Normandale student charged in hockey riot

by Dan Haugen

Hennepin County prosecutors charged an 18-year-old Normandale Community College student Friday with second-degree felony arson in connection with the April 12 riot in Dinkytown.

According to the complaint, Ahmad Salah Samaha used a burning branch to set fire to gasoline that had spilled from an overturned Hyundai in the parking lot adjacent to Erbert & Gerbert’s on Fourth Street Southeast. The car immediately burst into flames.

Minneapolis police identified Samaha from photographs and video submitted to the department. The car he allegedly destroyed belonged to Lucy Kervin, a sandwich shop employee working at the time.

If convicted, Samaha faces up to 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine.

A University student also faces a felony charge for participation in the riot. Institute of Technology junior Travis Hinck will be arraigned Friday for first-degree damage to property.

According to the criminal complaint, officers observed Hinck throwing a glass bottle toward police officers near the intersection of 13th Avenue Southeast and Fourth Street Southeast.

When police arrested Hinck, they placed him in the back of a booking van. Officers said Hinck forcefully kicked the rear doors, causing $850 worth of damage to the van.

Hinck declined to comment Friday, but his attorney, Frederick Goetz, said he has never been more convinced of a client’s innocence.

“It’s a case where I think authorities are rushing to judgment,” he said. “They slapped the case together without knowing all the facts, and they’ve got the wrong guy.”

Twenty-year-old Benjamin Sayotovich of Princeton, Minn., pleaded innocent to three riot-related charges Friday, including gross misdemeanor assault of an officer. His next court date is a pretrial hearing May 7.

Police continue to collect evidence and investigate leads related to the riot. Prosecutors last week referred four cases back to police for more evidence.

“My guess is we’re not going to just drop them,” Minneapolis police spokesman Ron Reier said Friday.

Meanwhile, Minneapolis city prosecutors dismissed misdemeanor charges Friday against three University students -Kyle Bernhardt, Jed Hirschfeld and Katherine Roth – for lack of evidence.

At least five people have been identified, arrested or charged after their pictures were posted on the University police Web site. More arrests and charges are expected soon, according to the Web site.

Dan Haugen welcomes comments at [email protected]