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Willmar man pleads guilty to disorderly conduct in pig's foot incident

Joseph Francis Fernkes

WILLMAR, Minn.—The Willmar man charged with placing a pig's foot on a farmers market stall being manned by Somali individuals last summer pleaded guilty Tuesday, March 6, to disorderly conduct.

Joseph Francis Fernkes, 62, of Willmar, was ordered to pay $168 in restitution for the produce that could not be sold because it might have come in contact with the pig's foot. He also was ordered to pay a $200 fine and another $90 in fees and surcharges as part of his sentence for what is recorded as a petty misdemeanor conviction.

Fernkes originally was cited for misdemeanor disorderly conduct. Two additional charges were filed later: a gross misdemeanor charge of third-degree damage to property — bias and misdemeanor fourth-degree damage to property.

The two additional charges were dismissed Tuesday as part of a plea agreement.

During the Aug. 12 incident, Fernkes allegedly swore at the vendors and threw a pig's foot onto their food stand, according to the criminal complaint. Because the pig's foot was considered biohazardous, all of the food and produce at the stand — $168 worth — had to be discarded.

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 the Muslim faith.

The prosecution argued for Fernkes to be sentenced to the maximum fine of $300 for his actions.

"It was a very insensitive act and an act that could have caused a serious breach of the peace," said attorney Thomas Anderson, representing the state in the case.

Fernkes' attorney John Mack asked for a $100 fine, saying Fernkes was offering the Somali community an olive branch by agreeing to the plea deal and admitting that what he did went too far.

Both sides agreed going to trial would have done nothing to help heal the breach in the community and could have made it worse.

"We want to promote healing in the community," Anderson said.

When asked if he had anything to say, Fernkes said he just feels that there are things going on in the country that are not right.

"I get offended too by things," Fernkes said.

District Judge Michael Thompson said the court would defend the rights of free speech and expression and that Fernkes has the right to tell someone he doesn't agree with them. However, what Fernkes did went too far because it harmed another person by damaging their property.

"It is a criminal act," and no different if someone decided to break a window at Fernkes' home because they didn't like him, Thompson said.

Thompson said that this country is founded on individual liberty, and everyone has the right to believe and think what they want, as long as it doesn't hurt someone.

"It doesn't hurt you if someone belongs to the Islamic faith," just as it doesn't hurt anyone if Fernkes belongs to the Christian faith, Thompson said. The vast majority of followers of a religion, including Christianity and Islam, are peaceful and deplore violence, but there are always radicals willing to twist those religions to suit their ends, Thompson added. That doesn't mean you should assume all the followers of that religion are violent radicals.

"There is no evidence anyone was hurting you at that time," Thompson said.

The restitution was ordered to be paid immediately, but the court gave Fernkes until April 30 to pay the fine and fees.

"I'm hoping this puts an end to this," Thompson said.

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