Legal analysts say charges are possible in connection to racist Prior Lake video | KSTP.com

Legal analysts say charges are possible in connection to racist Prior Lake video

Callan Gray
Updated: November 11, 2021 11:00 PM
Created: November 11, 2021 10:45 PM

Savage Police are working with the Prior Lake-Savage Area School District and Scott County Attorney’s Office as officers investigate an offensive video widely shared on social media.

During the course of the minute-long clip, a student repeatedly makes racist remarks and encourages another student to take their own life in graphic detail.

During an interview with 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS on Wednesday, 14-year-old Nya Sigin shared the emotional toll of being targeted in the video. 

“It was just the most disgusting thing I’ve ever witnessed in my entire life,” said Sigin, a freshman at Prior Lake High School. “I was feeling, I was confused. I didn't really know what I had done to even deserve it.” 

“It was late Monday evening, I was advised of a horrific, hateful, racist video that was posted on social media platform,” said Savage Police Chief Rodney Seurer. “This is not tolerated here.”

Legal analysts predict there could be criminal charges in the case.

“You absolutely can [see charges],” said Lee Hutton, an experienced Twin Cities trial attorney. “Minnesota has one of the leading cases with regard to encouraging incitement of individual suicide.”

He pointed to Minnesota State Statutes that outline penalties for those who intentionally advise, encourage or assist in suicide or attempted suicide. 

“One of the caveats is that to sustain a criminal action for encouragement of suicide, you have to direct those statements to a specific person,” said Hutton. “In the Prior Lake incident, they specifically address enough facts that the individual knew and other people knew who they were directing it to so I think this meets the standard of the 609 statute."

Reporters asked Chief Seurer whether this Minnesota law is being considered as part of the investigation. 

“We’re looking at all aspects, wherever our investigation will take us,” said Seurer.

Defense attorney Jack Rice explained the law has gone to the Minnesota Supreme Court in the past.

“The way the law works right now is you can't encourage someone to commit suicide,” said Rice. “Someone who actually does that and that person then kills themselves, that person could face a felony. Someone who encourages somebody to do that and in fact they try and fail and are injured, you could also face a felony in that case.

In this case, that’s based upon that. We don’t seem to have that so the question becomes, if you say something like this, at minimum, I’m thinking a disorderly conduct.”

Rice believes the racist language used by the student could also have ramifications. 

“Free speech is one of the things we hold sacrosanct — the problem is where is the line between hate and reaching into the world and saying let’s do something about it,” said Rice. “I think it could [rise to the level of a hate crime]. When you look at what she says, it is so absolutely brutal. It's not just saying 'I'm going to call you a name,' it's actually saying 'I’m going to call you a name and I want you to actually go do something.'”

He said there could be implications on both the state and federal levels.

“There are a lot of federal laws out there involving civil rights protections and specifically there is a hate crime law, and hate crime laws designed specifically for this,” he said. “Minnesota doesn’t really have that and so what they’ve really done is they charge people with whatever charge is out there and then you can enhance. In other words, you can take a charge that might be a misdemeanor and enhance it to be a more serious charge [...] Specifically on race, that is one of the triggering points that allows for certain charges to be enhanced."

Hutton agrees this could rise to the level of a hate crime. 

“Number one, you have a person of a protected class — an African American,” said Hutton. “Number two, you have conduct, or at least communication that touches that individual because of their race, and then you have a violation of a criminal statute. So yes, I do believe that all the elements were checked.”

The district could also be legally responsible.

“[If] the school knew of their dangerous propensities, basically, that they were reckless in their conduct or intentionally criminal to put some other individuals at harm, and the school knew of those dangerous propensities, the school can be opened up to any and all criminal and civil liability,” said Hutton.


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