Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman is convening a grand jury to help determine whether Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor, who shot Justine Ruszczyk, should be charged with a crime. It's unusual because Freeman said in 2016 that he would no longer send officer-involved shootings to grand juries.
Mohamed Noor, the officer who fatally shot Ruszczyk, has not talked to investigators about the shooting. Freeman's office says it can't comment on grand juries because they're secret, but that Freeman will ultimately be the one to make any charging decision.
MPR News host Cathy Wurzer spoke with University of Minnesota law professor JaneAnne Murray about the situation.
Comments have been edited for length and clarity.
County Attorney Freeman said he was going to make a decision on charges by the end of 2017. Then last month he said he didn't have enough evidence yet to make a decision about charging Officer Noor at that point. How does sending the case to a grand jury now change the complexion of the case?
A grand jury has additional investigative powers that Freeman is hoping to harness here. For example, the grand jury can issue subpoenas and through that process force witnesses to come in and testify before the grand jury. Those witnesses could, if they choose, assert their Fifth Amendment rights. And in that context, Freeman has the choice to decide whether he wants to seek to compel the testimony under a grant of immunity, in which case the witness would not be able to refuse to testify.
So it gives an additional investigatory mechanism to Freeman, and perhaps that's what he wants to use here. I've read that he has had some difficulty getting testimony or information from coworkers of officer Noor, and this could be a way of getting that testimony in the box.
Officer Noor has so far refused to talk to investigators. So if a grand jury's impaneled and he is subpoenaed to testify, might that nudge him in the direction of saying something, or is that unlikely?
Highly unlikely that the target of the entire process would be subpoenaed by Freeman, but Noor would have an opportunity to request to speak to the grand jury. Again, highly unlikely that the putative defendant in a major indictment would make that choice.
Lt. Bob Kroll, the head of the police officers' union, says he doesn't know how Freeman can both make the charging decision while also submitting the investigation to a grand jury. Can you explain that?
Well, Freeman could either choose to file the charges himself or he can use the grand jury process. I don't see any legal impediment to Freeman using the grand jury process as an investigative mechanism and ultimately after the evidence has been collected to make the charging decision himself. I don't see any problem with that. On the other hand, Freeman could allow the grand jury do its investigation and at the end of the day seek the indictment from the grand jury.
There's an old saying that a prosecutor can basically get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich, and if Freeman's decision at the end of the day is that Noor should face charges, Freeman should not have any difficulty getting a grand jury to vote an indictment in that case.
How long does the process take? Is there some sort of a timeline that we should be watching for?
No. There are no deadlines here, other than that a grand jury can't sit for more than a year. So Freeman would have to convene another grand jury if it went over a year. I think that's highly unlikely.
So I don't see that we're dealing with any deadlines here. This is a process that's happening very carefully, very deliberately by Freeman and we can expect some solution, I would imagine, in the next several months.