Street racers can be prosecuted for being 'armed with dangerous weapon': MN appeals court

An image from of an intersection "takeover" in Minneapolis. (Image provided) 

People who participate in street racing and "takeovers" of intersections in Minnesota can be charged with second-degree riot because they can be legally considered to be "armed with a dangerous weapon," namely, their cars, according to a Minnesota Court of Appeals ruling issued Monday. 

Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty said the court’s decision to allow prosecutors to use the second-degree riot charge, which comes with a possible sentence of up to a five-year prison term and a $10,000 fine, could be an important tool for authorities as they seek to rein in street racing and intersection "takeovers" ahead of the summer.

"This driving conduct presents a significant safety risk to the drivers, the vehicle occupants, spectators, and the community in general. We are pleased the Court of Appeals recognized the recklessness and danger involved," she said. "With warmer days coming we will continue to partner with state and local law enforcement to deter this conduct and file appropriate charges against those who knowingly and willingly place others at risk."

Attorney Drake Metzger, who represents the man charged in the case, said the ruling was "disappointing" and he was considering appealing to the Minnesota Supreme Court. "This case is far from over," he told FOX 9.


Street racers gather in Uptown Minneapolis, throw rocks at police

Two Minneapolis officers were injured while responded to street racing at Lagoon and Hennepin avenues early Sunday morning, according to police.

Video evidence 

The court’s decision overturned a ruling from a district court that had thrown out a second-degree riot charge against Ayyoob Abdus-Salam. He's the 25-year-old man who investigators with the Minneapolis Police Department believe was a well-known promoter of "takeovers," events in which crowds gather to watch cars perform donuts at a designated large section. Spectators watch both from the center and in a circle around the cars, which spin their tires and rev their engines as they whip around in a circle, with passengers hanging out the windows and off the sides of the vehicle.

According to the criminal complaint, Salam was the promoter of a takeover that occurred on April 9, 2022, at the intersection of 22nd Avenue North and 2nd Street North in Minneapolis, where officers observed him in a car "hanging from the passenger side window doing stunts." 

Videos of the event posted to social media showed cars frequently coming dangerously close to striking spectators, and in one case, footage showed a spinning car hitting a young man in the hip, knocking him to the ground, according to the criminal complaint.     

The complaint cites a YouTube account, DezTooOffxcial, which has posted several videos of street racing events in the Minneapolis area. FOX 9 could not determine if any of the videos posted by that account depicted the event described in the complaint. 

Calculated vs. likely 

The district court had ruled prosecutors didn't have enough evidence to charge Salam as being "armed with dangerous weapons," because the cars were not used in a matter "calculated to cause great bodily harm." In overruling the decision, the appeals court determined whatever Salam's intentions, a jury could find he had reason to believe that cars were "likely" to cause great bodily harm, and therefore the second-degree riot charge was appropriate.  

"... a person viewing the video evidence might easily imagine someone losing his grip on the side of a circling car and suffering a head injury from the pavement or being driven over, resulting in great bodily harm. We are certain that the question ought to reach the jury," the court's opinion reads. 

Metzger also noted that the ruling does not establish that the car was a "dangerous weapon," as jury would need to reach that determination after a trial. 

"My client still has an opportunity to go to trial, and the state needs to prove that element beyond a reasonable doubt," he said.  

The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office has charged several other people with second-degree riot for their alleged involvement with intersection takeovers. Those cases are still pending.