What Happened to the People Who Set Fire to the Minneapolis Police Station?

Image: American Public Media

In the wake of the unprecedented mob assault on the United States Capitol on January 6th, many are thinking about other mob actions that have taken place over the last year.

The media and legal experts speculate that some of the Capitol mob will face federal charges and could get more than 10 years in prison depending on the charges. Undoubtedly, there will be questions about the application of criminal justice on the perpetrators of mob violence, trespassing and property destruction. Is justice applied fairly between mobs claiming to represent different ideologies? Are right-wing mobs singled out unfairly when compared to mobs of the left, anarchists or run-of-the-mill opportunistic looters?

Note that my use of the word “mob” refers to those who engaged in actual crimes against life or property as part of a group. I am not referring to the vast majority of people who protested peacefully in the various scenarios. Yes, that includes the majority of Trump-supporting rally-goers who did not storm the Capitol.

Let’s revisit one major mob assault to see what happened in the aftermath.

Attack on the Minneapolis Police Department: 3rd Precinct Station

On the night of May 28th, tensions ran high in Minneapolis in the wake of the death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis Police Department three days before. The city saw massive protests over the last 24 hours, but also looting, riots and destruction of property. The mayor declared a state of emergency and the governor activated the national guard.

That night, the Minneapolis Police Department’s 3rd Precinct’s station burned.

The station was home to the four officers involved in Floyd’s death, and became a symbol of the outrage. On the first night of protests, the mob pelted the building and the police defending it with rocks and bottles. Some of the mob breached the parking lot and smashed police car windows. Fearful of the mob getting ahold of police weapons, the chief of police ordered the officers of the precinct to use tear gas and rubber bullets to push back.

The police pushed the mob back from the station. But by the next night, the mob targeted businesses in the neighborhood, left vulnerable as police department leadership commanded the remaining officers to defend the precinct. The neighborhood destruction led the city officials to start talking about the unthinkable: sacrificing the precinct to deflect the mob away from the businesses.

The contingency plan was already in play. During the day on the 28th, the mayor, chief of police and commanding officers determined that they simply did not have enough resources to take on the mob, and the national guard would not arrive in time to help restore order. Police officers cleared out their lockers and moved vehicles out of the parking lot to other precincts. Only 13 officers remained in the building by nightfall.

According to police scanner activity as late as 8:30pm, the crowd gathered outside the precinct was peaceful. However, the situation deteriorated rapidly. Within 15 minutes of the activity, the station faced an increasingly unruly mob. As the mob breached the front door, a distress call went out. Running low on both non-lethal and lethal ammunition, the officers still in the building feared for their lives, sending texts to loved ones. Some reported contemplating suicide so as to not be turned over to the mob. Soon after 10:00pm, the remaining officers evacuated, ramming the locked gates with a squad car, leading a motorcade of some of the remaining officers to safety. Others fled on foot in riot gear.

The mob overran the station. Some looted police jackets and riot gear. Others, using Molotov cocktails and other incendiary devices, set it on fire. Gunshots rang out from the crowd. Minneapolis Police declared the station officially lost, and with the mob still active, the fire department had to leave it to burn through the night.

The Aftermath: Hunting Down the Mob

Did the mob get away with the wanton destruction of a city police station? Yes, some were likely never identified, and walked free. Others? Not so much.

By June, authorities arrested and handed federal charges for the arson of the police station. Their federal indictments came down in August:

  • Branden Michael Wolfe, 23, of St. Paul, MN: Conspiracy to Commit Arson
  • Dylan Shakespeare Robinson, 22, of Brainerd, MN: Conspiracy to Commit Arson
  • Bryce Michael Williams, 26, of Staples, MN: Conspiracy to Commit Arson
  • Davon De-andre Turner, 24, of St. Paul, MN: Conspiracy to Commit Arson

The men face penalties of anywhere from five years to life in federal prison upon conviction. For reference, a similar federal conviction for the arson of a smaller government facility netted the perpetrator six and a half years in federal prison.

