Two Bemidji men arrested on suspicion of cross burning incident last month
BEMIDJI - Two Bemidji men were arrested Wednesday in connection to a burning cross reported in a yard north of the city last month.
Derek Daniel Barnes, 20, and Ryan Fairbanks Andree, 19, were arrested on suspicion of terroristic threats and use of explosive/incendiary devices, according to a news release issued Wednesday night by the Beltrami County Sheriff's Office.
Investigative reports will be forwarded to the Beltrami County Attorney's Office for review by prosecutors, who will consider formal charges.
No other details of the arrests were immediately available. Calls by Pioneer staff to sheriff's officials earlier this week about the investigation were not returned.
The May 25 incident, in which a woman reported the burning cross propped against a tree in her Northern Township yard, remains under investigation by the Sheriff's Office, FBI and the state's Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.
The report to the Sheriff's Office came at 12:40 a.m., when the woman reported the burning 8-foot cross and a person fleeing on foot from the area. She extinguished the fire with a garden hose and deputies later found a racist message and artifacts on the cross.
Sheriff Phil Hodapp previously said investigators were investigating the incident as a "bias crime, allowing for stiffer potential penalties. State law defines a bias crime as conduct committed because of a victim's race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, disability or national origin.
The woman who reported the cross is white while her two adult children are mixed-race because their father is black.
The woman was home alone and ran outside to douse the flames with water after seeing flames extend five feet into the air, she told the Pioneer. The newspaper agreed to withhold her name after she requested not to be identified to protect her family's identity.
"I was scared to death," she told the Pioneer. "Somebody has this much hatred to be lighting a cross?"
Previously, officials said suspects in the case could face a charge of gross misdemeanor fourth-degree assault, as the crime would allegedly have been committed because of bias. Fourth-degree assault can be charged against those accused of intentionally inflicting bodily harm or those who committed an act with the intent of causing bodily harm. Those charges have a potential maximum penalty of a year in jail.
However, the arrested charges could levy felony charges if prosecutors agree with investigators' recommendations and stiffer penalties if there is a conviction.
Audrey Thayer, the coordinator of the Greater Minnesota Racial Justice Project (ACLU-MN), said last week that she would ask city and county officials to support a resolution denouncing race-motivated crimes. Both jurisdictions appeared to support resolutions earlier this week.
Shared Vision, which works with race relations, is hoping to plan a gathering of some sort where government officials can speak about the sobering event and keep it fresh in the community's mind.