Michael Charles Griffin, 47, died Aug. 31 from natural causes after an unnamed brief illness, Aaland Law Office said in a news release on Tuesday, Sept. 8. Griffin faced felony charges of aggravated assault and reckless endangerment.
Prosecutors alleged Griffin hit Francisco Lopez III with his Subaru station wagon in West Fargo amid a crowd of protesters, drove with Lopez on the hood for three blocks and hit speeds of 45 mph before Lopez pushed himself off. Lopez's leg broke, though it's unclear if Griffin's vehicle tire or the fall caused the injury.
It's likely the charges will be dropped, but not for lack of evidence, Cass County Assistant State's Attorney Joshua Traiser said. The prosecutor said he had enough evidence to proceed with the case, but it's not fair to prosecute someone who can't defend himself, Traiser added.
“Michael’s family regrets that Michael’s final days were spent under the stress of criminal charges that would, upon conclusion of the pending criminal justice process have been dismissed,” the news release said.
A criminal complaint detailed the allegations of what unfolded as thousands of protesters marched through the metro area in response to the death of George Floyd in the custody of Minneapolis police. Police said Griffin went around a blockade as he drove toward protesters near Main Avenue and 45th Street, a moment captured on video, according to a detective who testified last month in court.
Lopez, who described the protesters as peaceful, testified in court that Griffin inched toward him with his vehicle as he and others told the defendant to turn around. The protester then said Griffin hit the gas about 3 feet from him, knocking Lopez off his feet before he landed on the hood.
Video from a drone did not catch the moment Griffin's vehicle allegedly hit Lopez, but other video shows the vehicle swerving as Lopez held on to the hood, a detective said. Lopez said he banged on the windshield and begged Griffin to stop before the protester pushed himself off the vehicle.
An attorney for Griffin pleaded not guilty on his behalf last month — the defendant signed paperwork that allowed him to waive his right to not be present.
Aaland's release said Griffin was trying to drive home from visiting friends — taking a route he thought would allow him to avoid protesters — when he was surrounded by “a violent mob” that prevented him from leaving. The statement claimed Griffin tried to steer around the individuals.
Griffin was hit in the face and struck by a water bottle, and his rear windshield was smashed, according to the release. The release claimed Lopez jumped on the hood and smashed Griffin’s window before the defendant “was able to flee from the violent crowd.”
The detective testified the rear window of Griffin's vehicle appeared to have been hit with a rock, but he couldn't say when that happened.
Protesters claim the interaction between Griffin and Lopez is what caused the protest to become violent. Some protesters later clashed with law enforcement in downtown Fargo.
That included a moment during which protesters surrounded two Fargo Police squad vehicles and threw projectiles at the vehicles. One man faces federal charges for allegedly jumping on a squad vehicle and smashing the front window while officers were inside.
Law enforcement later ordered the crowds to disperse as rioters threw rocks at officers, looted downtown businesses and caused other damage. Several officers were injured, and roughly two dozen protesters face criminal charges in connection to the riot.
OneFargo, a group that has advocated for change within the Fargo Police Department when it comes to use of force, has called on prosecutors to dismiss charges against protesters. It also made Griffin a focal point of one of its protests last month.
Aaland said in the statement evidence would have vindicated Griffin if the case progressed. Griffin feared for his life, the statement said.
The family hopes those who allegedly assaulted Griffin and smashed his vehicle window “will be held accountable,” the release said.
Attempts to reach Lopez were unsuccessful. OneFargo leader Wess Philome did not respond to a request for comment.