statue without working through the authorized process. He declined to name others involved in the planning and removal of the statue.
A spokesperson from the Lieutenant Governor's Office told investigators that the Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan “had not personally spoken to Mr. Forcia about the statue in over a year,” according to the charges.
The statue is currently being stored in a joint MnDOT-Department of Public Safety building somewhere in the Twin Cities metro. The statue would cost taxpayers $154,000 to repair, according to damage estimate.