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Bruce Nestor
Bruce Nestor

Bar Buzz: Protester pleads out, scrubbing self-defense bid

It was stacking up as an intriguing defense. But it will never see the light day.

Starr Antoinette Vann-Jackson, 21, of St. Paul, admitted guilt to a reduced charge of misdemeanor disorderly conduct in a plea deal offered by St. Paul city prosecutors Monday. He had been accused of two gross misdemeanors — third-degree riot and use of tear gas and a stun gun against pro-Trump Capitol rallygoers on March 4.

Vann-Jackson, originally arrested under the name Austin Marcus Jackson, was charged after police identified him among half a dozen counterdemonstrators who were accused of acting out violently at the permitted pro-Trump rally. Both charges carried maximum penalties of one year in jail and a $3,000 fine.

His Minneapolis civil rights attorney, Bruce Nestor, had been preparing a staunch defense. On Sept. 28, Nestor filed notice with Ramsey County District Court saying that he “intends to assert self-defense and the defense of others at trial.”

Nestor followed that with several Oct. 27 court motions. One sought to exclude any testimony gathered in court or out of court if it identified Vann-Jackson as a suspect. Witnesses pointed to Vann-Jackson even though he allegedly wore goggles and a mask covering his face, and then only after being shown photos and video footage, the motion states.

“Any claimed identification of the defendant, either in court of out of court is irreparably tainted,” the motion states. It also claims that witnesses were biased against his client because they all came from the pro-Trump crowd at the protest.

Other motions filed the same day sought to dismiss the charges based on lack of probable cause, or in the alternative, to force prosecutors to file a “more definite complaint.”

In October, Nestor told Minnesota Lawyer the evidence he had seen suggested that a self-defense bid might be well warranted. “There certainly is a different narrative about what went on there than what you have seen,” the lawyer said.

As late as Monday morning, it appeared Nestor would push on with a multi-pronged defense. Awaiting a hearing before Ramsey County District Court Judge DeAnne Hilgers, Nestor said he expected the judge would schedule future hearings to listen to his motions.

Instead, Nestor said Thursday, prosecutors offered his client a reduced charge with no jail time and it was accepted. “So Mr. Jackson pleaded guilty to misdemeanor disorderly conduct based on having been loud and boisterous,” the attorney said.

Vann-Jackson was sentenced to 30 days in jail, with all 30 days stayed for one year if he refrains from committing the same or any similar offenses. He was also fined $50.

He acknowledged the plea agreement undid a good bit of lawyerly work and prevented an intriguing argument from being aired out in court. “But once an offer is made to plead to a misdemeanor with no jail time, that changes things,” he said.

Still, he conceded, “The motions sure would have been interesting. The self-defense, if we had gone to trial, would have been very interesting.”

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