Several Minneapolis civil rights leaders, critical of Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman's handling of charges against a man who crashed into a bus stop and injured six people, said Saturday that they plan to petition the Minnesota Supreme Court to assume jurisdiction of the case.
Freeman's charges against the driver of the vehicle, George R. Jensen, were insufficient and failed to acknowledge that video footage showed he deliberately targeted the bus shelter where the victims, all black, were waiting for a bus, they said at a news conference in Minneapolis.
"What does it take to be charged with a hate crime?" asked Tyrone Terrill, president of the African-American Leadership Council. "That car is no different from a gun."
Terrill and several other civil rights leaders were responding to Freeman's announcement Friday that Jensen, 83, will be charged with five counts of criminal vehicular operation related to the July 9 crash. The county attorney acknowledged that given Jensen's age and lack of a previous criminal record, he probably wouldn't serve jail time even if found guilty.
If a black driver had deliberately crashed into a bus stop shelter full of white people, seriously injuring several, the charges would be completely different, community leader Ron Edwards said at the news conference.
Freeman has said there wasn't sufficient evidence to charge Jensen with a hate crime. But the activists argued that the video footage is clear evidence he was targeting blacks.
In addition, they asked why Jensen wasn't charged with soliciting prostitution. Witnesses have said that Jensen had frequently been at this bus stop in recent years, asking for women's phone numbers.
Freeman has said there was no evidence to charge him with soliciting.
The activists said the County Attorney's Office and city officials have shown little concern for the victims, several of whom suffered severe injuries. The case should be moved to a jurisdiction where the evidence would be taken more seriously, they said.
An appeal directly to the state Supreme Court would be highly unusual, said Joseph Daly, emeritus professor of law at Mitchell Hamline School of Law, skipping over district court and the Court of Appeals.
The Supreme Court can suspend the rules "for good cause," but Daly said he does not believe this case would rise to that level.
The civil rights leaders also said they hope the six people injured in the crash will consider legal action to help pay their medical bills.
Jensen was charged via summons Friday and is not in custody. According to the criminal complaint, he was "circling the area trying to find a woman to pick up," then sideswiped a Metro Transit bus near N. Lyndale Avenue. He then turned onto West Broadway, maneuvered his van in the direction of the bus shelter, and crashed into it.