Racially motivated crime raises questions in Cold Spring

A view of a crowded city council chambers.
People fill the Cold Spring City Council chambers Tuesday, July 27, 2021, in Cold Spring.
Dave Schwarz | St. Cloud Times

July. That is the first time the Cold Spring Police Department reported a racially-motivated crime in 2021, after a vehicle with a block of granite on the accelerator crashed into the home of a multiracial family.

Property damage on May 4 and May 10 allegedly involving the same suspect and the same family were not reported to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension as motivated by bias, a newspaper investigation found.

Nor were four other incidents between December 2020 and July 2021 which Andrea Robinson reported as hate crimes or crimes of bias, said Robinson, whose home was targeted in that July 24 crash. Although members of her family were inside the home at the time, no one was injured.

The July crash is the only bias-linked crime reported by Cold Spring police this year, according to records provided to the St. Cloud Times by the BCA. In 2020 only one incident was reported in Cold Spring to the BCA as motivated by bias. The 2020 incident was listed as an anti-white assault.

Details of the 2020 assault were not immediately available from the Cold Spring Police Department. Chief Jason Blum did not immediately reply to a an email or voicemail seeking comment, the Times reported.

A vehicle crashed into the home of Andrea and Phil Robinson on Saturday, July 24, 2021. The suspect has been charged with stealing the vehicle, stalking, first-degree damage to property and violating a restraining order.

Each month police departments across Minnesota must report any crimes in which “the officer has reason to believe, or if the victim alleges, that the offender was motivated to commit the act by the victim’s race, religion, national origin, sex, age, disability or characteristics identified as sexual orientation,” according to state law.

That data is shared in the annual Minnesota Uniform Crime Report. It’s used by lawmakers and other groups to identify trends in the state.

Advocates and DFLers pushed for changes to the state’s hate crime law this year in hopes of improving the reporting of bias-related crimes and expanding the statute to include victims targeted for their gender, gender identity or gender expression. The proposal did not pass, though many believe hate crimes are underreported in Minnesota.

“As a citizen I do not have the ability to self-report crimes motivated by bias to the state. I’m frustrated that after repeated requests the local authorities still have not reported the majority of crimes as required by statute,” Robinson told the St. Cloud Times about the alleged racial bias in the crimes against her family. “I’m concerned these crimes aren’t being taken serious enough and question how many other instances haven’t been reported to the state.”

State law calls for the motivation of bias to be reported based on a victim’s allegation or an officer’s belief.

Stearns County Court records filed in August allege that Benton Beyer, who is the white suspect in the crash, was motivated by a bias against Black men in a string on incidents, including many involving the Robinsons.

Stearns County prosecutors initially charged Beyer with stalking, violating a restraining order, property damage and vehicle theft related to the July 24 crash. After further investigation, and lobbying by the Robinson family and their supporters, the charges against Beyer were amended.

The new charges included earlier incidents — allegedly breaking windows on two vehicles owned by Robinson family members — and a new stalking charge and two second-degree assault charges linked to racial bias. The bias factor could increase the sentence if Beyer is convicted, but that’s only possible on first- through third-degree assaults.

All crimes, whether they’re assaults or property crimes or neither, are supposed to be reported to the state if there is an alleged bias motive.

In 2020, for example, 223 bias incidents were reported to the state by law enforcement agencies with 66 involving vandalism, 64 intimidation, 46 simple assault, 34 aggravated assault, 13 “other larceny,” five robbery, four burglary and one arson, according to the Minnesota Uniform Crime Report.

In mid-August Beyer was also charged with two new counts of property damage for allegedly keying the vehicle of an unknown Black man in a St. Cloud parking lot in May. Court records list racial bias as a suspected motivating factor.

Robinson says she reported six incidents to Cold Spring police as racially-motivated that didn’t show up in BCA records request. That includes vehicle damage in May that has been charged. It also includes one instance when Robinson’s husband Phil spent 20 minutes with his hands up, surrounded by police, after Beyer allegedly reported that a Black man threatened him. No charges resulted from that event.

“I don’t want our journey to simply be a story of what went wrong, and of all the systems that failed us. This is an opportunity to create change, to evaluate past practices and acknowledge things that didn’t go well,” Robinson said. “We have the ability to see beyond our differences and become a stronger community — one that values differences and embraces them.”

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