MINNEAPOLS (WCCO) — The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office has charged 35-year-old Nicholas Kraus with second-degree unpremeditated murder, after allegedly plowing his SUV into protesters Sunday night in Minneapolis, killing one woman and injuring three others.
The incident happened at the intersection of West Lake Street and Girard Avenue in Uptown, where protesters have gathered nightly to demonstrate against the police shooting of Winston Boogie Smith Jr.READ MORE: Protesters Plan March In Uptown Marking Deona Knajdek’s Birthday
Investigators say Kraus slammed his SUV into a parked car in the middle of the street, pushing it into a group of protesters. The car belonged to Deona Knajdek, who was using the vehicle to protect protesters. The 31-year-old activist and mother of two was hit in the crash and fatally injured. She was pronounced dead at a hospital shortly after.
Another injured person was brought to Hennepin Healthcare for treatment. Two others also sought medical attention for non-life-threatening injuries. Kraus also faces two charges of second-degree assault stemming from those two injured parties.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman admitted the second-degree intentional murder charge against Kraus is aggressive, saying, “he was at least partially drunk, he drove up to the barricades on Lake Street, he decided that he was going to go over them and accelerated rather than break, almost like a ‘Dukes of Hazzard’ driving stunt.”
“His behavior and admittance to intentionally driving towards the protestors is one important reason why we have charged him with intentional second-degree murder,” he added. “This office is shocked by this level of violence in our streets.”
Protesters apprehended Kraus that evening, whom they say tried to run from the scene. The protesters held him down until police arrived and took him into custody.
A recently unsealed warrant to collect a blood sample from the driver says Kraus told officers, while handcuffed and sitting in a squad car, that his name was “Jesus Christ” and “Tim Burton,” and that he “has been a carpenter for 2,000 years.” He also allegedly said that he wanted to “get his children to the Super Bowl,” and asked an officer if they would tell his dead mother that “he does not like her.”
Police said his pupils were small, and didn’t react or change size even when a flash light was shined into his eyes.
Records show that Kraus does not have a valid license as a result of multiple DUI offenses. He told police the vehicle he was driving was in another person’s name because he had no license and “needed to use a loophole to get the car.”
Freeman said there is no evidence that Kraus’ motive was in any way political. He added that the incident appears to be the latest and most serious in a long list of alcohol-fueled run-ins with the law.READ MORE: Driver Plows Into Protesters In Uptown; Woman Killed Identified As Deona Knajdek
‘We don’t have any evidence that he told anyone beforehand ‘I’m going to Lake Street, I want to run over protesters,'” he said.
Kraus has been in Hennepin County Jail since the incident on Sunday. He is being held on $1 million bond and his first court appearance is on Thursday. Because of his criminal history, Kraus could get a sentence of more than 30 years if he is convicted.
He was charged on what would have been Knajdek’s 32nd birthday.
The medical examiner identified her as Deona Marie Erickson on Wednesday. Her family says she was in the process of changing her legal name back to Knajdek.
Police say that a city camera would have captured video of the deadly crash if it hadn’t been painted over by someone earlier that night. The footage would have provided more evidence to the county attorney’s office to prosecute the driver, police said.
Knajdek died while protesting the June 3 shooting of Smith, a 32-year-old father of three. According to authorities, the Black man who was wanted for a weapons violation fired a gun from inside a vehicle when stopped by members of the U.S. Marshals Fugitive Task Force atop an Uptown parking ramp. Two deputies in the task force fired at Smith, killing him.
The lawyer for the woman who was in the car with Smith disputes the fact that he had a gun. She said she didn’t see a gun on Smith or in the vehicle.
Since Smith’s shooting, there have been protests and vandalism in Uptown. Following Knajdek’s death, protesters have attempted to block streets in the area, but the makeshift barricades were cleared by city crews and police.
Tensions between protesters and police remain high in the Twin Cities as Smith’s death is the latest in a string of fatal encounters between Black men and law enforcement.
Last summer, George Floyd died under the knee of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who was found guilty of murder earlier this year. In April, Daunte Wright was fatally shot by a Brooklyn Center police officer during a traffic stop. That officer, Kim Potter, is facing manslaughter charges.
WCCO has reached out to Knajdek’s family for comment and have not heard back.