Crime, Law and Justice

Hennepin County pays $190k to settle top prosecutor's discrimination claim

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman speaks at a press conference speaks after a jury found former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor guilty on two counts in the killing of Justine Ruszczyk.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Updated: May 20, 6:15 p.m. | Posted: May 19, 5:25 p.m.

The Hennepin County Board has approved a $190,000 settlement with veteran prosecutor Amy Sweasy to resolve a discrimination complaint she filed against the county and County Attorney Mike Freeman.

In the initial complaint that Sweasy filed with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, she alleged Freeman retaliated on her after she told him she disagreed with his charging on a case and withdrew from it in June 2020 but did not retaliate on men who said the same thing as her.

She also alleged Freeman “made sexist remarks” such as “we already had to let the white girls in because … we need someone to keep our feet warm at night.” She said she reported his comments to two men with the county, and one said he was “unsurprised” while the other said he knew Freeman has made “disparaging comments about a female legislator’s appearance.”

The county released the final settlement agreement on Thursday. The Minnesota Department of Human Rights said Sweasy withdrew the charges of discrimination, closing the case.

As part of the agreement, Sweasy will become a “Principal Attorney” and will report to another manager, Criminal Deputy County Attorney Dan Mabley. She will not have contact with Freeman for the remainder of the year unless Mabley is present or it's in a group meeting.

Sweasy has also agreed to step down from the office’s management committee, which oversees around 500 employees, including about 200 attorneys.

The agreement calls for Sweasy to manage a new complex prosecutions unit that will help law enforcement with "significant investigations," but the unit will not handle police use of force cases.

In a statement to MPR News on Friday, Sweasy said it was a “difficult decision to come forward” to report workplace discrimination and retaliation, but said she’s looking forward to bringing her 27 years of experience at the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office to her new leadership role.

Sweasy and her colleague Patrick Lofton led the prosecution of former Minneapolis Police Officer Mohamed Noor for the fatal shooting of 911 caller Justine Ruszczyk, who also went by Justine Damond, in 2017.

A jury convicted Noor of second-degree manslaughter and third-degree murder, but the Minnesota Supreme Court overturned his murder conviction last year. Noor is expected to be released from prison in late June.

In 2020, Sweasy and Lofton filed the same charges against former officer Derek Chauvin for the death of George Floyd, but withdrew from the case. Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison later added a more serious charge of second-degree murder.

Judge Peter Cahill disqualified Freeman, Lofton, Sweasy and former chief deputy county attorney Andy LeFevour from the Chauvin case after they met privately with the county medical examiner to discuss Floyd’s autopsy results. Cahill called the move “sloppy.” Cahill later partially reversed his decision and allowed the four to participate in Chauvin’s prosecution, though the judge still prohibited them from appearing in the courtroom or signing motions.

Freeman, 74, is due to leave office in January after choosing not to run for a seventh four-year term.

In a statement, Freeman notes that six of the 10 members of his management committee are women and "In 24 year sand among thousands of employees, no claim of discrimination has been found to be true. And that has not changed today."