Four men charged in shooting of Minnesota protesters

By David Bailey and Kristoffer Tigue

MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) - Four men were charged on Monday in connection with the shooting of five protesters near the site of a demonstration outside a Minneapolis police station over the police killing of a black man earlier this month.

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman called the shooting racially motivated, and said additional charges are possible against the defendants and others.

Allen Scarsella, 23, who prosecutors said in a complaint had admitted to opening fire on the five protesters, was charged with one count of second-degree riot while armed and five counts of second-degree assault.

Joseph Backman, 27; Nathan Gustavsson, 21; and Daniel Macey, 26, were each charged with second-degree riot in the Nov. 23 late night shooting that left the five demonstrators, all African-American men aged 19 to 43, with wounds that were not life-threatening.

All four men had been in custody since last week in the shooting near the protest camp that sprung up after the fatal shooting by police of Jamar Clark, 24, two weeks ago.

Demonstrators have camped out near the police station since Clark's shooting and were undeterred on Monday by calls from Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges, U.S. Representative Keith Ellison and others to end the encampment for safety reasons.

Bail was set at $500,000 for Scarsella and $250,000 each for the others. Each count carries a minimum sentence of three years in prison. Court appearances were set for Tuesday afternoon.

Scarsella, Gustavsson and Backman are white, while Macey is Asian, police said.

The criminal complaint said Scarsella told a friend who is a police officer in another jurisdiction that he had gotten into an altercation and shot protesters.

The officer was aware that Scarsella owned and carried guns and had "very intense opinions" that were pro-sovereign citizen and pro-Constitution, the complaint said.

A woman who told police she was Scarsella's girlfriend, said he called her in a panicked state and asked her to come take his gun and ammunition from his home because he had shot five people, the complaint said.

Clark was shot at a time of heightened debate in the United States over police use of lethal force, especially against black people. Over the past year, protests against killings of unarmed black men and women - some videotaped with phones or police cameras - have rocked several U.S. cities.

Minnesota state police and the FBI are investigating Clark's shooting. The officers involved are on leave.

(Reporting by David Bailey and Kristoffer Tigue in Minneapolis; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Tom Brown)