For the first time in 24 years, voters in Hennepin County are voting for a new county attorney.
The Hennepin County Attorney is the final word on who is charged with a crime, what crime and what sentence is recommended. They also have a hand in protecting elders from fraud and cases that involve child protection.
This year there are a record seven candidates running for office and Minnesota Now host Cathy Wurzer is talking to every single one of them. In this installment we hear from Martha Holton Dimick. She was the first community prosecutor assigned to north Minneapolis when she worked at the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office in 1999. Dimick was then a judge in north Minneapolis until her retirement last year and lives in north Minneapolis.
Early voting in this race is happening now and lasts until Aug. 8. Hennepin County residents can find more information on how to register and polling locations on the Minnesota Secretary of State’s website.
Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.
We make transcripts for Minnesota Now available the next business day after a broadcast. When ready they will appear here.
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So over the next few days, we're going to talk to each of the seven candidates for that office. Today we'll meet two candidates, Martha Holton Dimick and Paul Ostrow. Martha Holton Dimick is a former Hennepin County judge who lives in North Minneapolis. She's worked in the Hennepin County Attorney's Office. She was the first community prosecutor assigned to North Minneapolis when she worked for the county attorney back in 1999. Martha Holton Dimmick's on the line. Welcome to Minnesota Now.
MARTHA HOLTON DIMICK: Thank you. Thank you. It's great to be here. And thank you for inviting me to participate.
KATHY WURZER: I'm glad you're here.
MARTHA HOLTON DIMICK: So exciting.
KATHY WURZER: Say earlier this year, I'm sure you heard the story. Police chiefs in the western suburbs gave County Attorney Freeman a list of 32 cases. They said his office declined to prosecute or charges were dismissed or plea bargained, and the chiefs said they believe there's a lack of accountability in the system, especially in the way the County Attorney's Office operates. Do you agree with those police chiefs? And if you're Hennepin County Attorney, how will the office change?
MARTHA HOLTON DIMICK: Well, I've talked to a number of the police chiefs out in the suburbs, and I have the understanding that there's been a lack of communication between the office, Mike Freeman and that group of officers. And that really concerns me. I think there was a regular meeting scheduled once a month. And I think that Mike Freeman kind of dropped out of those meetings. And I think it's critical that we meet with them on a regular basis, and especially if there is an uptick in crime in certain areas that we have to address.
I want to work, and I have collaborated with law enforcement in the past. And that was one of the efforts that I made when I was the community prosecutor during the Murderapolis days. And that was-- and that led to, along with a ton of community support, that led to a radical drop in our crime rate to the extent that we got a national award. And it was the it was the MPP that got that award and primarily because of the reduction in juvenile crime. So that was an effort that was very successful then. And I think that it;s so critical that we work with them. I have to have the police.
KATHY WURZER: And the chiefs, of course, were also quite concerned at the time about the carjackings that were going on. I mean, there was that spasm of carjackings in the county. And Minneapolis police data showed 75% of those arrested were repeat offenders. Now, as a former judge, what's missing, especially in the juvenile justice system that results in high numbers of repeat offenders?
MARTHA HOLTON DIMICK: I think what's missing is the County Home School was closed. And they didn't have a plan when the Home School was closed. We have to have a custodial environment for these kids when they-- for these children when they're arrested. And we have to have services available while they're in custody. And that specifically speaks to the trauma that they're dealing with, maybe mental health issues and chemical dependency issues.
But there has to be an intermediary center for them to be, and we don't have that right now. So I am totally willing to collaborate with the state and with the county commissioners to immediately get in a care place ready for these kids to be placed. People don't want to hear that we want to place them in a custodial environment, but that's so critical right now because we've got to use our resources to address the issues that they're struggling with. And we've got to turn that around.
KATHY WURZER: Would you support expunging records for some of the lower level offenses some of these kids get themselves involved in? Would you include marijuana possession convictions in that?
MARTHA HOLTON DIMICK: Absolutely. I worked-- Oh, I should say I spoke recently with the person who is in charge with expungements at the Hennepin County Attorney's Office, the prosecutor who's in charge. And we are trying to make it easier for low level offenders to get their records expunged, because we know how it affects education, job and housing.
