Philando Castile's cousin Louis Hunter fights 'trumped up' riot charges

Hunter faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in lock-up.

Hunter faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in lock-up.

One month after the police officer who killed Philando Castile was acquitted in Ramsey County, Castile's cousin Louis Hunter is still looking forward to his own day in court.

Hunter, 38, took part in a night-time protest on I-94 three days after Castile's death, surrounded by about 500 other people. Near midnight, the scene grew chaotic. Police began arresting protesters who didn't heed calls to leave, angering onlookers who threw rocks, glass, and rebar.

According to the criminal complaint filed against Hunter, there were two things that picked Hunter out of the crowd for special prosecution.

First, a 911 caller reported the license plate number of a vehicle that appeared to belong to people armed with Molotov cocktails. The caller said he heard a man say, "I'm going to show these fucking cops," before grabbing bottles out of the car and hurling them at police. The bottles fizzled, according to the caller.

Next, while objects rained down on police, and police returned fire with chemical sprays and marking rounds, officers reported seeing a man wearing red shirt and white pants in the crowd. He threw rocks and construction debris and wielded a large two-by-four, according to the complaint. One officer hit the man's white pants with a green marking round.

The following day, officers located the car described by the 911 caller and found Hunter inside, allegedly still wearing the same red shirt and white pants, stained with green marking dye, from the night before.

Officers identified Hunter as the person they observed throwing things during the protest. There is no video evidence of this, but the prosecution did produce footage of a man -- who on closer inspection turned out not to resemble Hunter -- carrying around a board. 

Additionally, the 911 caller was unable to pick Hunter out of a line-up, and police were never able to find evidence that Molotov cocktails were used in the area the caller indicated.

Hunter denied throwing anything, and recalled getting hit with a marking round almost instantly after arriving on the freeway following a vigil at the site of his cousin's killing "for no apparent reason."

On Friday, more than one year later, Hunter reiterated his innocence on two felony riot charges, which carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail. Speaking to a crowd of about 50 people gathered outside the offices of Ramsey County Attorney John Choi, he contended he would never get involved in a riot with four daughters looking up to him.

"All I was there for was the protest. Because of the trumped up charges they've given me, I've lost my home, I've lost my business," Hunter said. "That's not right. My kids are overwhelmed, my family, all of us. It's been even hard to mourn my cousin because of all of this going on."

To cries of "drop the charges," demonstrators crowded into the lobby of the county attorney's offices, carrying more than 1,200 postcards written in Hunter's support. A receptionist took in the postcards, but denied protesters' demands for a sit-down meeting with Choi.

Jesse Mortenson, another I-94 arrestee, vowed Hunter's supporters would return every Friday until that meeting takes place.

"We're asking [Choi] to recognize the extraordinary circumstances surrounding this case, to recognize that justice is more than protocol, it's more than rules," Mortenson said. "We're asking him to do the right thing ... drop the charges."

But Choi doesn't have any power to influence the case, according to the Ramsey County Attorney's Office. That decision rests with Carver County Attorney Mark Metz, since the case was handed off to him as soon as it came out that Hunter was related to Castile. It would have been a conflict of interest for Choi's people to prosecute Hunter at the same time as former St. Anthony Officer Jeronimo Yanez, who killed Castile.

Hunter, who in May declined an offer to plead guilty to gross misdemeanor rioting, faces trial on September 25. Though the Carver County Attorney's Office is prosecuting, it is still taking place in Ramsey.

It's unclear what will become of the 1,200 postcards delivered to Choi on Friday. The more cynical of the demonstrators guessed Waste Management. The Attorney's Office did not respond to say.