FARGO — A 22-year-old Fargo man will get no additional time behind bars for his part in a late May riot that injured dozens of police officers and caused more than $100,000 in damage to buildings in downtown Fargo.
Abdimanan Bana Habib apologized Monday, Feb. 22, in federal court for throwing rocks at officers and attempting to light a bottle on fire so he could throw it at law enforcement during the May 30 civil unrest, according to his plea agreement.
“All I just ask for is a second chance,” Habib said.
He pleaded guilty to a charge of civil disorder, which stated he obstructed, impeded and interfered with enforcement officers who were performing their duties during the downtown riot. The riot led to the evacuation of the U.S. Postal Service, which halted services for 24 hours. It also forced the Moorhead police to block traffic from entering Minnesota at the First Avenue bridge, prosecutors said.
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The charge is so rare that it’s likely one of the first North Dakota has seen, according to U.S. Attorney Drew Wrigley.
More than two dozen people were arrested as a result of the riots that left broken windows and graffiti on buildings in downtown Fargo. The riots started as peaceful protests calling for justice after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody. Four former Minneapolis officers have been charged in connection to Floyd’s death.
The Fargo protests drew thousands of marchers. They took a violent turn after one protester was hit in West Fargo by a vehicle driven by Michael Charles Griffin, 47. Protesters in downtown Fargo clashed with police later in the evening.
Griffin faced criminal charges, but he died of natural causes before going to trial. In proclaiming Griffin's innocence, his attorneys maintained he was surrounded by “a violent mob” from which he was trying to flee. Protesters claimed they remained peaceful before Griffin accelerated, plowed his vehicle into Francisco Lopez III and drove away with Lopez hanging on to the hood before he was flung off the vehicle.
Protest advocates claimed that sparked violence later on in downtown Fargo. They called for all charges against protesters to be dismissed.
Jonathan Montanez of Moorhead and Errick Steven Toa of Fargo, both 31, also were charged with civil disorder. Both have signed plea agreements admitting to jumping on Fargo police vehicles while officers were inside. Toa is accused of kicking in a windshield, and Montanez allegedly caused damage by slamming his fists against the squad vehicle, according to court documents.
At least one person was acquitted in Cass County District Court in connection to the riots. Another was found not guilty by reason of insanity. Most defendants are awaiting trial.
Toa is slated to be sentenced on April 13, while Montanez will receive his sentence on March 13, according to U.S. District Court records. Both face up to five years in prison.
Habib also faced that amount of prison time, but prosecutors asked for a six-month sentence with credit for roughly four months of time served.
Defense attorney Chad Pennington asked for time served after suggesting Habib would get the harshest sentence of the three men federally charged in North Dakota in connection to the riot. Pennington argued Montanez’s and Toa’s actions were equally as, if not more serious, than Habib’s.
Wrigley declined to comment on what Toa and Montanez could be sentenced to, noting multiple factors, including criminal history, play a role in determining prison time.
Habib acknowledged his criminal history did not make him look like the best person, but he has had jobs in the past and currently has a support system.
There were 176 people who caused damage during the riots, Pennington said. He questioned why these cases were brought before federal court when there were other ways of settling the alleged criminal conduct.
Pennington said the death of Floyd impacted not only Habib’s family but all people of color and the U.S.
“This case is not about George Floyd, but it is about George Floyd to some degree,” he said.
Prosecutor Alexander Stock said he took issue with any insinuation that his office went after Black protesters like Habib and didn’t pursue charges against whites because of discrimination. The U.S. Attorney's Office brought charges based on what suspects were identifiable and what prosecutors could prove happened, he said.
Wrigley emphasized that race does not play a role in deciding what cases to prosecute. Filing federal charges was about going after suspects who crossed the line away from politics into violence, he said.
“It is driven 100% by ... the provable conduct of individuals,” he said.
Judge Peter Welte agreed to give Habib credit for time served but said he couldn’t accept that the case was about Floyd. The video of Floyd dying is disturbing, Welte noted, but violence is not the best way to achieve peace, he added.
“This case is about the civil disorder to which Mr. Habib has pled,” Welte said.
Habib also must pay $1,500 for breaking a window at the Exchange Building and $1,000 for spray painting the Alerus building.
The Forum was the only news outlet in the courtroom.