Police Improperly Released Armed Men Who Antagonized Philando Castile Protest

Reports show police improperly released a militia member and his armed associates, after their brief detention outside of a protest following the shooting of Philando Castile.

St. Paul, MN – Official reports show police improperly released the ex-leader of the Three Percenters militia, and his armed associates, after their brief detention outside of a protest following the shooting of Philando Castile in summer 2016.

Content advisory: Bigoted language

Police Improperly Release Armed Militia Members Outside of Philando Protest from Unicorn Riot on Vimeo.

In the thick of night on July 8, 2016, the third day of ongoing protests after the police killing of Castile, six men, at least three of them armed, were quickly ushered from the area by protest security still wary and traumatized by the white supremacist shooting of five people at protests in Minneapolis eight months prior.

St. Paul Police (SPPD) officers then briefly detained and disarmed the six men near the Minnesota Governor’s Mansion in St. Paul. After quickly checking their IDs and gun permits, they gave their firearms back and released them all. Yet, a short time later, an introspective Sgt. Timothy Moore confessed in his police report (PDF) that one of the gun permits was from Wisconsin and not valid in Minnesota.

After they were released we researched the validity of the Wisconsin permit to carry and we determined the permit was not valid in Minnesota due to no reciprocity between Wisconsin and Minnesota.” – Sgt. Moore

Two of the six men, Nathaniel Pieters and Sean Bundrant, were from Wisconsin and four of them were from Minnesota – Aaron Davies, Logan Mattila, Terencio Safford, and Jason Thomas, the ex-leader of the Minnesota chapter of the Three Percenters.

Releasing Pieters, the man with the Wisconsin permit and not citing or charging him was against law enforcement policies. Minnesota Statute 624.714 ‘Carrying of Weapons Without Permit; Penalties’, states clearly that it is a gross misdemeanor to carry a firearm in Minnesota without a valid permit to carry.

A quick search of the Minnesota Department of Safety website shows a large list of states that do not share reciprocity with Minnesota. Based on the police reports from the night, after the men were released from their detainment and given their guns back, officers found the list. Steve Linders, a public information officer with the SPPD, said it is possible that Pieters was cited after the fact but he could not find any information on that actually occurring.

The situation with these six men had striking similarities to Allen Scarsella’s racially motivated mass shooting of a similar Black Lives Matter themed protest just months before and only miles away. In both scenarios, right-wing gun enthusiasts met online, then discussed their plans to go the protests, and traveled as a group late at night to the protests with handguns on their hips.

See our ten part series on the Scarsella trial, which detailed his racially motivated shooting of five protesters.

However, the armed men this time did not shoot people like Scarsella did. They were ushered away by protest security without incident and they walked a couple blocks before their brief detention by SPPD. After police took their firearms, some of the men were placed in handcuffs and made to sit on the sidewalk, while others were allowed to simply stand near a building as the police ran their permits and identification.

Jason Thomas (R) said they came to the Justice for Philando protests in support of 2nd Amendment rights

A reporter from Unicorn Riot who was on the scene was told by SPPD Commander Steve Frazer that the men were detained for an “investigative stop” and they were released “because they did not do anything wrong.” Frazer said the guns were “all legal” and the men were “law abiding citizens.

Officer J. Sauer admittedly stated in the police report, “At the time of the stop we were unaware Minnesota and Wisconsin did not carry reciprocity to carry in each other state.

Screenshot of Sgt. Sauer’s police report detailing the police “were unaware Minnesota and Wisconsin did not share reciprocity to carry in each other state” (pg 2 of 18)

Unicorn Riot filmed most of the encounter and interviewed the six who were detained for a lengthy amount of time. They gave alternate reasons as to their appearance at the protest. Watch the altercation and interview below:

One of the six men, Jason Thomas, had previously been under FBI investigation for his involvement as the leader of the Three Percenters militia in Minnesota and had previously shown up to Black Lives Matter protests to attempt to provoke attendees. Thomas’ house was raided by the FBI in December 2016. The FBI investigation into Thomas outed a Crow Wing Sheriff’s deputy who was providing Thomas and the militia with equipment and private citizen information obtained through his job as a law enforcement officer.

The Three Percenter militia movement was formed during the racial backlash to the presidential election of Barack Obama in 2008, and have deep ties to right-wing extremism. In recent years they have provided security at neo-Nazi events across the United States, including Unite the Right in Charlottesville in 2017.

One of the three white supremacists that bombed the Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington, Minnesota, on August 5, 2017, Michael Hari, was the leader of the White Rabbit Three Percent Illinois Patriot Freedom Fighters Militia. People wearing Three Percenter insignia also attacked a social event by Democratic Socialists in Louisville last month.

Ten months before being detained at the Philando Castile protest, Thomas and others traveled to St. Paul in August 2015 to try to provoke protesters at a Black Lives Matter St. Paul march after an incident where a Transit Police officer brutalized an autistic teen.

Jason Thomas (r) smiled while another man (l) who came with Thomas, listened to B.C. Johnson (middle), who said he came to a Black Lives Matter St. Paul protest to “maintain order in the city

Thomas stood in the walking path of the marching crowd numerous times, and yelled and cursed at them. Thomas said that he actually “agree[d] with a lot of their grievances” but felt that the protesters tactics of disruption and public civil disobedience was the “wrong way to go about it.

Jason Thomas attempted to stop a Black Lives Matter St. Paul march calling out police abuse of an autistic teen by standing in front of the march

Thomas’ friend’s ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ flag was stolen during one of the times they ran to the front to attempt to stop the crowd from marching on the light rail tracks. By the end of the day, Thomas retorted that the protesters were “fuckin’ animals, shouting racist slurs, pushing us around, stealing our flag“, and he threatened that he would “defend” himself.

We are veterans that are conceal and carrying right now, so we’re not too fuckin’ intimated by a crowd.” – Jason Thomas said of the Black Lives Matter St. Paul protest that he instigated in August 2015

Less than a year after inciting the Black Lives Matter protest and three days after Philando Castile’s killing, Thomas again had showed up with armed friends to a protest involving Black Lives Matter. During the interview with Unicorn Riot on July 8, 2016, the night the group was detained, Thomas said they were there in solidarity with Philando because of the second amendment and that they were anti-police. Terencio Safford, meanwhile, stated that the protests in front of Dayton’s residence was the wrong way to go and he was not in favor of the protests.

St. Paul Police and city attorneys charged about 200 protesters during 2016’s summer of discontent after the Philando Castile shooting. The favorable treatment of armed militia members: not handcuffing half of the group during their brief detention, the soft-spoken conversations with them, and the essential trust that the officers gave them by releasing the group without researching the gun laws, stands in stark contrast with how the authorities treated those calling for justice for Philando Castile.

Read the police reports (PDF) below:

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Unicorn Riot coverage of Philando Castile's Killing by St. Anthony Police Officer Jeronimo Yanez:

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