More uncertainty for School Resource Officers in Hennepin County as County Attorney Moriarty weighs in

At least 38 law enforcement agencies across the state have continued to keep their School Resource Officers (SROs) out of schools this week despite assurances last week from Attorney General Keith Ellison that their use of force authority remained unchanged.

Now Kare 11 has reported that Hennepin County attorney Mary Moriarty sent communication to Hennepin County law enforcement leaders Wednesday night, making it clear that her office has a different interpretation of the law for SROs then that of the Attorney General.  

Moriarty’s letter reportedly states that she believes,

“…the statute change does not allow school resource officers to use “reasonable force” except “where it is necessary to prevent bodily harm or death to a child or another person.”

Moriarty is right. The new language (shown below as amended) is quite clear in prohibiting SROs, as agents of the school district, from using force when bodily harm or death are not at stake:

(b) A school employee, school bus driver, or other agent of a district, in exercising the person’s lawful authority, may use reasonable force when it is necessary under the circumstances to restrain a student or to prevent bodily harm or death to the student or to another.

Last week the Attorney General issued an updated legal opinion to coincide with meetings between the Governor, DFL legislative leaders, and law enforcement groups. In the updated opinion, the Attorney General assured law enforcement groups that there was no change to their use of force authority as SROs and further assured them that his opinion was “binding.” 

As a result, an apparent temporary solution to the poorly vetted and written law had seemingly been reached, with DFL leadership “committed” to addressing the language next legislative session — a clear acknowledgement that the language remains problematic.

Moriarty’s guidance to Hennepin County law enforcement does two things. First, it demonstrates that law enforcement’s concerns have been valid from the start of this controversy. Second, it likely represents a nail in the coffin for many SRO programs in Hennepin County, pending legislative action to amend the language.

Given that at least seven Hennepin County law enforcement agencies have pulled their SROs, Moriarty’s guidance will have a significant impact on the situation. It might even result in more Hennepin County law enforcement agencies pulling their SROs.

It’s unclear at this point if other county attorneys around the state will opine as Moriarty has, or if they will support the Attorney General’s interpretation.

The entire situation was preventable had the Legislature followed proper process and sought input for law enforcement stakeholders. 

It was also a situation with an easy fix had the Governor called a special session and led a bipartisan effort to amend the problematic language. Instead, the Governor capitulated to a far-left minority of 44 DFL legislators who objected to a special session.

Our schools, our law enforcement, and our state deserve better leadership than has been displayed in this conflict.