New Hennepin County sheriff, attorney sworn in
New Hennepin County Sheriff Dawanna Witt and Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty took their oaths of office at a public swearing-in ceremony Tuesday.
Moriarty, a former chief public defender, had already been officially sworn in by a judge Friday. According to a spokesperson, Moriarty wanted to start work right away on Monday.
At today’s public swearing-in ceremony Moriarty promised she’d be accountable to the residents of Hennepin County.
“You recognize that what we’ve done in the past has not made us safer, and it has harmed people in our community,” Moriarty said. “Together we are creating a new path forward. This will always mean to me identifying what isn’t working and having the courage to change to something that will.”
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Moriarty took control of the office that was steered by Mike Freeman for a total of 24 years. Freeman chose not to run again.
Moriarty vowed that her office will use “just and effective” methods to ensure public safety for all county residents.
Moriarty said she’d announce new policies in the coming weeks, including changes to how low-level drug crimes are prosecuted, a broader approach to looking at past convictions and a plan to create more effective working relationships with law enforcement.
“This work to transform our criminal legal system in Hennepin County to one that delivers justice for everyone will be hard,” Moriarty said. “It will take a collective effort.”
Since Election Day, Moriarty said she has conducted an anonymous survey of the office’s staff and has held at least 10 listening sessions. Moriarty, who is the first openly LGBTQ person to serve as the county’s top prosecutor, told staffers they can expect changes to ensure a more empowering work environment, and told staffers of color that she’d try hard to make it an office they can be proud of.
Hennepin County Sheriff Dawanna Witt was also sworn in as the first African American sheriff of the state's most populous county.
Witt was overcome by emotion several times as she took the oath of office. She said she's honored and humbled to take over the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office.
“When I talk about commitment to you, I’m committing my heart to ensuring that we bring public safety, collaboration and effective methods to make sure that all people feel safe and secure, not just the illusion, but actually being safe and secure,” Witt said.
Witt most recently oversaw security at the county jail and courts. She replaces troubled former sheriff Dave Hutchinson, who has been on an indefinite leave of absence since May and decided not to run for the office again. He was involved in a crash that totaled a county-owned SUV in December 2021 and later pleaded guilty to a DWI charge.
In her speech, Witt highlighted the efforts of Hennepin County Sheriff's Office employees.
“The last few years have been hard, yet these men and women continue to put on these uniforms, yet these men and women continue to put on these uniforms and put on this badge and act in a way of honor and integrity, to ensure the safety and security of all people, all businesses in Hennepin County,” Witt said. “I assure you that I will lead them into making sure we do better.”
Witt said “the blame game” between law enforcement and the community isn’t improving public safety, and vowed to work to give people hope that both crime and incarceration rates can be lowered.
Both Witt and Moriarty have scheduled separate community swearing-in ceremonies.