Man Who Drove at Minneapolis Protesters Charged With Murder

Nothing in the criminal complaint suggested the driver’s actions were motivated by political views or anger at protesters

Deona Knajdek and Winston Smith
Photo by Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune via Getty Images

A St. Paul man accused of speeding up and driving into a group of protesters in Minneapolis while he was drunk, killing one person, was charged Wednesday with intentional second-degree murder.

Prosecutors say Nicholas Kraus, 35, was visibly intoxicated Sunday night when he sped up and tried to “jump” a car that was being used as a barricade by protesters in the city’s Uptown neighborhood.

Deona Knajdek, 31, also known as Deona Erickson, was killed.

There’s nothing in the criminal complaint to suggest the driver’s actions were motivated by political views or anger at protesters. The murder count alleges he intended to cause death, but his actions were not premeditated. He’s also charged with two counts of second-degree assault with a dangerous weapon, for injuring two other protesters.

According to the criminal complaint, the suspect told officers he saw the car and believed he needed to get over it. He said he saw people in the area, but “he accelerated in order to try and jump the barricade and acknowledged that he did not attempt to brake,” the complaint says. It also says he admitted that he thought he might have hit someone.

Kraus will make his first court appearance Thursday and it wasn't immediately clear if he had an attorney to comment on his behalf. He's being held at the Hennepin County jail, which does not take messages for people in custody.

Protests have been ongoing in Uptown since members of a U.S. Marshals Service task force fatally shot Winston Boogie Smith Jr., a 32-year-old Black man and father of three, on June 3. Authorities said they were trying to arrest Smith on a warrant for being a felon in possession of a firearm when he displayed a handgun from inside a parked SUV. Authorities also say evidence shows Smith fired his gun from inside the SUV, but a female passenger has said she never saw him with a gun.

Minneapolis has been on edge since the death of George Floyd, who died last year after an officer used his knee to pin Floyd's neck to the ground, and the fatal police shooting of another Black man, Daunte Wright, in a nearby suburb.

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On Tuesday, city crews began clearing and reopening streets near the site of Smith’s shooting and Knajdek’s death, but after police left, protesters moved back in and blocked traffic. Police say 30 people were arrested Tuesday night, with most receiving misdemeanor citations.

The street was open to traffic Wednesday afternoon. Though obstructions to traffic were removed, a memorial featuring messages in chalk and flowers left by mourners remained intact.

The Minnesota National Guard tweeted that — at the request of the city — it was prepared to send about 100 soldiers to Minneapolis in the event of unrest.

Witnesses have said the man was driving an SUV when he struck a parked car, sending it into the crowd of demonstrators. Police said protesters pulled him from his vehicle and witnesses reported demonstrators struck him. The man was arrested and treated for injuries at a hospital.

Kraus has five convictions for driving while impaired dating back to a 2007 incident, according to online court records. At one point, he told officers that the SUV he was driving on Sunday was in another person's name because he had no license due to his drunken driving offenses, the complaint says. Court records show his driver’s license was canceled in 2013.

A search warrant affidavit seeking a blood sample from Kraus says he admitted several times that he was the driver, without being asked, but when asked specific questions he gave illogical and irrelevant answers. The driver told police his name was Jesus Christ and Tim Burton, that he had been a carpenter for 2,000 years, and that he wanted to get his children to the Super Bowl, the affidavit says.

The officer tried to perform a field sobriety test, but the man “was unable to follow directions and would not keep his eyes open long enough to complete the test," the affidavit said.

Results from the blood tests are pending.

Other injuries and deaths have been reported involving vehicles at protests across the U.S. as people have increasingly taken to the streets to press their grievances. In Minneapolis, marching onto freeways has become a common tactic. Last year, a semitrailer rolled into a crowdmarching on a closed freeway. No one was seriously injured.

Republican politicians in several states, including Oklahoma, Florida and Iowa, have sought legal immunity for drivers who hit protesters.

Associated Press/Report for America writer Mohamed Ibrahim contributed to this report.

This story has been corrected to show the day of Kraus’ first appearance is Thursday.

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