Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman vowed Wednesday to intensify how his office pursues sexual assault investigations, including more scrutiny of cases that police close without assigning an investigator and cases never referred to prosecutors.
Freeman also said he may hire more prosecutors and assign a prosecutor to work more directly on cases with Minneapolis police.
The steps that Freeman outlined came a week after the Star Tribune documented pervasive failings in how Minnesota law enforcement agencies investigate sexual assault.
In its reporting, the Star Tribune examined more than 1,000 sexual assault reports in the Twin Cities and around Minnesota since 2015 and found hundreds of rape cases in which police departments failed to interview witnesses, collect evidence or even assign detectives.
“We were surprised at how many were redlined,” Freeman said. “We’ll go over developing cases and give advice about what they need to do.”
Freeman, who is facing re-election this fall, said he has spoken with Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo and discussed meeting with sex crime investigators to review cases.
Freeman also said he wants to ensure that every victim is interviewed before police or prosecutors dismiss a case.
“I don’t know how you evaluate a case at all if you don’t talk with the victim,” Freeman said.
He said his office will also work with the Minneapolis police to review cases that were never sent to prosecutors.
A spokesman said Arradondo was unavailable for an interview Wednesday. The department has not commented on the Star Tribune series or responded to multiple interview requests for these stories over the past several months.
Last week, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey told the Star Tribune that he would work with Arradondo to improve training for investigators and consider hiring an advocate to work with sex assault survivors as they bring their cases to the police.
Also on Wednesday, the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault issued a statement responding to the Star Tribune series, saying the victim stories it documented were not surprising, and “are echoed by victims/survivors across the state.”
The nonprofit agency, a leading advocate in Minnesota for survivors of sex assault, called for several reforms, including a model policy for police investigators who handle sex crime reports and statewide monitoring of compliance with police investigative protocols.
Freeman said he’ll also ask the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners for funding to hire additional sex crimes prosecutors. Freeman’s office will also review whether prosecutors need additional training and experts available for them at trial, said his chief deputy attorney, Lolita Ulloa.
His office is also examining about 40 cases from this year that have not been charged, Freeman said.
Freeman called the Star Tribune stories “a good wake-up call for all of us who are trying to protect the victims and prosecute those who violate people’s human dignity.”
Only about one in four sex assault reports filed with Minneapolis police is sent to the county attorney for prosecution. About a third of the sex assault cases sent to his office come from the Minneapolis police, Freeman said.