Lead organizer of Christopher Columbus statue toppling gets community service, avoids trial

The only person charged for tearing down the Christopher Columbus statue at the Minnesota State Capitol in June is getting 100 hours of community service and will avoid trial under a deal struck with prosecutors.

Mike Forcia, an organizer with the American Indian Movement, will have his felony charge of first-degree criminal damage to property suspended. Under terms of the deal, Forcia will write a letter acknowledging the damage the Columbus statue toppling caused and must remain law abiding. 

Forcia thanked the judge and his attorneys for agreeing to the deal during a 45-minute hearing conducted over Zoom.

"I look forward to the community service, I look forward to the discussions we’re going to be having," Forcia said, adding that he would "probably do over 100 hours [of service], as a matter of fact."

The deal puts off the issue of restitution because the fate of the Columbus statue is not clear and is in the hands of a state panel tasked with overseeing monuments on the Capitol grounds. The protest caused an estimated $154,000 in damage

Forcia led a group of more than 100 protesters on the state Capitol grounds June 10. Protesters tied two ropes around Columbus's bronze neck, started tugging, and brought the statue crashing to the ground.

Ramsey County District Court Chief Judge Leonardo Castro Judge Leonardo Castro called it "an unfortunate incident" but credited all sides for the deal, which he quickly approved Monday morning. 

Castro also praised the Minnesota State Patrol's initial response, which Republican lawmakers have criticized as too soft. Minnesota public safety officials knew about the protest hours in advance but only stationed one trooper near the statue before it fell.

"They responded in a manner that I thought was respectful and yet maintained control," Castro said. The judge declined to allow reporters to record video of the virtual hearing.

Assistant Ramsey County Attorney Sarah Cory said taking Forcia to trial “would not further the goals of uniting community or achieving justice." 

Instead, three so-called restorative justice circles were held to find an alternative outcome, setting on the 100 hours of community service. Jail or prison time would be “detrimental," Cory said during Monday's hearing.

Forcia was the only person charged by Ramsey County prosecutors in August, when they announced he would likely avoid severe penalties. 

The protesters said toppling the statue was a healing moment because Columbus conquered, enslaved and killed Native Americans. The 10-foot Columbus statue was a gift of Minnesota's Italian-Americans in 1931.