A gang member charged with murder managed two weeks ago to smuggle sensitive documents - including one that refers to witnesses -- out of the Hennepin County Jail.
According to court documents filed in Hennepin County District Court, earlier this month, Marlon Rashaad Robertson, of Robbinsdale, received a partial, un-redacted Grand Jury transcript of testimony given by a Minneapolis police homicide investigator. Robertson, 22, has admitted to police that he is a member of a street gang called Young N Thuggin, or YNT.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said the transcript doesn't identify the witnesses by name. But he said Robertson hand wrote on the transcripts who he thought the witnesses were and devised a way to get the documents out of jail.
Freeman fears the incident will hurt prosecutors' efforts to convince people to cooperate with law enforcement — and especially to come forward and testify in gang-related cases.
"Mr. Robertson put it in his belongings — in his personal papers — then signed a release that released it to a friend," Freeman said. "A friend took it and gave it to another who released part of the un-redacted Grand Jury transcript on a Facebook page."
The documents have since been removed from Facebook. But Freeman is so concerned about what occurred, that he said his office may file charges against some of the people involved.
Freeman said Robertson received the transcripts from his defense attorney, Thomas Kelly after Hennepin County District Court Judge Daniel Mabley ordered Kelly not to let Robertson see the transcripts, much less give him a copy.
Kelly said Thursday that he will not comment on the matter outside of court.
Freeman said sheriff's deputies in the jail are not to blame. However, Mabley has ordered sheriff's deputies to inspect Robertson's incoming and outgoing mail from now on.
Mabley also restricted Robertson's phone and visitor privileges, limiting them to communication with his lawyer.
Freeman said there is "gang involvement" all throughout the case. He said witness protection measures, which he would not detail, are in place.
"We can't guarantee protection," he said. "We do our best and the police do their best. This was not helpful."
Robertson faces multiple murder counts, including a charge of first-degree murder, in the shooting death of 21-year-old Kevin Braziel of Minneapolis. Prosecutors say Robertson shot Braziel outside a restaurant on West Broadway Ave in north Minneapolis on June 24. Braziel died a few weeks later.
Prosecutors also charged Robertson with aggravated witness tampering. Police say Robertson shot at a man next to Braziel that Robertson said was "a snitch" who cooperated with police in a previous investigation.
Community activists like the Rev. Jerry McAfee have long lamented the "no snitching" culture that exists among some young people.
"What's the saying? 'Snitches get stitches,'" McAfee said. "Which to me, is insane."
McAfee, pastor of New Salem Baptist Church in north Minneapolis, said Robertson's actions could lead to an outburst of retaliation.
If the names of the so-called "snitches" from the Grand Jury transcript are from rival gangs, it simply adds to the ongoing rivalry, said McAfee, who has ministered to and performed the funerals of many gang members.
"The question becomes if there was some people...that are friends or acquaintances of [Robertson's], then that's possible," McAfee said.
The gang Robertson has admitted he's a member of is made up of young men and teenagers who tend to be disorganized and unpredictable, McAfee said.
Police say YNT is allied with another gang called the Taliban. McAfee wouldn't be surprised if their combined numbers reached more than 100.
A recent MPR News investigation found that at least nine members of YNT were charged with gun-related crimes in Hennepin County in 2013.
Minneapolis police investigators say YNT and the Taliban are in an ongoing, violent conflict with members of the 1-9 Dipset gang, which also operates in north Minneapolis. Police say YNT members largely sell marijuana, cocaine and crack cocaine on the street corners of north Minneapolis.
But lately, gang members have been making fake prescriptions for Oxycodone and selling the pills on the street, investigators say.