Charges dropped against Minnesota Capitol attacker; woman who kept restaurant open goes to jail

Lisa Hanson, who kept her restaurant open during a shutdown, was sentenced to jail the same week the man who led an assault on the Minnesota Capitol that destroyed a historic statue saw his charges dropped.

Mike Forcia and Lisa Hanson (YouTube screenshots)

A woman who kept her restaurant open against Gov. Tim Walz’s orders was convicted and began her jail term the same week the state dropped charges against the man who toppled and destroyed a statue of Christopher Columbus at the Minnesota Capitol.

Lisa Hanson owns The Interchange Wine and Coffee Bistro in Albert Lea, Minnesota. When Walz issued an executive order last year demanding that all bars and restaurants close their doors in the name of COVID-19 prevention, she did not comply. This resulted in her being convicted of six criminal misdemeanors on Thursday following a trial that took less than a week and a jury deliberation that took only a few hours.

She is now serving a 90-day jail sentence.

The judge who presided over the case, Joseph Bueltel, accused Hanson of being motivated by greed as the verdict was announced. “You wanted to make money over the interest of public safety,” the judge said. Bueltel, a graduate of a poorly-ranked law school, was appointed by former Gov. Jesse Ventura.

Hanson, however, said she was motivated by a desire to keep her business afloat during a shutdown that cost up to 13% of workers their jobs. She said she does follow the law, but argued that Walz’s orders were not constitutional.

The jury, made up of three men and three women, were not sympathetic to this argument.

Just two days prior to this conviction, there was another notable legal development: the state dismissed the criminal case against Mike Forcia on Dec. 7.

Forcia is the man who orchestrated the tearing down of the statue of Christopher Columbus that used to sit outside the Capitol. The statue was a gift from the Italian American community presented in 1931.

He admitted to heading up the effort to vandalize the statue, organized protesters at the event and can be seen cheering as it falls in several videos of the event.

Forcia completed community service as a condition of having the case dismissed. According to court documents, the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office supported a dismissal, citing a Minnesota policy that favors “alternatives to conviction and confinement for people who have not previously been convicted of a crime.”

Like Forcia, Hanson has no prior criminal convictions.

“There was context for this unlawful act that was committed out of civil disobedience that we should seek to understand and reckon with in determining the legal system’s response to this act,” prosecutors said in one court document from Forcia’s case.

This dismissal of Forcia’s case is not the first time the state has tacitly approved of his assault on the seat of Minnesota’s democracy. Gov. Walz knew of the plot to attack the  Capitol grounds, but chose to do nothing. Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan overtly praised the attack.