Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman speaks at a news conference in late March 2016. (Jim Gehrz/Star Tribune via AP)
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said one of his biggest regrets as the county’s top prosecutor was using grand juries to investigate the shootings of civilians by police, admitting that the process lacked transparency.
Freeman’s comments came during an often raucous public forum on police-community relations Saturday evening that brought together residents and law enforcement officials for what organizers envisioned as a constructive dialogue between both sides. But the event ended abruptly about an hour after it began, when a Q&A session devolved into a shouting match.
“I made a mistake in the first 17 years of being a county attorney by using a grand jury” to investigate cop-involved shootings, Freeman said in response to an audience question about whether he has any regrets.
Freeman, whose decision earlier this year to discontinue the use of the secretive citizen panels in such shootings drew cautious praise from activists, added that the process shielded the public from many facts.
The session also was marked by a series of outbursts from the audience, including Clark's father, James Clark, who at one point shouted: "We're tired of having a bunch of lies and that's all we're hearing."
Minneapolis Deputy Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, police union President Lt. Bob Kroll, Hennepin County sheriff’s deputy Kellace McDaniel and Kevin Lindsey, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, also took part in the panel discussion, at Wayman African Methodist Episcopal Church on the city’s North Side.
Freeman denied that he had mishandled the case of Jamar Clark, who was killed during a confrontation with two Minneapolis cops outside a North Side apartment building last fall.
The two officers, Mark Ringgenberg and Dustin Schwarze, were later cleared of any wrongdoing in separate state, federal internal investigations and are back on duty.
Freeman, who was repeatedly interrupted as he spoke, said Saturday that he felt “terrible” about Clark’s death — which set off weeks of furious protests and fueled a fierce national debate about police treatment of blacks — but defended his decision not to charge the officers.
Clark’s family members have said they plan to file a wrongful-death lawsuit against the city, contending that Clark’s shooting could have been averted.
Arradondo, a lifelong North Sider, said that the department has sought to come to grips with law enforcement’s troubled history of abuses against minorities, citing the example of a police chief who refused to intervene when a white mob lynched three black men outside a Duluth police station in 1920, famously saying: “I do not want to see the blood of one white person spilled for six blacks.”
"We have to respect that this badge has not always been representative of" justice for people of color," Arradondo told the audience.
Organizers said they hoped the meeting would help repair relationships between police and the community, particularly the ethnically diverse neighborhoods of north Minneapolis.
But the event, which was scheduled to run until 6:15 p.m., ended about an hour early, as the crowd grew increasingly agitated and accused the panelists of dodging tough questions.