Branden Wolfe: arrested on June 3rd in St. Paul. According to local media, St. Paul police responded to the report of a man trying to enter a home improvement store. Officers located Wolfe several blocks away. He was wearing body armor, a police duty belt with handcuffs and was carrying a baton, all looted from the 3rd Precinct building. Wolfe had been a security guard at the store, but had been fired that day after management discovered social media posts where he boasted about his participation in the mob assault on the precinct building. Wolfe currently awaits trial.

Dylan Robinson: arrested on June 15th in Breckenridge, CO. Investigators took the long game, using tips and social media to build the case and track him down. The ATF released still images from surveillance and other videos taken during the arson. People familiar to Robinson quickly identified him to authorities. His own Snapchat story implicated him, as viewers recorded it and uploaded it to Facebook. Even as the Snapchat story disappeared from that platform, the recording of it lived on forever as it was copied and shared. The recording showed Robinson making and lighting Molotov cocktails, and clearly showed his face, as he turned the camera around to show it. Surveillance video from the station and nearby buildings verified his activity.

After the ATF obtained a search warrant for Robinson’s phone, he was easy to track down. Not only did they discover pings from the area of the 3rd Precinct building on the night of the mob attack, but they also tracked recent pings from the Denver area. From there, the ATF used his phone activity to track him down in Breckenridge they arrested him without incident.

Robinson pleaded guilty on December 14th and awaits sentencing.

Bryce Williams: arrested on June 16th in Staples, MN. Similar to Robinson, surveillance and other video from the scene as well as his own social media helped authorities identify and track him down. Williams posted videos of himself on TikTok (on which he was known as an influencer) at the scene, wearing clothing consistent with surveillance videos showing him committing arson. In addition, authorities pinged his phone at the scene that night. Williams pleaded guilty on November 18th and awaits sentencing.

Information about the status of the fourth suspect, Davon De-andre Turner, was not available from media reports.

Hunter might have walked away from his involvement, had it not been for a police encounter in Austin on June 3rd. While a passenger in a truck heading towards protests there, police spotted the occupants in tactical gear and carrying rifles and made a traffic stop. Hunter possessed an AK-47 style rifle with six loaded banana magazines. Hunter denied he owned any of the weapons, but told police that he was a leader of the Boogaloo Bois movement in South Texas. He also told police he was present in Minneapolis when the 3rd Precinct building was burned.

Austin police released Hunter, but the guns were confiscated and they opened an investigation with the ATF. It was then that the ATF discovered social media posts where he bragged about his involvement in the mob assault and arson of the police station. A confidential informant led them to connect Hunter to shots fired on the police station on the night of May 28th from one of the confiscated rifles. Authorities also verified Hunter’s connection to the Boogaloo Bois movement through his contact with Steven Carrillo, a fellow Boogaloo Boi who murdered a federal protective officer and a sheriff’s deputy in California.

On October 23rd, Hunter received his federal indictment, charging him with crossing state lines to incite, organize and participate in a riot. He awaits trial, and faces up to five years in federal prison.

Conclusion: Some of the most violent perpetrators will likely spend years in federal prison

While most of the mob did walk away, some of those who committed the most violent acts against the 3rd Precinct building are paying the price. We expect the same will be true when it comes to the Capitol mob. And just like in these cases, surveillance and other video, photography and many of the perpetrators’ own social media and mobile phone use will be their downfall.

Will everyone who stormed the capitol face charges? Doubtful. Will those who assaulted police, smashed windows, stole or vandalized property and/or trespassed in restricted areas, and have documented evidence against them face some serious charges. Very much so.

With an abundance of surveillance cameras in and around the Capitol, police body cameras and seemingly everyone involved taking video and photographs with their network-connected mobile devices that they’ll likely continue to use all the way home, it won’t be difficult for federal authorities to track down the worst offenders. Like the Minneapolis scenario, they’ll take their time and build the warrants and cases, and we’ll hear more about arrests and charges over the next few months.

Hang in there. This could get interesting.

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