Ramsey County DA Choi employees restorative justice practice to reach agreement
Mike Forcia, a leader in the American Indian Movement and the only person charged for bringing down the Columbus statue on the Minnesota Capitol Mall June 10, will receive a suspended sentence and do 100 hours of community service.
Ramsey County District Attorney John Choi created restorative justice circles to help reach a decision on the appropriate punishment. (Such circles are becoming more main stream, but have long been a part of Native American cultures.)
The sentencing agreement included powerful acknowledgements from both sides of this case regarding the harms done.
Ramsey County Prosecutor Sarah Corey acknowledged the failure of the public system to address long-standing community concerns about the statue. People had been trying to use legal means to remove the statue that “received little to no consideration,” she said.
Forcia acknowledged the harms he had done both the the Italian-American and Native American communities.
Ramsey County Chief Judge Leonardo Castro approved the agreement this morning.
Corey read the following statement in court:
As a result of the perspectives that emerged from the community during the restorative justice circles, the prosecutor hereby acknowledges the following as essential to the goal of achieving justice, accountability, healing and restoration in this matter:
1. The violence, exploitation and forced assimilation that has been inflicted upon Native people has been perpetuated from colonial times into modern times, and the trauma resulting from it is still present. The impact of those harms is largely unrecognized by or unknown to the dominant culture.
2. Legal processes are reflective of the perspectives of the dominant culture.
3. There have been inquiries into and efforts to seek removal of the Columbus statue even by state legislators that received little to no consideration, and there was not actually a mechanism in place in the law to effect the removal of the statue. We must acknowledge the failure of public systems to address this situation as a contributing factor.
4. There was context for this unlawful act that was committed out of civil disobedience that we should seek to understand and reckon with in determining the legal system’s response to this act.PRETRIAL SUSPENDED PROSECUTION AGREEMENT
Forcia gave a brief statement in court. The statement in the settlement agreement provided a longer acknowledgement:
As a result of participating in the restorative process, hearing how his actions on June 10, 2020 impacted the greater community and residents across Minnesota, and having had the opportunity to reflect on it all, Michael Forcia makes the following acknowledgements.
1. This has been an exhaustive process which required hard work. It has enlightened my perspective and caused me to think deeply about what I did, why, and the far-reaching effects my actions have had, many of which were unintended. The legal process we used here had broad community involvement with varying viewpoints, all of which were worthy of being heard.
2. 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. 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.
3. I learned about what the statue meant to Italian Americans when it was erected and for their struggle for acceptance. I understand my actions caused harm to those who felt this was an attack on their community.
4. In the Native American community, I hurt those who disagreed with my decision. I was not speaking for them. It created a rift in a community I deeply love which I regret and will continue to work to make amends.PRETRIAL SUSPENDED PROSECUTION AGREEMENT
For a copy of the full Pretrial Suspended Prosecution Agreement, click here.
Forcia was initially charged with first-degree criminal damage to property, a felony. Given that he had no prior convictions, Forcia faced probation, with supervision of up to 5 years.
Given the unique circumstances of the case, Choi chose to try a restorative justice process. The goal was to “explore the underlying reasons” behind the incident, and “to bring forth value-driven recommendations from the community about what would be the most meaningful way to restore harms.”