County Attorney Freeman proposes new ways of handling officer-involved shootings

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

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 Saturday afternoon in front of the 16-member working group co-chaired by 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 nine recommendations, based on a number of highly publicized officer-involved shooting cases in Hennepin County since 2015. Among those recommendations are:
• Follow Hennepin County’s lead, since 2016, of not using a grand jury to decide whether to charge an officer. Instead, the county attorney should make the charging decision.
• The officer who killed the civilian should not be investigated by his own department. Instead, an independent police agency should conduct the investigation.
• The Minnesota Legislature should adopt the California law which 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.
• The legislature should re-examine the laws governing when and how officers may use deadly force. 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.
• The investigation must be as thorough and complete as possible. Every theory must be explored and every fact examined as expeditiously as justice permits and then all the evidence should be made public as soon as the case is concluded.
• Families of the victim must be kept apprised of the investigation’s status.

Freeman had 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 working 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 hearing was to begin at 9 a.m. but protesters, led by Michelle Gross of Communities United Against Police Brutality, took over the meeting room and said the working group should be disbanded and their other eight demands should be implemented immediately.

Interestingly, some of those demands were not far from what Freeman has recommended or implemented. For instance, they 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 successfully prosecuted then Officer Mohamed Noor in the fatal shooting of Justine Damon Ruszczyk.

In the past, Freeman has also voiced his support for more de-escalation training for police officers.

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

County Attorney Freeman's Opening Statement (PDF)

Video of testimony (Freeman starts at one hour 36 minutes)