Minnesota County Dumps Grand Juries for Police-Involved Shootings Under Pressure from Black Lives Matter

Black Lives Matter
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images/AFP
Minneapolis, MN

The Black Lives Matter movement is claiming credit for the decision by a Minnesota County to end the 40-plus year practice of using Grand Juries to decide if police officers should be indicted in shooting cases.

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced that cases of police-involved shootings will no longer be put before a grand jury to determine if an officer should be brought up on charges for shootings. Minnesota law doesn’t require that such cases go before a grand jury, but It has been the County’s practice for 40 years.

Despite the 40-year record, Freeman insisted that community standards have changed and the traditional grand jury system no longer satisfies local activists. In explanation the elected official went on to insist “grand juries may no longer serve the present evolving standards of justice, accountability and transparency.”

Instead of impanelling a grand jury made up of 23 citizens who meet in sessions generally closed to the public and tasked with reviewing all the facts in a case to determine if charges against cops should be made, Freeman says that from now on elected officials in the County Attorney’s office should decide if charges will be brought.

The change comes after months of controversy over the police-involved shooting of Jamar ONeal Clark, a 24-year-old African American who was shot and killed by a Minneapolis police officer in November of 2015.

Bowing to pressure from the Black Lives Matter movement, the Hennepin County Attorney elected as a Democrat in 2007 said the “limitations” of a grand jury made the system out of date.

“I concluded that the accountability and transparency limitations of a grand jury are too high a hurdle to overcome,” Freeman said at a Thursday press conference. “For me, grand juries should no longer be used in police shooting cases in Hennepin County.”

The decision to eliminate the grand jury process for police-involved shootings was met with praise by local Black Lives Matter activists.

Black Lives Matter Minneapolis, for instance, congratulated supporters on pressuring Freeman to dump the grand jury system.

On its Twitter account, the group exultantly said “WE DID THIS!”

Nekima Levy-Pounds, president of the Minneapolis NAACP, was also thrilled at Freeman’s decision.

“I am overjoyed that in this instance Mike Freeman decided to do the right thing,” Levy-Pounds said after Freeman’s announcement. “Mike Freeman is fully aware that the grand jury process has been ineffective here and nationally in holding officers accountable. I believe sustained community pressure played a huge role in Mike Freeman’s decision.”

Ultimately, Freeman’s announcement means the decision on whether or not to indict police officers in shooting cases will now be removed from the hands of grand juries made up of citizens, and placed into the hands of elected officials who will be far more open to the pressure put on them by activist groups.

The practice could spread, former federal prosecutor Mark Osler told the Star Tribune: “He knows there is going to be other prosecutors that will disagree with his decision, but he is staking out a principle position. Freeman is a national legal leader and this move will have an impact beyond the boundaries of Minnesota.”

Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at igcolonel@hotmail.com.