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No jail time for man who led Columbus statue toppling

Prosecutors agreed to community service time for Michael Forcia as part of a restorative justice process.

ST PAUL, Minn. — The Native American activist who organized the toppling of the State Capitol Christopher Columbus statue will perform community service rather than serve jail time. 

Ramsey County Chief Judge Leonardo Castro on Monday morning signed off on an agreement between prosecutors and defense attorneys for Michael Forcia, which was reached as part of the restorative justice process.

The deal emerged from three "circle meetings" between prosecutors, defense lawyers and other parties. Assistant Ramsey County Attorney Sarah Cory said her office wanted to acknowledge the trauma that still exists from the exploitation and forced assimilation of Native people, and how that trauma inspired this act of civil disobedience.

Cory also said her team was aware that efforts had been made in the past to find peaceful ways to remove the statue, but had been unsuccessful.

As part of the agreement filed with the court Forcia acknowledged the harm that was done to those who support the statue, and what it represents to Italian Americans who had felt oppressed as immigrants in America.

"The rule of law is an essential element to a peaceful society.  I broke the law and was prepared to accept the consequences when I did that," Forcia wrote in the file submitted to the court.

"By my actions and service going forward, with the help of those from the circle who have offered their support, I will work to restore community peace and seek to repair the harm that I have caused."

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The incident on June 10 came during the widespread civil unrest that followed the death of George Floyd while in the custody of Minneapolis police. The toppling of the statue sparked outrage among Republican lawmakers, who accused the Walz administration of failing to deploy state troopers in a timely fashion to prevent it.

Judge Castro set aside the felony charge filed against Forcia; It will be dismissed after he completes his community service and other restorative actions.

Forcia won't be required to pay restitution at this point, because the actual dollar value of the damage is entirely dependent on whether the statue is returned to its former perch on the Capitol Grounds.

Originally prosecutors charged Forcia with criminal damage to property in the first degree, a felony violation. It's considered a Level 1 offense on the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines, which would normally carry a sentence of up to five years probation for someone like Forcia without a previous criminal conviction.

RELATED: Charges filed in statue-toppling incident at State Capitol

Defense attorneys Jack Rice and Willow Anderson said this extraordinary resolution recognized the unusual circumstances surrounding this case.

"Rarely do we have an opportunity for all of those disparate voices, all of those who have felt harmed to have an opportunity to not just hear but to speak," Rice told the judge.

"We hope this will be a transformative process for justice," Rice added.

The Capitol Area Architecture and Planning Board, led by Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, is still formally reviewing the ultimate fate of the statue.

The next public meeting of the Capitol Memorials and Monuments Task Force is Tuesday afternoon at 3:00.

In July, Republican senators held a hearing on the statue topping event to ask why state troopers didn't wedge themselves between the 1931 statue and the group of protesters who threw a rope around it and dragged it off its pedestal.

During the hearing State Patrol Chief Matt Langer said the troopers acted with restraint because there were children and news photographers gathered with those who had surrounded the statue with the intent to bring it down.

Republican lawmakers are insisting that the statue be restored to its original location, while Democrats are largely less enthusiastic about that idea. Lt. Gov. Flanagan, who is a member of the White Earth Ojibwe Nation, has called the statue offensive and is opposed to restoring it.

The pedestal for the statue includes the inscription, "Christopher Columbus, Discoverer of America"