Crime, Law and Justice

Freeman won't seek reelection as Hennepin County prosecutor

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman addresses the media
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman during a press conference inside the Hennepin County Government Center in 2018.
Evan Frost | MPR News 2018

Updated 2:40 p.m.

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said Wednesday he will not seek a new term next year.

Freeman, the son of a former Minnesota governor, has direct links to the founding of the DFL Party and ran for governor unsuccessfully in 1998.

He has been a constant in some of the state’s highest-profile prosecutions in his 20-plus years as county attorney, including the prosecution of former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor for the killing of 911 caller Justine Ruszczyk.

Throughout his career, Freeman has drawn criticism as well as protests outside of his home over decisions to not file charges against Minneapolis police officers who've killed civilians. He would likely have faced a tough reelection battle next year.

"When you get into your 70s and worked nonstop for over 50 years, I think you're entitled to a rest,” Freeman told MPR News. “I'm looking forward to a lot more time with my three grandchildren and some of the interests I've had that I've never gotten to do."

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman on his decision not to seek reelection

Freeman said his decision to not file charges against the officers involved in the fatal shooting of Jamar Clark was one of his most difficult. He also chose to break precedent and not empanel a grand jury to decide if charges against the officers were warranted.

“My deepest regret is that, to date, we have not been able to bring charges against the person who fired a shot that pierced a home and killed 3-year-old Terrell Mayes in December 2011,” Freeman wrote in a statement Wednesday.

He also expressed regret about not yet being able to bring charges in the recent killings of 9-year-old Trinity Ottoson-Smith and 6-year-old Aniya Allen.

Hours after Freeman’s announcement, former the former Hennepin County chief public defender said she's exploring a run for the office of head prosecutor.

"I think that the system really isn't working for a lot of people, and I think people really know that, so I think we need transformative change in that office,” said Mary Moriarty.

Moriarty has been outspoken on issues of racial disparities in the justice system. She was ousted from her position as chief public defender by the State Board of Public Defense. The board later agreed to a $300,000 out of court settlement with Moriarty over the matter.

Activist and civil rights attorney Nekima Levy-Armstrong said Freeman’s decision is “long overdue” adding that activists have been calling for him to step down for a number of years. Levy-Armstrong points to other cases where she said he didn’t listen to community concerns.

She said Freeman had a chance to reopen an investigation into the killing of another Black man — Terrence Franklin — but he didn’t until the Department of Justice decided to look into the practices of the Minneapolis Police Department — at which point he sent it on to the BCA. 

She also says he attempted to stand in the way of the release of Myon Burrell, a Black man whose long murder sentence was commuted after an Associated Press investigation found serious flaws in the case.

“I’ve had multiple conversations with Mike Freeman over the years and unfortunately, his attitude and his behavior is steeped in white privilege and a lack of understanding with regard to the issues that the Black community and other communities of color experience,” Levy-Armstrong said.

But his supporters say he’s accomplished many goals in his time, including partnerships with other counties on initiatives like bail reform, and his decision to end grand jury investigations in police killings.

“Mike is a passionate man and I believe he really worked hard to find justice for everybody,” said Washington County Attorney Pete Orput, who added that protesters don’t understand what goes into charging decisions. “They don’t have any of the knowledge, all they have is some vague notion and they’ve made it extremely difficult.”