My thoughts on Mike Freeman’s grand jury decision

in Opinion by

On March 16th Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman released a statement about his decision to not use a grand jury on the Jamar Clark case. The incident with Jamar Clark has caused quite a bit of controversy and resurfaced racial tensions between police and residents of the greater Twin Cities area.

While conflicting accounts exist of what actually happened, the allegations are that the police misused their authorized use of force, and that Jamar Clark was handcuff while he was shot. Just before Mike Freeman released the statement the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) had just finished up their independent investigation of the incident.

Looking at Freemans released statement there are a couple of things that I think may foreshadow how the case is going to play out.

First off Mike Freeman started his statement by paraphrasing rule 18.01 of Minnesota criminal procedure by staying, “In Minnesota, state statutes require use of grand juries in cases of first-degree pre-meditated homicide and several other very serious crimes for which the potential sentence may be life in prison. The use of the grand jury in all other cases is up to the discretion of each individual county attorney.”

The actual wording of Rule 18.01 sub.1 states, “… the grand jury must be summoned and convened whenever required by the public interest, or whenever requested by the county attorney.”

While the wording of the rule is somewhat ambiguous, it does state that a grand jury must be summoned whenever required by the public interest, one of those reasons is the first degree premeditated homicide, otherwise like Freeman said, he can call a Jury when he wants to. This means that if charges were brought they would not involve any first-degree homicide issue; it would be misuse of force.

I personally think that given the high public profile of this case, a summoning of a grand jury would be what would be more beneficial to public interest than Mr. Freeman’s increased personal involvement, but that’s just my opinion.

That brings me to my next point. Taking a look at this statement brings some interesting information to light.

“Supporters maintain that grand jurors might be less impacted by non-legal considerations in making this most difficult charging decision: whether or not to charge a police officer for criminal misuse of force. Others dislike the grand jury process because under law and practice, its proceedings are essentially private and the basis for the grand jury’s decision is confidential. Also, names of the grand jury members are not made public and, therefore, there is a perceived lack of accountability. Secrecy, lack of transparency and no direct accountability strikes us as very problematic in a democratic society.”

From this statement I drew some conclusions. First of all, I’m concluding that Mr. Freeman thinks the public will not focus on the legal aspects of this case, and because of the controversy and tragedy it caused, will prejudicially indict the police officers. If my conclusion was correct, the grand juries secrecy does not help Mr. Freeman while he navigates the legal issues of this case, and is as he stated, very problematic in our society, because he can’t hold the members of the grand jury accountable.

My last inference from this paragraph in Mr. Freeman’s statement, “Second, I strengthened the prosecutor’s involvement in police shooting investigations. Normally, prosecutors wait for the police to present a case before getting involved. In these most sensitive cases, I decided to assign a veteran prosecutor to assist in the police investigation in the Clark case from day one. This should enhance the quality of the entire process and include a lawyer’s perspective from the beginning of the investigation.”

I think that this means he wants to make sure that his office is in control of weather charges are brought up against the officers and I honestly can’t blame him for that, because with a case like this all the attention is going to be directed toward him regardless.

However, I think that this is the most problematic with the community, because the over arching issue that the case is addressing is institutional racism, and now the institution has all the control over the case, it may be hard for members of the community to move past this tragic incident, regardless of the legal facts of the cause.