Anger, dismay after violent I-94 closing

Published 10:16 am Monday, July 11, 2016

By Paul Walsh

Minneapolis Star Tribune

ST. PAUL — A dramatic protest late Saturday and early Sunday on Interstate 94 in St. Paul turned violent, with 21 police officers injured and more than 100 people arrested. Under occasional clouds of colored smoke, fireworks, hurled rocks and tear gas, confrontations continued until 4:30 a.m. Sunday, as demonstrators responded to the police killing in Falcon Heights of Philando Castile.

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Just a few hours later, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and Police Chief Todd Axtell stood together and denounced as “a disgrace” the pelting of officers with rocks, bottles and other items.

At an 8 a.m. news conference, Axtell said 21 officers from all law enforcement agencies on the scene were injured in the mayhem. One of them suffered a broken vertebra after a concrete block was dropped on his head; he was still hospitalized as of Sunday afternoon, police said. The State Patrol said six of the 21 were troopers who were slightly hurt by thrown objects. Steve Linders, St. Paul police spokesman, said he doesn’t know how many other officers are still in the hospital.

The all-night faceoff on a major freeway drew national attention. President Obama also weighed in Sunday, saying at a news conference during a one-day stop in Madrid that “any violence directed at police officers is a reprehensible crime.”

Obama added, “Whenever those of us who are concerned about failures of the criminal justice system attack police, you are doing a disservice to the cause.”

Gov. Mark Dayton, whose Summit Avenue residence has been the site of a protest encampment, said Sunday that “the occupation and shutting down of Interstate 94 last night were unlawful and extremely dangerous. … I urge all Minnesotans to remain calm and peaceful during this very difficult time.”

Roughly 50 of the arrests came during the “freeway riot,” which began shortly before nightfall Saturday and continued until police cleared the freeway after 1 a.m., allowing the interstate to reopen in both directions, Linders said.

State Patrol spokesman Sgt. Troy Christianson said those arrested were likely to be held in the Ramsey County jail until Monday.

“More than 20 verbal warnings” to disperse were issued before the apprehensions began, the State Patrol said in a statement, adding that 49 adults and one juvenile could face charges of third-degree riot, a gross misdemeanor.

Another 50 or so arrests were made about 4 a.m. Sunday near Grand Avenue and Dale Street. Those demonstrators were cited with misdemeanors at the scene and released, Linders said.

The officers were hurt from demonstrators “throwing rocks, bottles, fireworks and bricks,” Linders said. Demonstrators were seen on a pedestrian overpass throwing objects including bricks and rebar at officers and dumping liquid on them.