Controversy continues with the Minnesota Freedom Fund

Much has been written about the Minnesota Freedom Fund (MFF), a 501c3 organization, which has existed since 2016. MFF came to prominence after the death of George Floyd when it took in millions of dollars in donations and paid the bail for many protestors and criminal defendants held in Minnesota jails.

In 2020 alone MFF took in $41 million, and paid about $16.5 million in bail and immigration bonds, per MFF filings found here

Alpha news and Minneapolis Crime Watch have kept track of a long list of MFF bail failures here.

Latest controversy

Last week MFF was forced to defend their practices again after a KSTP story aired and shed light on another man bailed out by MFF who went on to re-offend.   In that case, Shawn Tillman was being held for indecent exposure.  MFF stepped in and posted Tillman’s bail, despite a lengthy criminal record that included felony convictions for indecent exposure to a minor, assault of a police officer, and possession of a firearm by a prohibited person.   Almost predictably Tillman re-offended within 3 weeks, this time shooting and killing a man on a light rail platform.

In MFF’s statement defending its practices, Co-Directors Mirella Ceja-Orozco and Elizer Darris, display amazing tone deafness by stating “we urge our leaders to confront gun violence in our communities…..” 

MFF proudly lists some of its goals on its website as follows:

  • “Maximize the number of people we can release from cages……”
  • “Grow to support the decarceration (sic) efforts within the state of Minnesota”
  • “Abolish cash bail in Minnesota”

MFF is a threat to Minnesota’s public safety.

Minnesota’s Bail Evaluation System

The Minnesota constitution prohibits excessive bail or unusual punishment.  State statute and the judicial system work in concert to develop and continually refine procedures that guide the bail evaluation process. 

According to 2018 Minnesota House research on bail: 

  • While a court must consider a person’s ability to pay, there is nothing that requires judges to set bail at an amount the detainees can actually pay…”
  • “Judges consider 13 specific factors when choosing conditions of release.  Those conditions include the nature of the crime charged, the person’s ties to the community, the person’s financial resources, and the safety of others.”
  • “Decisions (on bail) must be based on each defendant’s unique situation.”

In most cases when a court sets bail, it does so only after a detailed, individual evaluation of the defendant and his/her circumstances has been conducted.  The court’s purpose in applying bail is to ensure public safety and reasonably assure the defendant’s appearance in court going forward. 

When MFF indiscriminately pays the bail for a defendant, it subverts this carefully balanced system of individual bail evaluation.  This harms our collective safety.

Likely outcome

One of two things is likely to happen:  1) Judicial procedures will be tightened, and some bails adjusted to account for and prevent groups like MFF from posting bail, or 2) Minnesota will pass legislation to prevent organizations like MFF from being able to post bail.  A bill has been drafted by House Republican Mary Franzen and can be found here.  

MFF has caused real harm to our state, and strong responses from our courts and the legislature are in order.