Senators question State Patrol's handling after Columbus statue falls during demonstration

Eric Chaloux
Updated: July 08, 2020 06:16 PM
Created: July 08, 2020 05:17 PM

A Minnesota Senate Committee held a hearing Wednesday on Capitol complex security after recent demonstrations, including one where the Christopher Columbus statue was pulled down.

A group of protesters pulled down the Columbus statue on June 10, which caused more than $150,000 dollars in damage, according to Senate Republicans.

"People in my district watched what went on and are frustrated, furious, mad, angry to what happened to our Capitol grounds," said Sen. John Jasinski, a Republican from Fairbault.

GOP Senators heard from John Harrington, the commissioner of the Department of Public Safety and Col. Matt Langer, the Minnesota State Patrol’s top trooper, regarding the handling of the situation.

DPS provided a timeline to the committee with specific times as to when they learned of the demonstration, when talks with demonstrators broke down and their other plan to move more troopers to the area after talks failed with demonstrators. That timeline indicates authorities knew about the planned demonstration 5 hours before it happened.

"There's a belief that the State Patrol received an order or a direction from Governor [Tim] Walz and Lieutenant Governor [Peggy] Flanagan to disregard the criminal behavior,” said Harrington. “I can tell you that's not true.”

Native American families react to the removal of Christopher Columbus statue in St. Paul

Langer told the committee the decision not to make any arrests or use force was made at the ground level at the scene out of concerns it could escalate the situation.

"We chose discretion and for that we can be accused of many different things, including being witnesses to lawlessness or party to lawlessness -- that's not who we are as an organization," Col. Langer said.

"In this case there is discretion, there's de-escalation; we usually ask for that, and we are questioning that today," said Sen. Melisa Franzen, DFL-Edina, who felt the State Patrol’s actions were justified.

Patrol Leaders told senators that the case against three protesters involved with pulling down the statue with ropes was turned over on Tuesday afternoon to the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office for possible felony charges.

As of Wednesday afternoon, there had been no official charges filed.

Demonstrators organized the event due to Columbus’ history with indigenous peoples.

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