A man with a lengthy criminal history was charged Friday after a KSTP-TV anchor was allegedly randomly assaulted on an LRT platform in downtown Minneapolis on Tuesday.
Vennie Jerome Williams, 39, has been charged with third-degree assault and harassment with intent to injure after he threw a rock or other object directly at KSTP anchor Matt Belanger as he walked across the Nicollet Avenue light rail platform (at 5th Street South), according to the criminal complaint.
The charges filed Friday in Hennepin County, MN, state that Belanger was walking on the platform when a person not known to him “suddenly cocked his arm back” and threw what Belanger thought was a rock from about three feet away. Belanger was struck in the eye and sustained traumatic injuries, according to the criminal complaint.
The assault was captured on surveillance video and police were able to subsequently locate Williams near 6th Street South and Marquette Avenue, and Belanger identified him as the assailant.
Williams was arrested and police noted that he was “angry” and repeatedly swearing while in the squad car. Williams spontaneously made statements to police indicating that he assaulted Belanger because he perceived Belanger was “homosexual,” the complaint said.
Despite the fact that Williams admitted committing the assault based on his perception of Belanger’s sexual orientation, Williams was not charged with any type of “hate crime” charge.
Williams has a lengthy criminal history in Minnesota, nearly 40 cases, with records stretching back to 1998 at the age of 18, including numerous felony convictions. Past media reports include arrests for serial felony thefts across the metro in 2012.
Williams also has at least five open cases in Hennepin County charged between 2017 and 2018 that include burglary, theft and receiving stolen property – six felony charges in all. All five of the open cases are connected to corresponding mental health court cases.
Williams has been found incompetent to stand trial in all five cases several times since they were charged, as recently as February 25, according to court records. Future hearings for all five cases are scheduled for August.
It’s unclear, with the finding of incompetency, why Williams wasn’t being held in a mental health facility prior to the time of his arrest on Tuesday for the assault on Belanger. No one at the county attorney’s office was immediately available to answer that question.
Belanger posted on his Facebook page Thursday expressing gratitude to those who messaged with concern for his well-being following the assault.
The criminal complaint states that Belanger will face a long recovery with the possibility of re-injury or even loss of vision in the eye and is at risk for “serious medical complications” for years to come due to the injury.
Williams remains in custody on $100,000 bail and is scheduled to make his first court appearance on Monday. Williams was also charged after his arrest on Tuesday in another case related to felony financial card fraud out of St. Louis Park.
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