The year 2016 brought hard decisions, racial unrest and complicated prosecutions. Therefore, I want to share with you the reason behind our actions, some of the quieter initiatives we undertook and what we hope to accomplish this year.
We made two critical decisions. In March I declined to charge two Minneapolis police officers responsible for the tragic shooting death of Jamar Clark.In the fall, we reviewed the evidence against a handful of University of Minnesota football players involved in a sexual encounter with a young woman and declined to charge.
In both cases, as in all charging decisions, our job was to obtain all the evidence from investigators and carefully consider it. We research the applicable law and then go where the evidence leads, regardless of public sentiment or political pressure. We do that every day. Always, we try to do the right thing.
In each case the legal standard we must meet is challenging and hard to satisfy. Do we have sufficient, admissible evidence to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt?
In the Clark case, when the evidence was obtained, the answer was quite clear, The DNA evidence clearly showed two things: Jamar Clark’s DNA was found all over the officer’s gun and gun belt and Clark’s DNA was not on the handcuffs found on the grass. Under current law and Supreme Court rulings, deadly force was justified, even if I think the officer should have done things differently prior to the fatal struggle.
I am also proud that we posted our analysis of the case, as well as nearly every piece of evidence, video and witness statement on our website so anyone could check our work. This was, truly, a new frontier. It was transparency on a scale not seen by any prosecuting attorney’s office in the nation.
As for the University of Minnesota football players’ case, there is no question that the behavior of a number of the young men was disgusting and deplorable. However, we could not prove that the young woman did not consent or was unable to give her consent and therefore could not charge. We commend the University for actively fulfilling its responsibility.
We had some successes in 2016 that we think will build a more fair and rational criminal justice system. The past five years, I helped lead lobbying efforts at the Minnesota Legislature to change the sentences for drug offenses. My philosophy is simple: reduce the prison terms for low-level users and dealers and increase the sentences for large volume dealers. We came close to passing it several times, but it took until May to finally get the necessary votes. Benefits will be more treatment for addicts (rather than prison time), freeing up prison beds and enhancing sentences for drug kingpins who bring dangerous narcotics into our communities.
Hennepin County taxpayers should feel good about a case our civil division successfully argued at the Minnesota Supreme Court. The case involved an appeal of a Tax Court decision where we argued that the Tax Court undervalued two warehouses in Rogers by $8 million and $9 million, respectively. The Supreme Court sent the case back to Tax Court and our attorneys ultimately negotiated a settlement with the property owners resolving eight years of property taxes for a total of $10.8 million more than the original judge’s decision. This helps ensure that everyone is paying their fair share of property taxes.
Our Child Services Division took the aggressive step of turning a deadbeat dad case over to the Community Prosecution Division to file criminal charges. Moses Wazwaz had been ignoring a judge’s civil orders to pay his former wife support for their child since 2007. He pleaded guilty to felony non-support and agreed to pay $70,000.
We obtained convictions and charges against a number of defendants who are a menace to society:
- Detroit Davis-Riley, Maurice Carter and Demarco Gunn engaged in a gun battle in downtown Minneapolis early in a morning in September 2015. Despite a heavy police presence, the men fired at least 27 shots. Davis-Riley pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 108 months in prison, Carter was convicted at trial and received 120 months and Gunn pleaded guilty and received 36 months.
- We charged Beverly Burrell for selling heroin in Hennepin County that resulted in the deaths of four people in three counties.
- We obtained a guilty plea and prison sentence against Daniel Drill-Mellum for raping at least two women around the University of Minnesota campus. Initially, we were unable to charge the first case, but with the hard work of a U of M police detective and two of our own investigators, we eventually charged both cases and tracked Drill-Mellum so he could be arrested when he tried to re-enter the U.S.
Our complex crimes unit wrapped up a number of white collar cases. Rona Griffin defrauded the state of more than $1 million by filing fraudulent tax returns on behalf of her clients. She was sentenced to 46 months in prison. Stephanie Davis embezzled nearly $2 million from her employer and was sentenced to 68 months. Three child care centers pleaded guilty to defrauding the state’s Child Care Assistance Program by inflating the number of children attending their centers. They were fined $70,000 and must pay restitution of $168,000.
In the coming months, I am stepping up our diversity and inclusion work within our office. It is crucial to keep improving the hiring of people who reflect our ever more diverse county and to reach out to those communities. I have begun meeting with the presidents of the affinity bar associations, such as the Minnesota Hispanic Bar Association. We are redoubling our efforts with local law schools to help us reach even more students of color that we can hire as law clerks, many of whom eventually are hired as attorneys in our office.
This is a challenging and demanding job. Yet, much of the joy of running the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office is working toward our basic goal: to do the right thing every day and in everything we do. This is what I ask of myself and everyone who works here. Within the limits of human frailty, I hope you believe we meet that goal most of the time.
Hennepin County Attorney's Office