Native American charged with felony for pulling down Columbus statue

Mike Forcia, seen here on the left, said a respected member of his community told him the morning of June 10 to stop being "Minnesota nice."

Mike Forcia, seen here on the left, said a respected member of his community told him the morning of June 10 to stop being "Minnesota nice." AP/Minnesota Public Radio

The leader of a group of activists who surrounded the Christopher Columbus statue on the Minnesota Capitol grounds and pulled it to the ground has been charged with felony damage to property. 

Mike Forcia and other Native American activists removed the monument to the genocidal colonizer on June 10, more than two months ago, and much of the act of protest was captured on tape or photographed. Ramsey County Attorney John Choi said Thursday the charge against Forcia came after "careful review" that produced a "more than 13,000-page investigative file" into the events of that day.

Forcia, a member of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, is facing one count of first degree damage to property, a crime with a maximum penalty of five years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine.

Choi said his office would seek a restorative justice process instead of an "adversarial trial that would not provide adequate closure for our community and likely create additional division."

Forcia has an initial court appearance scheduled for September 4.

Choi said he wants to "give voice to those divergent opinions and bring people who hold them together to determine how best we hold Mr. Forcia accountable while healing our community from the harm that was caused."

Precisely what harm was caused by the disappearance of a statue many people didn't know existed isn't explained, though local conservatives certainly seemed upset.

There's not much dispute that Forcia, 56, played a central role in the statue's removal from its perch on June 10. A Minnesota Public Radio clip from that day shows Forcia in a tense moment with a lone Minnesota State Patrol officer, Capt. Eric Roeske, who observed that the Twin Cities had "just had, obviously, two weeks of--" before Forcia cut him off, gesturing at the monument.

"Obviously, and this is an extension of that. This is an extension of that, this a part of that. The paradigm shift has started, and you cannot stop it. We need you to be part of this."

The state trooper told Forcia there was "a process" that needed to be followed, to which Forcia said: "How long is that going to take?"

In reality, there wasn't much of a process, and it didn't take long. Forcia and another activist threw a rope around the statue, and they and others yanked it, nose-first, into the sidewalk. Forcia jumped with joy, and took the opportunity to momentarily kneel on Columbus's head; the sculpture was then encircled by state patrol officers, who saw that it was loaded onto a truck and hauled away.

According to the charges, Forcia told Roeske that Natives who wanted Columbus removed "had been ignored for 20 years," and had "been through the [removal] process countless times without any action." 

In a later interview, Forcia said he'd been in talks with officials for months about the statue. During an early morning talk with a "leader of his community" on June 10, Forcia said, the "leader told him to stop being so Minnesota nice."

Once it was down, Forcia helped Roeske keep the peace as other troopers and a tow truck arrived. Forcia was told he might be charged for his actions, and said he understood that.

An estimate of the damage to the statue and "surrounding areas" came to more than $154,000. The Star Tribune reports the statue is currently in storage as the Captiol Arts and Architectural Planning Board mulls its fate. If removal is approved, the Minnesota Historical Society would take custody over the sculpture.