Freeman cites high legal standards for charging police with a crime
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said he won’t be rushed in the Jamar Clark shooting investigation. Speaking exclusively last week to the MSR, Freeman said, “We’ve had an expedited investigation. This will be done and presented to the grand jury in no longer than three months.”
The county attorney said that despite protests by many in the community who demand that all videos in relation to the Clark shooting be publicly released, he has stood firm. “There has been tremendous pressure on me to release them, but I can’t do it,” said Freeman. “They [the public] will see them soon enough. I can assure you that everyone will see all of the tapes when it is over.”
Ever since Clark was shot after struggling with Minneapolis police officers in the early morning hours of Nov. 15 and died a couple of days later, there have been two parallel narratives: Witnesses say he was shot while handcuffed, and police say this is not true. The police union president has been reported as saying that Clark reached for an officer’s gun.
In a volatile case such as this, there will be two talking sides, said Freeman. “Neither side has all the evidence,” he pointed out. “When the police talk about what happened, they are going to say things that are favorable to the police officer,” and citizens, on the other hand, “are convinced it didn’t happen” as police say it did.
“There are three law enforcement agencies that have access to the tapes so far, and you are not hearing from the FBI or the BCA [Bureau of Criminal Apprehension], but from Minneapolis cops,” said Freeman. “I wished they didn’t talk. I think they shouldn’t. I run the Hennepin County [attorney’s] office, and I can’t run the Minneapolis Police Department as well.”
Asked if releasing the videos without compromising the investigation wouldn’t verify one narrative or the other, or if nothing else at least ease community suspicions that the police are practicing a cover up, Freeman replied, “There are circumstances or situations in which I think the videos can be released early. This is not one of them.
“In this case, when [the videos] are inconclusive, you can’t release them,” explained Freeman. “You’ve got to take all the witness statements [based] on what they remember and what they recall, and not what they saw on the video. If this case is indicted by the grand jury and we go to trial, it is not going to be tossed out because of prejudicial, premature release of information.
“My job is to make sure there is a thorough investigation done as carefully as possible,” continued Freeman. “Then we present it in the most logical way to the grand jury and make the factual determination whether or not the police officer should be charged with a crime.”
However, many community members don’t trust grand juries, especially when it comes to police-related shootings. A Hennepin County grand jury usually is made up of 23 people. Its composition is derived from five categories: registered voters, renters, property tax payers, “new voters” (such as new U.S. citizens), and persons with valid drivers’ license.
With a grand jury that is randomly selected, “You double the odds” that its members will be diverse, stated Freeman. “The last several grand juries I have been on had people of color,” he noted. They were a mixture of ages, genders and economic levels.
“I think that is a better system in making a decision about whether or not a police officer is indicted or charged with a crime. That’s the practice in Minnesota and most of the country.”
According to Freeman, sending a case for grand jury consideration is no different whether it’s a police officer or a private citizen. “The legal standard by which the evidence is considered for charging is exactly the same,” he said.
“It has to be admissible facts that can go to a grand jury to decide guilt or innocence. [But] that legal standard is quite high” when it regards a police-involved shooting “before a police officer can be charged with a crime.”
Freeman said he has recently studied grand jury processes. “I’ve been thinking about this for nine months. I’ve talked to people all over the country and read all sorts of reports. I’ve talked to my fellow county attorneys here in Minnesota.” He also looked into what happened with the Ferguson grand jury in the Michael Brown case last year.
“I think many people in this country think the officer inappropriately killed Michael Brown,” said Freeman. “It was a hard case…but having read the record, I am convinced that the grand jury decided it correctly. That’s not going to make me popular with people, but that is the facts. The federal government in its report agrees with that decision” as well.
Freeman said he doesn’t believe that all grand juries are bad, either. “I think having randomly selected 23 independent residents to make a decision on these facts should have more support in the community than any special prosecutor or me making it.”
If police did wrong, “It is not enough to charge them, but to convict them,” stated the county attorney. “The surest way to do that is not to show the tapes until you see them at the time of trial. That’s not my decision…but the law.”
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Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.