For better or worse, the family of George Floyd has gotten their wish. The prosecution of former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin was originally assigned to Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, a person with a combined 25 years experience as a prosecutor. In a strange political coincidence, Freeman is the man who replaced Amy Klobuchar in the office and handled the prosecution of Myon Burrell, which drew a lot of negative attention to Klobuchar’s campaign earlier this year.
But Floyd’s family, along with ten members of the Minnesota legislature, told the Governor that they had “lost faith in the ability of Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman to fairly and impartially investigate and prosecute these cases.” In response, Governor Walz has assigned Attorney General Keith Ellison to take over the case at the family’s request, though Freeman will still “help” with the workload. (NBC News)
Minnesota’s governor appointed state Attorney General Keith Ellison on Sunday to lead the prosecution of any cases arising from the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.
Gov. Tim Walz announced Ellison’s appointment as lead prosecutor shortly after Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said he had asked Ellison to “assist” in the investigation. Former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin is charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in Floyd’s death on May 25 as Chauvin pinned his neck to the ground with his knee.
“We have the best person with Attorney General Ellison to pursue this case,” Walz said.
Walz is within his rights to assign Ellison to take over the case and you can see how the politics of this move work in his favor. With the entire nation watching these proceedings like a hawk, Walz is granting a request from Floyd’s family as well as replacing a white prosecutor with an African-American in a case that’s obviously fraught with racial tension.
Further, whether you put much stock in the idea or not, there were concerns that Mike Freeman wouldn’t be aggressive enough in attempting to prosecute Chauvin and potentially the other three officers who were involved in Floyd’s arrest and subsequent death. Both Freeman and Klobuchar have been accused of not pursuing police misconduct. Ellison, on the other hand, very recently pointed out that it’s okay for rioters to go after the police, provided they leave the National Guard alone. So there’s clearly no concerns that he’ll play favorites in the officers’ favor.
But even taking all of that into consideration, is the Floyd family really being served well by this change? As I mentioned above, Freeman has literally decades of experience investigating and prosecuting criminal cases. By contrast, Keith Ellison worked as a defense attorney, primarily in civil rights cases for roughly a decade after graduating. He then entered politics and never looked back. In other words, Keith Ellison had never prosecuted a case in his life until he was somehow elected Attorney General. He’s been in the office for barely seventeen months and generally doesn’t have to handle cases personally.
It’s too late to worry about that now, I suppose. This is what George Floyd’s family wanted and now they have it. If the Governor turned around and pulled Ellison off the case at this point it would be political disaster. For the sake of Floyd’s family, I hope Ellison has figured out how things operate from the prosecutor’s desk.