Pressed by Black Lives Matter activists in Minneapolis to suspend the use of grand juries when considering charges for officers involved in shootings, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced Wednesday the city would no longer employ the long-scrutinized system in these cases of police shootings.
The move comes after the fatal shooting of Jamar Clark, the 24-year-old Black man who was killed by two Minneapolis cops last fall. His death sparked months of protests to release the video of the incident and prosecute the officers involved.
Both officers, Mark Ringgenberg, 30, and Dustin Schwarze, 28, have returned to desk jobs. They were placed on administrative leave following the shooting.
In a statement released Wednesday, Freeman said he would not convene a grand jury in the case against Riggenberg and Schwarze:
“To use or not use a grand jury in police shooting cases is a hard decision for me,” Freeman wrote. “We have used grand juries in Hennepin County for at least the last 40 years in police shooting cases. On one hand, to have 23 people make a factual decision versus just the prosecutor and his team has appeal. After all, the law that applies is exactly the same whether the facts are applied to that law by a grand jury or a prosecutor. On the other hand, our society, and this prosecutor, believes accountability and transparency are critical concepts for a just and healthy democracy.”
“The ensuing months have given me more time to think about the grand jury. As an elected official, I also took that time to meet with more people and listen to their concerns. I concluded that the accountability and transparency limitations of a grand jury are too high a hurdle to overcome. So, at this point in time, and in a democracy where we continually strive to make our systems fairer, more just and more accountable, we in Hennepin County will not use the grand jury in the Jamar Clark case.”
Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (NOC), a group that coordinated protests in the days following Clark’s shooting, commended Freeman for his unprecedented decision.
“Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman listened to the community and took a bold step toward transparency and accountability by deciding not to use a grand jury in the Jamar Clark case, or in future police shooting cases in Hennepin County,” NOC said in a statement. “Today’s announcement is an acknowledgment that the grand jury is an antiquated legal tool. This decision is a clear reflection of pressure from the community and listening to our concerns about transparency and accountability… Freeman’s decision today is a game-changing step toward a new system of police accountability, in Hennepin County and across the country.”
Freeman has yet to decide if he will bring charges against the officers involved in Clark’s death.