Mike Freeman

Mike Freeman

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman told a working group on police-involved deadly force encounters that any video related to the death of a citizen should be made public as soon as possible but in all cases within 45 days of the incident.

Freeman testified Aug. 17 in front of the 16-member working group co-chaired by Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison and Minnesota Commissioner of Public Safety John Harrington.

“We know that officer-involved shooting cases are some of the most difficult cases we face as a society and as professionals, each with intense public interest,” Freeman told the working group. “We share these remarks with a profound commitment to deal fairly, transparently and as professionally as we can on each case. We assign our most experienced people and allocate all the resources necessary to reach justice.”

Freeman made several recommendations, based on a number of highly publicized officer-involved shooting cases in Hennepin County since 2015. Some of the recommendations are already being practiced to the dismay of those who seek change in the investigation and possible prosecution of officers involved in deadly shootings.

Among those recommendations are not using a grand jury to decide whether to charge an officer. Freeman said instead, the county attorney should make the charging decision. This practice came under heavy fire in the November 2015 shooting of unarmed citizen Jamar Clark, 24, shot dead by Minneapolis Police Officers Mark Ringgenberg and Dustin Schwarze. In that case Freeman alone determined that no charges should be filed against the two officers who killed Clark, despite the fact Clark was unarmed at the time of the encounter and it was police, not Clark, who video evidence showed initiated physical contact.

Freeman also said officers who kill a civilian should not be investigated by his own department, and instead, an independent police agency should conduct the investigation. This is almost always the case as the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) investigates most state officer involved shootings.

The Hennepin County Attorney said the Minnesota Legislature should adopt the California law that calls for the investigating agency to release body-worn camera, dash camera and other video of the incident as soon as practicable but no later than 45 days. He also said the legislature should re-examine the laws governing when and how officers may use deadly force. He said clarifying these statutes and jury instructions will promote fairness and consistency in how officer-involved shootings are handled in the court and police officers statewide must be trained in those legal standards.

Freeman approached Ellison and Harrington in early February about setting up this type of commission and in his remarks, he thanked the two co-chairs for establishing the group. Under questioning from the group, both Ramsey County Attorney John Choi and Freeman said they would be open to a conversation about having a new and completely independent agency investigate the officer-involved shooting and make the decision on whether to prosecute. Freeman said New York comes close to that model.

The Aug. 17 hearing was interrupted by protesters who took over the meeting room and said the working group should be disbanded and their other eight demands should be implemented immediately.

The group demanded that all videos be released to the families within 48 hours of the killing. They wanted an independent state agency to investigate and prosecute the cases. They wanted an end to warrior training and an increase in de-escalation training and prosecution of those officers who engage in excessive force short of death.

Freeman told the working group that he has prosecuted two Minneapolis officers in the past two years, one for beating a suspect, the other for shooting into a car of young people who were following the orders of a different officer. He also charged two other officers for sex crimes. And his office prosecuted then Officer Mohamed Noor in the fatal shooting of Justine Damon Ruszczyk.

The protesters’ other demands were that there should be mental health workers to respond to all police calls where a citizen is having a mental health crisis, all officers must have in-person mental health training, all officers must go through annual in-person anti-oppression training and mandatory psychological evaluation of all police officers every three years and immediately after they use deadly force.

The only demand Freeman said he opposed was that every officer-involved shooting case already decided in Minnesota must be reopened and re-examined. He said the only legitimate grounds for reopening a closed case is newly discovered evidence.

 Others are not in agreement with Freeman’s assessments. Nekima Levy Armstrong, civil rights attorney and activist said Freeman, based on his track record, lacks authority to speak in properly handling police involved incidents.

“Unfortunately, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman is not a credible source for proposing recommendations regarding police accountability and how police shooting cases are handled,” said Levy Armstrong. “His office has an extremely poor track record for holding police officers accountable, especially when the victim is Black and the officer is white. Mike Freeman has also been untruthful in the past by mischaracterizing Jamar Clark as a domestic abuser, using false information to justify his murder at the hands of MPD (Minneapolis Police Department), and ignoring the statements of Black witnesses. Under his leadership, Black victims of police shootings have never received justice, which makes his recommendations seem disingenuous and something that looks good on paper.”

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