MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – A grand jury will not decide the fate of the police officers involved in the shooting death of Jamar Clark, which sparked weeks of protest last year on Minneapolis’ north side.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said on Wednesday that the days of using a grand jury to determine if a police shooting was justified or not are over in Hennepin County.
He said the process involves too much secrecy and not enough accountability. Instead, Freeman said he will make the decision on whether or not to indict the officers.
“This is my job, and I will do it as fairly as I can,” Freeman said at a press conference.
Web Exclusive: Full Press Conference
For 40 years, police shooting cases in Hennepin County have gone to a grand jury. In every case where the victim died, the grand juries found there wasn’t enough evidence to move forward with charges.
Freeman says he started questioning the grand jury process months ago.
“The ensuing months have given me more time to think about the grand jury,” he said. “As an elected official, I also took time to meet with more people and listen to their concerns.”
Since February, protesters have gathered outside the county attorney’s office every Friday to demand that Freeman decide the case, not a grand jury.
Longtime community activist Mel Reeves is one of the protest organizers. He called Wednesday’s announcement a partial victory for protesters.
“We have a goal,” he added. “Our goal is to see those police officers prosecuted. We believe they committed a crime.”
Reeves says he and other protesters will continue pushing for prosecution.
“This is what we definitely know — even police will admit to this — we know he was not armed,” Reeves said. “So why would you kill someone who was not armed?”
Kenya McKnight-Ahad, a relative of Jamar Clark, says she is looking forward to more transparency in the future.
“My reaction was ‘yes.’ Minnesota is starting to move in the right direction as it relates to justice,” McKnight-Ahad said. “This is a big victory. Not only for the family and the community, but for our county, city, region, our state.”
Chief Janeé Harteau said in a statement Wednesday that she believes this was a “challenging decision,” for Freeman to make.
“The legal standards and thresholds remain the same, whether this case is looked at by a grand jury or reviewed by the County Attorney,” Harteau said.
Lt. Bob Kroll, the head of the Minneapolis police union, has maintained that Clark reached for one of the officers’ guns in a struggle immediately before the Nov. 15 shooting.
“I hate to see the county attorney give in to bully tactics by Black Lives Matter,” Kroll said. “I’m still confident that the officers are going to prove to be lawful and proper. Our officers in the Jamar Clark incident are going to be cleared. I’m certain of that.”
After Freeman’s announcement, Black Lives Matter Minneapolis posted a statement saying protest is what led the county attorney to change his mind. Initially, Freeman had said the case would go to a grand jury.
“Fam this is the power of organizing,” the group said in the Facebook post. “This is #protestpower. We still don’t have #justice4jamar, but we have a much better chance at it now.”
The two police officers in the case, Mark Ringgenberg and Dustin Schwarze, were initially placed on paid leave, but have since returned to work on desk duty.
The BCA completed its investigation into the shooting last month. The findings were brought to the county attorney’s office for review.
Freeman says he will likely make his decision in the case by the end of the month.
Meanwhile, a federal investigation into Clark’s death is ongoing.