The attorney for one of four former officers charged in connection with the police killing of George Floyd on Memorial Day filed a motion Thursday seeking to have Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman removed from the case.
Thomas C. Plunkett argued that Freeman is ethically compromised and too close to law enforcement to fairly prosecute his client, J. Alexander Kueng, who was charged as an accomplice in Floyd’s killing.
“The HCAO [Hennepin County Attorney’s Office] cannot act to protect Mr. Kueng’s right to a fair trial as they have already proclaimed his guilt in numerous public statements. Mr. Freeman has called the death of Mr. Floyd a ‘senseless death’ and [said] that he is sympathetic to the Floyd family,” Plunkett wrote. “He also commented that the video of the incident from a bystander ‘is graphic, and horrific and terrible, and no person should do that,’ ” he continued.
“Mr. Freeman’s comments leave no doubt that justice is not his objective in the Kueng prosecution. Mr. Freeman has fomented public anger and now seeks to taint that anger with hatred through the prosecution of Mr. Kueng. He has abdicated his duties as a prosecutor and must be removed from the case.”
Freeman’s office declined to comment Thursday on any matters related to the case.
Plunkett argued that an inherent conflict exists between law enforcement and prosecutors because they must work together to bring cases and seek convictions. When local prosecutors decline to press charges against police officers involved in high-profile killings, the public and surviving family members may scream foul because they suspect bias tainted the decision.
By contrast, Plunkett wrote, when local prosecutors do press charges against police in high-profile cases it may appear that they doing so for political gain.
“Mr. Freeman is unique as he fits snugly in both the ‘white washer’ category and ‘overzealous scapegoated’ category,” he said.
Plunkett did not cite any examples.
Freeman has been pilloried for his supervision of several police killing cases. He declined to prosecute the white officers involved in the killing of Jamar Clark, a Black man, in 2015. He charged and won a murder conviction against a Black Minneapolis officer, Mohamed Noor, in the fatal shooting of Justine Ruszczyk Damond, a white woman, in July 2017.
A bill in the last legislative session would have given the Minnesota Attorney General sole authority to prosecute police officers who kill people, but it failed when a significant number of county attorneys expressed concerns.
Freeman and Ramsey County Attorney John Choi — who prosecuted former St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez in the death of Philando Castile during a 2016 traffic stop before Yanez was acquitted — each supported the idea of letting the attorney general take the lead on prosecuting police-involved killings.
“I think it reflects something that is really important, which is that recognition that we have to listen and act upon the call for change,” Choi said.
Plunkett, in his motion, also alleged that Freeman’s office violated legal ethics by leaking to the news media that former police officer Derek Chauvin, who is charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter offenses, had been negotiating a plea bargain that ultimately fell apart.
Freeman’s office confirmed the leak, Plunkett wrote, by stating that such negotiations are not unusual.
He called that leak “particularly egregious and patently unethical” because prosecutors knew it would be widely reported and have a significant impact.
Scheduling has not been set for a response from Freeman’s office or for a hearing on the motion.