Minnesota’s county prosecutors on Thursday voted to recommend giving the Attorney General’s Office authority to take on all cases of police-involved killings in a move that would need signoff from state lawmakers during this month’s special session.
The Minnesota County Attorneys Association (MCAA) will also call on the Legislature for extra funding for the Attorney General’s Office and the creation of an independent unit at the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) to investigate police killings of civilians.
“Our entire association extends our heartfelt sympathy to George Floyd’s family and to the collective community that mourns his loss and advocates for honest dialogue and real and immediate change in his name,” said Aaron Jordan, Stevens County Attorney and MCAA president.
The group of county attorneys reached its conclusion after an emergency meeting organized Thursday that included Attorney General Keith Ellison, who is now leading the state’s case against the four former Minneapolis police officers involved in George Floyd’s May 25 death. Lawmakers would need to pass legislation during this month’s special session to give the Attorney General’s Office the ongoing authority.
“If this is the path the Legislature and governor choose to take, my office will accept the responsibility,” Ellison said. “But it must come with resources sufficient to do the job thoroughly and to do justice in the way Minnesotans have a right to expect.”
Ellison is one of 18 Democratic attorneys general who on Thursday signed a letter asking Congress to grant their offices “clear statutory authority under federal law to investigate and resolve patterns or practices ... of unconstitutional policing by local police departments” in their respective states.
Ellison became the first state attorney general to prosecute Minnesota law enforcement officers who have allegedly killed civilians. Gov. Tim Walz asked Ellison to take over the case Sunday from Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, who first charged fired officer Derek Chauvin with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter after a video showed him kneeling on Floyd’s neck for more than 8 minutes as he begged for air and eventually became unresponsive.
Two days after Ellison formally took over the case, Chauvin’s charges were increased to second-degree unintentional murder, and the three other officers at the scene — Tou Thao, J Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane — were arrested and charged with aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter.
For Ellison to take the case, state law required that Walz ask him to do so and that Freeman consent. Under the proposed legislation, Ellison’s office would have sole authority to prosecute alleged police killings. The office also could request help from a county attorney’s office that is not located where the death occurred.
That change — plus the additional independent BCA unit — are among a sweeping package of police reform proposals that DFL lawmakers unveiled this week ahead of a special session expected this month. Many of the requests mirror recommendations put forward by a task force assembled by Ellison and Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington aimed at curbing deadly police encounters.
This week, Walz and DFL leaders said they envisioned the topic to be a “centerpiece” of the special session, and some lawmakers have threatened to hold up the passing of a bonding bill if the proposals go unheard.
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 — are both in favor 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.