ST. PAUL — State and local public safety officials are preparing for demonstrations and possible violence at the Minnesota Capitol ahead of jury selection next week in the Derek Chauvin murder trial in Minneapolis.
Officials on Friday, March 5, told the Minnesota Advisory Committee on Capitol Security that they were readying equipment and thousands of law enforcement officers in the event that protests or demonstrations at the Statehouse broke the peace.
Former Minneapolis police officer Chauvin is set to stand trial this month on second-degree murder charges in the killing of George Floyd while in police custody May 25, 2020. A coroner ruled his death a homicide.
Floyd's death and a viral video that depicted it sparked protests, as well as looting and arson fires, in the Twin Cities Metro area last year. And public safety groups have spent months preparing violence mitigation efforts as the eyes of the world again turn to Minneapolis for the trial.
St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell told the committee that as part of a broader Operation Safety Net in the Twin Cities, the east metro region was preparing to scale up its presence with up to 1,000 officers and 1,000 National Guardsmen from local law enforcement agencies. Axtell said the ability to quickly bring in more officers could help prevent sudden instances of civil unrest like those around the Twin Cities last summer.
"Last year was something we really could have never guessed would occur in our state and certainly it was a flashpoint that just happened very quickly," he said. "We're much better positioned this year to make sure we're able to address those potential flashpoints."
While the coalition of law enforcement groups had yet to detect an "credible, imminent threat" to the trial, leaders said they were continuing to monitor for potential incidents of violence in the Twin Cities or beyond.
And officials said they were planning to keep in place fencing around the state Capitol to keep demonstrators from the building. That fence will remain up for the foreseeable future and the Capitol building, which has been closed to the public since last March due to COVID-19, is set to remain closed until at least June 30, Minnesota State Patrol Colonel Matt Langer said.
Langer said the State Patrol was also running "table-top exercises" in preparation for violent actions at the Capitol and were gearing up with equipment that could be helpful in responding to vandalism, looting or other illegal activity.