MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — An attorney for the Lauderdale man accused of shooting at a group of Somali men denies he acted out of hate.
Two of the five men on their way to Ramadan prayers were wounded by the gunfire.
It was early on the morning of June 29 when the group of Somali men had just finished playing basketball.
They were dressed in traditional robes and on their way to early morning Ramadan prayers near the University of Minnesota campus.
Police said 26-year-old Anthony John Sawina and a friend were coming out of a bar and confronted the group.
According to the criminal complaint against Sawina, one of them yelled derrogatory comments against Muslims, and asked, “What’s that dress you’re wearing?”
When the victims attempted to drive away, Sawina pointed a .38 pistol at them and began shooting through the windshield. He then went around to the passenger side door and fired more shots into the vehicle, striking two of the men in the legs.
“I would have actually liked to see no bail,” Jaylani Hussein, who attended Monday’s court appearance, said.
Hussein is executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations of Minnesota and has called for a federal hate crime investigation.
He adds that the shooting is evidence of growing tension and fear for Muslims across America.
“We have seen the rhetoric, we have seen the fear, we have seen the social media and all of the wave of anti-Muslim rhetoric that has happened. And now we’re seeing the results of it with individuals carrying out attacks on Muslims,” Hussein said.
But the attorney for Sawina, Justin Bruntjen, said it wasn’t a hate crime.
“Absolutely not,” Bruntjen said.
Bruntjen said there’s a lot more evidence still to come out regarding the initial altercation. He adds, when it does he believes it will show the 26-year-old is innocent.
“Once we receive everything then it will be shown that Mr. Sawina is not how he’s been portrayed and the situation is not exactly how people think it is,” Bruntjen said.
Sawina’s next appearance will be August 26 for an omnibus hearing. Sawina, who is currently in custody, has two previous convictions for carrying a handgun without a permit. His bail was set at $750,000.