A prominent American Indian Movement (AIM) leader has been charged with felony destruction of property for his alleged role in toppling a Christopher Columbus statue outside the State Capitol this summer.
Michael A. Forcia, 56, was charged in Ramsey County District Court via summons Thursday in connection with the June 10 incident, where authorities said he led a group of protesters in pulling down the nearly 90-year-old statue with a rope — within view of State Patrol officers. At the time, Forcia told onlookers that he was willing to risk criminal charges for tearing it down.
"I'll accept it fully, whatever it is, 100%," he later told the Star Tribune. "Whatever has happened to me is of little consequence compared to the conversation the state needs to have about this."
Authorities estimate the cost of repairing the monument and surrounding property at around $155,000. Charges against other participants remain a possibility, officials said.
"Given the impact of this action on residents across our state and the divisive reactions it has engendered, we believe administering justice in this case requires an extraordinary step — the active engagement and participation of our community," said Ramsey County Attorney John Choi, who vowed to develop a "restorative process" that gives voice to divergent opinions while still holding lawbreakers accountable.
Columbus, a 15th-century Genoese explorer, has long been a target of activists for his role in colonizing, killing and exploiting Indigenous people. The monument's expulsion at the Capitol marked the first of many statues on public grounds felled by protesters in the nationwide reckoning over institutional racism that followed the May 25 killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers.
"The pedestal of this monument says, 'Christopher Columbus, the discoverer of America,' " said Jack Rice, Forcia's attorney. "But you talk to the Native American community and they see Columbus as a slaver who represents the front end of 500 years of genocide. How do you reconcile that?"
Rice, who is also of American Indian descent, called for a transparent judicial process in a case that's generated widespread interest. He hopes prosecutors are open to a resolution that includes some sort of public forum where both sides can articulate what that statue means to them.
"It's far more complicated than somebody destroying a piece of property," Rice said.
According to the criminal complaint:
State Patrol called in additional officers to monitor a planned protest at the Capitol grounds on June 10, following the creation of a Facebook event page that promised the Columbus statue's impending removal.
Around 4 p.m., Capt. Eric Roeske approached Forcia as he stood in front of the statue with a flag. Roeske informed Forcia that there is a formal process for removing or changing historic monuments and handed him a copy of the state statute outlining that policy.
Forcia, the AIM Twin Cities chairman, explained that pleas to eliminate the Columbus statue have been ignored for 20 years, and going through authorized channels had resulted in no action. He insisted it must come down that afternoon.
Within an hour, a large group of activists gathered at the statue's base as Forcia and another person climbed up to fasten ropes around its neck.
The statue crashed to the pavement after a few moments of tugging, its form largely intact. Singing, drumming and joyous chants followed.
Law enforcement agreed not to have anyone arrested on site as long as Forcia helped keep the crowd peaceful, charges say. State troopers eventually formed a perimeter around the statue and its broken base, keeping watch until a tow truck arrived to haul it away.
In the aftermath, Gov. Tim Walz said he sympathized with those pained by Columbus' presence but that "is not an excuse for them to take matters into their own hands."
Roeske told Forcia he would be charged in coming days with criminal damage to property,
"I'm willing to take that," he responded at the time.
In an interview with investigators later that night, Forcia admitted to authoring and organizing the event on Facebook but declined to name others involved.
Meanwhile, the Columbus statue's fate remains unclear. The Capitol Arts and Architectural Planning Board (CAAPB) is holding the monument in storage while state leaders determine whether to reinstall it.
The board is also tasked with hammering out a new, more defined process for removing statues that offend modern sensibilities.
If removal is ultimately approved, the Minnesota Historical Society will take possession of the explorer's statue.
Forcia is scheduled to make his first appearance in court Sept. 4.
Liz Sawyer • 612-673-4648