I am a police officer and not qualified to comment on the ethical implications of the comments that Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman made Sunday at a Minneapolis neighborhood forum about the police shooting of Justine Ruszczyk Damond (“Freeman fields Damond questions,” Sept. 11), but I am a part of this community and thus qualified to comment on the lack of professionalism shown and the impact of these comments on equal treatment for our law enforcement community.
If the goal is to be fair and balanced in response to concerns voiced by the community, then we need to be sure that the community is aware of hard facts affecting the daily lives of officers and citizens. Police officers are being killed at an increasing rate. Worse, irresponsible comments by public officials are fueling the creation of police widows and widowers. Case in point — five new police widows in Dallas after Gov. Mark Dayton’s comments on the tragic loss of Philando Castile’s life. Another fact: Gun deaths of officers increased 56 percent in 2016. Another fact: 1 in 3 of officers shot were killed in an ambush. A final fact: Freeman missed an opportunity to inform the public and begin the process of community rebuilding.
The death of Damond is a tragedy by anyone’s standards, as is the death of any person we know and love. Freeman should be well-acquainted with these tragedies and should be able to answer a simple question — “why officer Mohamed Noor wasn’t sitting in jail as a civilian would be after a deadly shooting.”
Officer Noor’s treatment is in line with other citizens following shootings. There are many examples of cooperative citizens being detained but not arrested, as was the case for Noor. These cases include the 2016 shooting by a security guard in Eagan, the 2014 shooting of Keyonte Thompson in St. Paul and the 2015 shooting of Lavauntai Broadbent in St. Paul. None of the citizens involved in these shootings was “sitting in jail” awaiting the outcome of a thorough investigation.
For Freeman to say he cannot answer this question because he has not thought about it that way is concerning, because it shows he is not familiar with the fair treatment of either police or civilians. The reality is that when any investigation goes on past the first 36 to 48 hours, people are not held in jail until a charging decision is made. After that decision, all citizens are entitled to bail or release on conditions.
Freeman’s comments that “I’m saddened by the death of this fine young woman” and that “it didn’t have to happen — it shouldn’t have happened” show he is focusing on the status of the person lost rather than the events leading to a tragic loss. This comment breaks with the imperative that fairness cross all socioeconomic boundaries. We want an assurance that Noor will not be charged simply on the basis of Damond’s status as a fine young woman in a nice neighborhood. The status of the deceased as a fine young woman, while true, is not and should not be part of an objective decision to charge anyone with a crime. This case is tragic, and so are the too many other deaths that have occurred in our city. This comment brings Freeman’s objectivity into question.
Finally, Freeman’s comment that the jury “was wrong” in acquitting St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez in the 2016 shooting death of Castile was simply out of place and requires an open and public apology. The law enforcement community must stand up and confront this sentiment, because it shows that Freeman has prejudged Noor’s case based on his myopic and uninformed opinion of the Yanez case. Was Freeman ever in that courtroom? Did he hear any of that evidence? The Yanez jury disagreed with a charging decision — why? Because Ramsey County Attorney John Choi was wrong! Freeman must consider that the Ramsey County and U.S. attorney’s offices got it wrong and were wrong from the beginning. If he cannot accept this as a fact, then how can he be fair with his decisions affecting Noor?
While I commend Freeman’s comment that his job is to determine whether Noor has done something criminal, and whether there is enough admissible evidence to support a charge, the tone and content of his overall statements do not reflect this laudable principle. In the interest of fairness to the community and the officers who serve this community, these comments must be responded to. The day-to-day lives of Minneapolis police officers just got a little tougher by misplaced and inaccurate comments about one incident. Mr. Freeman, please do better in the future.
Bob Kroll is president of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis.