A Minnesota man has been charged with intentional second-degree murder after driving while drunk into a group of people protesting police brutality, according to a criminal complaint filed Wednesday.
Nicholas David Kraus, 35, purposefully accelerated into a barricade that was blocking off the street where the protesters were gathered Sunday night to protest the death of Winston Smith, a Black man killed by undercover sheriff's deputies on June 3, according to the complaint.
Activist Deona Marie Knajdek, 31, was killed and two others were injured.
In addition to murder, Kraus has been charged with two counts of second-degree assault with a dangerous weapon. He is expected to appear in court Thursday afternoon.
Protesters had gathered Sunday night for a peaceful vigil in Smith's honor near the place where he was killed. They were playing volleyball and Red Light, Green Light in the street prior to the attack, according to witnesses.
The group had constructed a barricade to block off the protest area, and Knajdek had parked her car alongside it to form an additional barrier, police and family members said.
At approximately 11:39 p.m. local time, Kraus, driving a Jeep SUV, rammed into the barricade, striking Knajdek's car and pushing it back into the group. According to the complaint, law enforcement officers confirmed initial eyewitness reports that Kraus was accelerating at the moment of impact.
Witnesses said that Knajdek, a mother of two, was sitting on the ground by her car when Kraus hit the barricade. She sustained severe trauma to her head and was unresponsive when an ambulance arrived on the scene. She was pronounced dead at the hospital.
Protesters restrained Kraus until police arrived. The complaint notes that Kraus appeared "visibly intoxicated" and initially gave a false name to officers on the scene. He was not able to be Mirandized and interviewed until the next day.
Kraus told police that he observed the barricade, parked car, and people around it as he was driving but believed that he needed to get his car over the barrier. He said he floored the accelerator and did not attempt to brake "because he thought that would help him jump the barricade."
Kraus admitted that the vehicle he was driving was registered in another person's name because his license had been revoked due to driving while drunk. Online court records show that Kraus has a criminal history of driving while under the influence of alcohol dating back to 2007 and five prior DWI convictions, including one felony DWI.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman described the attack as "an extreme and violent intentional act" in a statement released alongside the criminal complaint Wednesday. "His behavior and admittance to intentionally driving towards the protestors is one important reason why we have charged him with intentional second-degree murder," Freeman said.
On Wednesday, Minneapolis activists gathered for a vigil at the place where the attack occurred to mark what would have been Knajdek's 32nd birthday.
“We all know that could've been any one of us, that could've been our name right here,” Toussaint Morrison, a community activist, told a local news station. “Deona placed her car right there and probably saved 10 people from getting mowed down.”
In a Facebook video, Knajdek's mother, Deborah Marie Kenney, urged people to be peaceful "in Deona's name" and not demonize Kraus, who, she said, "made an irrational decision."
"We can't get her back by being mad. I know that's an emotion everybody wants to share," she said. "My daughter wouldn't have wanted us to act negatively. That's why she was standing on the corner with friends with a peaceful protest. So remember that as you see events on TV and social media. Let the anger go."
Kenney wrote that a "Justice for Deona Marie" rally will be held in Knajdek's memory on June 20 for "those who loved and supported her during her peaceful protest."