FARGO — Federal prosecutors have charged a 30-year-old man after video allegedly shows him smashing the windshield of an occupied police car during the May 30 riot in downtown Fargo.
Errick Steven Toa of Fargo appeared Wednesday, July 8, in federal court for a civil disorder charge that carries up to five years in prison.
It’s possibly the first case in North Dakota history in which a protester has faced such a federal charge as a result of civil unrest or rioting, U.S. Attorney Drew Wrigley said Wednesday as he unveiled the criminal complaint against Toa during a press conference.
More people could face federal prosecution in connection with the riot, Wrigley said. Law enforcement continues to go through evidence to identify protesters who violated federal statutes, he said.
"They can wear masks. They can obstruct their identities only for so long," Wrigley said.
Toa was one of roughly 20 protesters arrested in connection with the May 30 riot after thousands marched peacefully around the city. Demonstrators took to the streets in support of George Floyd, a Black man who died in Minneapolis police custody.
The protests in Fargo turned violent that evening. Toa was seen jumping onto the hood of a Fargo squad car and yelling, before stomping on the windshield, court documents say.
Officers were inside the car at the time. Toa was taken into custody after police saw him punch a civilian in the face, court documents allege.
“Mr. Toa, congratulations. He was the star player of some video,” Wrigley said.
Other rioters were seen throwing rocks, bottles and a molotov cocktail, according to court documents. Windows of downtown businesses were broken, JL Beers bar was looted and a dumpster was set ablaze. Some officers were injured.
Toa and other accused rioters were charged with various crimes in Cass County District Court. State-level charges against Toa, including a felony count of inciting a riot, have been dismissed, making way for federal prosecution.
Police said Toa claimed he was a "Blood" before he allegedly jumped on the squad car. Wrigley declined to comment on whether his office was able to confirm if Toa was part of the Los Angeles-based street gang famously known for its rivalry with the Crips.
It's possible Toa made statements to intimidate others, Wrigley said.
A federal civil disorder charge can be brought against someone who obstructs, impedes or interferes with a law enforcement officer's duties in a violent matter.
OneFargo, a group advocating for police reform, has called for charges against protesters to be dismissed after former Fargo Deputy Police Chief Todd Osmundson admitted to walking among demonstrators while undercover without authorization.
Osmundson said he was drinking beer and yelling at officers, according to an internal investigation. He later resigned.
Chief David Todd declined to forward investigatory documents to prosecutors because Osmundson's conduct didn't "warrant further criminal investigation."
Wrigley said he has not received police documents that could lead to potential charges against the ex-officer, but what he has seen from public documents and media reports is not enough to bring charges.
OneFargo said in a statement Wednesday that this is a double standard "for the people of power and the people of the community."
"We as a community can not allow this injustice to stand. We will do what we must to make sure that he is held accountable," OneFargo said.
The small number of people who allegedly took part in illegal activity May 30 not only disrupted commerce and police work, but also "robbed" others of the "sacred" right to assemble peacefully, Wrigley said.
“That can’t stand,” he said, adding that he hopes the charge will deter others. "One of the most important values that we protect is people's right to assemble, their right to petition their government for change."
Toa's attorney, Dane DeKrey, declined to comment for this story. DeKrey is the advocacy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of North Dakota, which called for Osmundson's resignation after news outlets revealed he went undercover without authorization.
DeKrey is representing Toa through his personal law firm, not the ACLU.
Regarding the prospect of alleged rioters facing federal charges, DeKrey previously told The Forum: "Federalizing this would be an unwarranted and troubling escalation."