Hennepin County Attorney’s Office fails to hold violent criminals accountable, prompting rebuke from law enforcement leaders

Last week, Hennepin County law enforcement leaders sent a letter to Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman asking for immediate assistance and increased partnership across a range of criminal justice issues. The group’s central complaint was that violent criminals were not being held accountable for their actions following arrest. The letter lists several areas of focus for the prosecutor’s office to end the current dangerous trend, including the following:

  • Aggressive prosecution: Police chiefs say officers have worked to arrest suspects involved in violent crime, and the “continued trend of not charging these cases, many involving guns and illicit drugs, needs to be urgently reevaluated.”
  • Pretrial detention: The letter asks that adult and juvenile offenders committing violent crimes should be required to see a judge for review to determine whether pretrial detention is appropriate. Police chiefs say “crimes of auto theft and possession of stolen autos” should also be included in this requirement.
  • Warrants: The letter requests the county stop the use of “sign and release” warrants, which allow those who have missed past court dates for low-level offenses to sign and recognize their upcoming court date, then be released rather than taken into custody. The chiefs note, “[t]o expect that these individuals will comply with another of the same order continues to prove not effective in holding people accountable for their crimes.”
  • Juvenile Detention Center: The association says the admission criteria for the Juvenile Detention Center is “very restrictive,” leaving law enforcement to immediately release repeat juvenile offenders.
  • Respect for law enforcement: The letter asks the county attorney’s office to support the work of law enforcement officers, pointing out that there are a “large number of officer-involved critical incidents that have been investigated and are sitting in your office waiting for charging decisions.” The police chiefs write that Freeman’s public comments do not “speak to” his support of law enforcement, nor do they “set a foundation” in which suspects being arrested “are going to respect the officers.”

Several law enforcement leaders echoed the concerns expressed in the letter. In an interview with a suburban newspaper, Minnetonka Police Chief Scott Boerboom noted the “lack of accountability for offenders,” which he attributed to the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office policy changes that took effect last January, in which 19 “low level” crimes no longer required bail. Speaking to the same publication, Eden Prairie Mayor Ron Case described three crimes on the list as “problematic” contributing factors to the rise in vehicle-related crimes, which ultimately led to an increase in repeat offenders. The three crimes cited by Case included car theft, thefts under $35,000, and property damage (with no specified amount).

Plymouth Police Chief Erik Fadden provided an even starker example, citing a situation in which a suspect fled from officers in a stolen car after having been arrested 12 previous times. According to Chief Fadden, “We’re not sending a message to that person that would discourage them from committing the act again.” In other cases, Chief Fadden said that “Even when they have committed the crime, we’re finding times when the county attorney chooses not to charge a person.” Chief Fadden concluded by saying that “We’re not asking to be the sole decision-maker, rather, we are just asking for an opportunity to give our educated opinions on those decisions… We have not had that opportunity to date and feel that many of these decisions were made in a vacuum.”

Hennepin County Attorney’s Office media representative Wendy Burt explained that the crimes at issue in the bail reform initiative were developed in agreement by several other county attorneys and Attorney General Keith Ellison. Based on the interactions with these law enforcement leaders, it appears County Attorney Freeman and other prosecutors’ offices failed to properly coordinate blanket policy changes before implementing these decisions. Moreover, prosecutors should work more closely with their police counterparts and victims to ensure the ends of justice are served. Unilateral decisions not to prosecute violent offenders erodes public trust and leads to the perception that committing serious crimes in our community will go unpunished. Minnesotans deserve better.