Civil rights groups upset that a prosecutor declined to charge members of the defunct Metro Gang Strike Force want a grand jury to investigate.
The Minneapolis and St. Paul chapters of the NAACP, the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota and Community Justice Project urged Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman to reconsider, saying officials failed to hold officers accountable.
Freeman said Wednesday he believes a grand jury also would have brought no charges.
He issued a 19-page report last week blasting the Strike Force's record-keeping and evidence handling but concluded no state charges could be filed. He said the investigation was limited by the refusal of 29 former Strike Force members to talk to investigators.
"For Mr. Freeman to say there's not enough evidence to charge was disappointing, to say the least," said Brian Smith, a vice president of the Minneapolis chapter of the NAACP. He said the string of events, from the group's shutdown to the multiple investigations to witness accounts, should have been enough to cause Freeman to call a grand jury.
The FBI began investigating the 73-member Strike Force in May 2009 after a Legislative Auditor's report found evidence of mishandled funds and improper seizure of vehicles and other property. The unit was permanently disbanded in July 2009.
Freeman said Wednesday that he considered empaneling a grand jury but didn't think it would have made a difference. "I'm confident a grand jury would make the same decision I did," he said.
If a grand jury had investigated and declined to indict, he said, the public wouldn't have gotten to learn much of the information in his report because of the secretive nature of the grand jury process.
That explanation doesn't wash with Chuck Samuelson, executive director of the state ACLU.
"We have what I believe is one of the largest governmental corruption cases in decades," he said, "and because the police officers are exercising their Fifth Amendment rights to avoid self-incrimination, the prosecutor ... didn't bother to call a grand jury where he could compel these guys to testify? If these guys were the Mafia and not the police, what would've happened?"
In a statement issued Tuesday, the civil rights groups complained of a double standard:
"In the African-American community and other communities of color, irrespective of whether a criminal defendant cooperates with the prosecution in disclosing participation in criminal activity, he or she is still often prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."
Freeman disagreed, saying there simply wasn't sufficient evidence. He added, however, that police agencies that contributed officers to the Strike Force likely will conduct more internal investigations into their conduct.
Last month, a federal grand jury indicted Jason Andersen, a Minneapolis police officer and former Strike Force member, for allegedly kicking a black teenager in the head in Crystal in 2008. He is the only former Strike Force member charged so far.
The FBI is focused on possible civil rights violations and is waiting to hear whether the Justice Department in Washington, D.C., plans to charge anyone else.
In February, the Hennepin, Dakota and Ramsey county attorneys and Minneapolis and St. Paul city attorneys met, and Freeman agreed to take over a review of the cases to see whether state laws were broken. Six county, federal and state investigators spent two months poring over evidence and conducting interviews before Freeman made the decision not to prosecute.
His report went into great detail about why no officers were charged. It said that neither an investigation by the Legislative Auditor nor one by a state review panel, which found improprieties and misconduct, focused on criminal issues.
Chris Havens • 612-673-4148