Statement of Hennepin County Attorney Michael O. Freeman
Minneapolis, MN – Sept. 1, 2021: I formally announced today that I will not seek re-election as Hennepin County Attorney in November 2022. Next year I will have been Hennepin County Attorney for 24 years, the longest serving in county history and I will also be 74 years old. It’s time to move on. It has been a marvelous privilege to serve the people of Hennepin County and to lead the State’s largest and most experienced public law office.
I am particularly proud of our never ceasing commitment to do the right thing. It is not easy work; the questions of justice are difficult, and the right path is not always clear. And we have made mistakes. But we have always done our best, sought to do the public good and told the public when we were wrong.
We have together brought reforms and innovations. We helped lead the fight to increase diversity in our grand and petit juries; we established the Domestic Abuse Service Center – a one stop agency for victims of domestic abuse. We stopped using the grand jury in officer involved deadly force cases in the name of transparency and accountability. We embedded prosecutors in police departments to assist in sexual crime cases, we helped make our expungement laws fairer and easier to use and helped reduce by 50 percent the amount of bail and the number of people held pre-trial, focusing on non-violent, low level crimes. We increased diversity four-fold in our office and today, of the 11 most senior positions in the office, seven arewomen and four are people of color.
Our be@school program is one of the leading programs in the country to reduce truancy. Our diversion programs have kept minor offenders out of the criminal justice system. We have instituted a series of reforms that have vastly reduced the number of juveniles in our system.
My decision to stop prosecuting possession and sale of smaller amounts of marijuana has kept many out of the system and reduced some of the racial disparities in our system. Our Victim Witness Advocates serve victims and their families and offer services and the support that they deserve. We have never forgotten the pain caused by crime on innocent victims and their families.
We have been tough on gun crimes. I organized the most successful gun buyback program in the nation. We established taskforces with Minneapolis police when gun violence has spiked. We put policies in place that make it very clear that felons in possession of firearms will do time.
My deepest regret is that, to date, we have not been able to bring charges against the person who fired a shot that pierced a home and killed 3-year-old Terrell Mayes in December 2011. Nor have we, so far, been able to bring charges against the people who were recklessly shooting at each other and, instead, killed 9-year-old Trinity Ottoson-Smith and 6-year-old Aniya Allen and critically wounded 10-year-old Ladavionne Garrett, Jr. Our efforts must never cease to stop this senseless killing of children.
I have been proud of our work on officer-involved killings of civilians. We were in the forefront of the nation in moving away from grand juries in making those decisions. More importantly, we believe we were the first in the nation to then publish our report of our decision, with all evidence included.
We worked hard to develop protocols and procedures for making the investigation of these types of cases as thorough as possible. That led to the conviction of Minneapolis Police Officer Mohamed Noor of murder. Those procedures and protocols resulted in a strong investigation into the killing of George Floyd which allowed my office to charge Officer Derek Chauvin with murder in only four days. It supported Attorney General Ellison’s effort to obtain a murder conviction with the help of our staff.
It has been my honor to serve both as the President of the Minnesota County Attorneys Association and as President of the National District Attorneys Association. Part of my job here has also been to serve as general counsel for the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners with its 9000 employees and two-billion-dollar budget.
Lastly, public life is both rewarding and demanding, and would not be possible without huge support from my family. Wife Kate and children Katie, Beth, Matt, Tess and Jack have stood tall with me during challenging political campaigns and to withstand personal attacks directed at me (and them) at our home. I am so grateful for that support. Although there are many in this office for me to thank, I must call out Paula Breuer, whose administrative and personal skills, guidance, and patience have made all this possible. Thank you.
To all the many folks who have responded to the call to serve in this office and our collective demand to do the right thing every day, in everything we do, thank you for doing just that. We have made mistakes but when we do, we acknowledge them and then seek to right the wrong. Serving the public well is a challenging job; I have been proud to serve with each one of you.
One last observation. One of the toughest decisions I made is the one not to criminally charge the two Minneapolis Police Officers who killed Jamar Clark. Our detailed report - still on our website - shares in great detail the reasons why this case could not be criminally charged. Many prosecutors including the U.S. Attorney for Minnesota who reviewed in detail the facts of his own factual investigation agreed with this decision. The police conduct was wrong and is not acceptable, but it was not criminal. That is my job: to charge those whose conduct is criminal and can be proven to a jury with admissible facts. I have spoken out about flaws in police training and urged reforms. We successfully convicted those officers who have committed crimes. That’s my job.
I am proud of the job we did; I know this office will continue to serve justice and the people of Hennepin County well. I am grateful for the opportunity to serve with you and pledge my continued best efforts in the remaining months of this term.