A man who rammed his SUV into a group of Black Lives Matter protesters in Minneapolis, killing one and injuring three, was charged with murder and assault on Wednesday, and could face up to 40 years in prison.
On June 13, Nicholas David Kraus, 35, of nearby St Paul, Minnesota, accelerated towards a demonstration in Minneapolis, where protesters have gathered for days after local deputies shot and killed Winston Smith, a Black man, as part of a fugitive taskforce.
He struck a parked car the group had been using as a barricade, which fatally struck Deona Erickson, 31, and injured three other people.
Ms Erickson was remembered by her family as a kind person and dedicated activist.
“She was probably the most wonderful person you could ever imagine. She would ... tear the shirt off her back to make sure someone was warm,” her brother Garrett told KARE 11.
Bystanders restrained Mr Kraus until police showed up.
According to a search warrant following his arrest, Mr Kraus gave bizarre answers to their questions, giving his name as “Jesus Christ” and “Tim Burton” before telling police who he really was, and saying he had been a carpenter for 2000 years. His pupils were reportedly “small and pinpoint” and didn’t respond to an examination flashlight.
He had a record of multiple DWI offences, including a felony, and told officers that the car he drove into the protesters “was in another person’s name because he had gotten into trouble, had no license due to drinking, and needed to use a loophole to get the car”, according to charging documents from the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office.
The tragedy added a new layer to a city that’s already been deeply traumatized after back-to-back-to-back killings of Black men by police, including George Floyd, Daunte Wright, and now Winston Smith.
Protesters have been occupying the intersection near where Mr Smith was killed, demanding transparency and reform.
Local sheriff’s deputies on the US Marshal’s North Star Fugitive Task Force killed Mr Smith in a busy parking garage after he missed a sentencing hearing, where he was set to serve a four-year prison term.
The two sheriff’s deputies who killed him were both wearing body cameras, but had been instructed not to turn them on, even though in October the Justice Department reversed a longstanding policy preventing officers on federal fugitive task forces from wearing them.
The Minnesota state Bureau of Criminal Justice has said it will not release the names of the officers because they were working undercover.
Since then, demonstrators have been occupying a space on the busy Lake Street corridor in the Uptown neighborhood of Minneapolis that’s served as a venue for vigil and protest. Heavily armed riot police officers arrived on Tuesday to clear out barricades, a scene that evoked previous images of officers tearing down many of the fixtures of George Floyd Square, a community gathering space that’s been maintained for more than a year at the intersection where Mr Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police.