Man faces more charges for throwing pig's foot into Somali food stand
WILLMAR, Minn. — Two more charges have been filed against a Willmar man accused of throwing a pig's foot onto a farmers market stall operated by Somali vendors.
Joseph Francis Fernkes, 61, was originally cited for misdemeanor disorderly conduct in connection with the Aug. 12 incident.
According to a formal criminal complaint filed late last week, he is now also charged with one count each of third-degree and fourth-degree criminal damage to property.
Fernkes allegedly swore at the vendors and threw a pig's foot onto their food stand. Because the pig's foot was considered biohazardous, all of the food and produce at the stand — $168 worth — had to be discarded.
The case has drawn statewide attention and sparked a call from the Council for American-Islamic Relations for hate crime charges to be filed.
Fernkes initially appeared in court on the original misdemeanor citation.
In a motion filed two weeks ago, Fernkes asked to have the charge dismissed, arguing that his actions constituted free speech.
The newly filed formal complaint adds the new charges of criminal damage to property — one gross misdemeanor and one misdemeanor — and describes the sequence of events, pieced together by the Willmar Police Department investigation, in more detail.
At around 11 a.m. Aug. 12, two Willmar police officers went to the weekly farmers market in the parking lot of the Kandiyohi County Area Family YMCA in response to a report that a man in a wheelchair had approached a vendor stand and thrown something at them.
The two vendors, a man and a woman, told the officers that the individual directed an expletive at them, tossed a pig's foot onto their table and then left on a mobility scooter. One of the vendors followed him for a short distance west on Olena Avenue Southeast and got some photographs, showing him making what appeared to be an obscene gesture at the camera.
One of the Willmar police officers recognized the man in the photo from prior contacts as Fernkes, the complaint said. His identity was confirmed based on his Driver and Vehicle Services photo.
The vendors told the police officers that they found the incident offensive, according to the complaint. Pork, pork products and anything pig-related are considered unclean by those of Muslim faith.
Two witnesses who were at the stand when the incident occurred confirmed what happened and also said they found it extremely offensive, the criminal complaint said.
After gathering information at the farmers market, the officers went to Fernkes' house a few blocks away. According to the complaint, they found him inside the garage seated in a mobility scooter.
"Fernkes admitted he was at the farmers market and had tossed a pig's foot onto the table of the food stand that was operated by Somali individuals," the complaint said. "When asked why he did that, Fernkes made it clear that he does not like Somalis or Muslims."
Upon being told he would be cited for disorderly conduct, Fernkes became increasingly agitated, at one point taking off his cap and throwing it against his truck, according to the complaint. As the officers were leaving, he allegedly shouted that he was going to "take care of this ... personally."
No further court appearances in the case have been set, but the Kandiyohi County Attorney's Office has until Oct. 31 to respond to Fernkes' motion for dismissal on free speech grounds. The motion will then be taken under advisement by a judge.
This is not the first encounter Fernkes has had with the court system. Records show he has a conviction for driving while impaired in Kandiyohi County in 2008 and a DWI conviction in Renville County in 2009.