And we're trying to make it easier so that they don't have to appear in front of a judge. That there might be a petition that they can put forth, and that we would sign that petition and make the world a lot easier for them to obtain an expungement on those types of offenses. But absolutely, I totally support that.
KATHY WURZER: At a recent forum, you said you would prioritize not letting bad police officers get their jobs back, and that bad behavior needs to be reported. But you have to contend with the Police Union and with arbitration rules. How can the County Attorney deal with bad cops?
MARTHA HOLTON DIMICK: I think we have to notify the department immediately when we notice bad behavior, violation of people's criminal-- at least their civil rights and their civil liberties. And we have to follow up on those reports. And I've done that as a judge. I did submit a body cam video to Police Chief Arradondo, because in that video, the way that these officers treated this young Black man was just atrocious to me.
And then during the officer's testimony in court, it was the exact opposite. He kind of pretended, or at least reported that he treated this person very carefully. And then I saw the body cam video and it was outrageous. I was just totally appalled by that. I sent it over to Chief Arradondo with a note, what are we going to do here? What's the follow up? And I also said, why don't you use this video during your training sessions of what not to do.
And as far as arbitration, I really think that panel-- there's got to be some kind of modification or maybe it needs to be discontinued. Because once a police officer loses his job, he shouldn't be able to go to the arbitration panel and get it back. That's just a slap in the face to all of us, especially the people who have been suffering from some of the issues that we've been dealing with with the police department.
And then I think with the union, they got rid of Kroll. That's key. And I think that the new head of the union, I met her. I don't recall her name. I met her recently and I really got a good feel for her. I want to sit down with her and collaborate with her and find out exactly what things can be done, what kind of recommendations can I make. But the final deal is up to them and hopefully the new police chief.
KATHY WURZER: The County Attorney's Office has come under heavy criticism for how it handled officer involved civilian shootings. Mike Freeman moved away from using grand juries in those sorts of cases. How would you handle them as County Attorney?
MARTHA HOLTON DIMICK: He moved away from grand juries because the public and the outcry was that they're secretive. It's not transparent enough. And I believe that that's true. And I've discussed that and I would-- I'm going to keep those cases. I think I should make a decision with regards to whether these officers are charged.
We are smart enough and know the law well enough, and we'll wait until we have all the information and the evidence before us before we contemplate that. But before I say definitively that that's the way we're going to go, I want to look at it on a case by case basis.
KATHY WURZER: This is not going to be an easy job. You know that. You're bound to take pointed criticism from all sides. Why do you want to have this job?
MARTHA HOLTON DIMICK: Well, I'll tell you. Ever since George Floyd's murder, I live in North Minneapolis. I've lived in North Minneapolis for almost 20 years. And we've had 90 homicide-- more than 90 homicides in North Minneapolis alone. And several of the victims were children, one was a baby. That I found just totally outrageous. I thought I could do more for my community off the bench.
I served on the bench for almost 10 years. And I want to be in a position where I can rebuild the trust and restore the effectiveness of that office. I can't do that sitting on the bench. I can do that in the County Attorney's Office as a new County Attorney. And that's where I'm directing all of my attention. My priorities are public safety. Public safety is not a political slogan for me as a community prosecutor and as a serious crimes judge. It was my profession.
And as someone who lives in North Minneapolis and has seen the effect of the increase in violence in my community, it's my life. So that is why I am doing this. I've taken criticism before, Kathy. I'm not afraid of criticism. And if you don't think as judges, we don't get pounded every day and criticized every day, then people just don't understand what we do.
And as a former County Attorney, Hennepin County Attorney, I dealt with that all the time. I think I can handle this. I know I can handle this. And I know I'm going to surround myself with very, very smart people, and I know I'm going to have a very strong support system, both within the County Attorney's Office and in my community.
KATHY WURZER: All right, we'll leave it there. Thank you so much.
MARTHA HOLTON DIMICK: All right, you're welcome.
KATHY WURZER: Martha Holton Dimick is a candidate for Hennepin County Attorney. Early voting in this race is happening right now. Last day to vote is August the 8th. If you live in Hennepin County, you can find your polling place on the Secretary of State's website.
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