On March 10, I was asked, along with all other U.S. attorneys, to resign. In the weeks that followed, dozens of strangers approached me to thank me for the good work our office performed during my term in office. Each of these interactions confirmed that one of my objectives as U.S. attorney has been met — to make the work of federal law enforcement in Minnesota more visible and more transparent.
I took on the job as U.S. attorney at a time of great turmoil and unrest. Nationally, and in Minnesota, important questions were being raised about the work of law enforcement. From my platform as the chief federal law enforcement officer in Minnesota, I sought to be a strong voice in this ongoing conversation.
I believe in the power of effective government institutions to be a positive force in our society. And I have seen how our criminal-justice system is critical in protecting our rights, and our safety, when it serves with sensitivity, impartiality and integrity. Today, active citizens and the media shine a light on problems within law enforcement. But there is much more to the story. As U.S. attorney, I wanted to ensure that the people of our state learned what law enforcement does right, not only where improvement is needed. The only way to do that was to open our doors, talk about what we were doing and become more transparent.
As a result, along with my law enforcement partners, I opened up our work to the public. We engaged with the media to explain what we were doing, and we engaged with community leaders in open forums. It was important to me that you, the citizens of the state, knew what we were doing. And I hoped that this knowledge would help build trust.
We were candid about Minnesota’s problem with terror recruitment, and the law enforcement and community-based solutions to it. When we determined that no charges should be brought in the tragic death of Jamar Clark, FBI special agent in charge Richard Thornton and I broke with Department of Justice protocol and stood before the cameras to explain our decision. And we spent hours meeting with family members and community leaders about our investigation. When we sued a city for denying the constitutional rights of the Muslim community to open a mosque, we made the announcement in a public forum. We did the same when the city agreed to allow the mosque to open.
My goal was to inform and educate the public about our work and our decisionmaking process in order to build trust. Sometimes, it was complicated.
In October 2015, we prepared to arrest Danny Heinrich on child pornography charges. Although Heinrich was not charged with abducting Jacob Wetterling, I knew that a search warrant naming Heinrich as the prime suspect would soon be unsealed. I also knew that we were taking on the Heinrich case at the federal level because of our belief that he had abducted Jacob. We could have arrested Heinrich quietly and said nothing about his potential tie to the Wetterling case. But that was not keeping with my goal of making our work more transparent. Carefully balancing the defendant’s rights with the public’s right to know, we decided to go public, naming Heinrich as a person of interest.
This was a difficult decision, and the announcement was unconventional. We were informing the public about a potential break in the investigation, but we were not yet bringing charges against the suspect. Although it was unusual, I believed, on balance, that the public’s right to know about these developments was too important for us to stay silent.
One year later, we negotiated a complex agreement to solve the Wetterling case. Our resolution was novel, but I believed it accomplished what was necessary to achieve justice. My partners and I were open about our thinking and our reasoning. People could agree or disagree, but we explained our thought process as clearly as we could so you could make an informed decision for yourself.
I believe such an approach, if done honestly and with clarity, can build respect and trust in our work, even from those who disagreed with our decisions.
In this age of skepticism about government, we tried to be transparent so you could judge us honestly based on the facts. I am extremely proud of the integrity and dedication of the law enforcement officers and prosecutors with whom I worked over the past three years, and tried to bring their good work to light. I hope my efforts have improved your view of how government and law enforcement can be a force for good. Many hardworking professionals accomplished a lot over a short period of time. I wanted you to know about it, and to have a basis to judge our work.
If this approach left you with a better insight into the workings of law enforcement, and more respect for our criminal justice system, my time in office will have been a success. Thank you for the opportunity to serve as your U.S. attorney. It was an honor I will cherish for the rest of my life.
Andrew M. Luger was U.S. attorney for the District of Minnesota from 2014 to 2017.