ACLU, NAACP put pressure on county attorney in gang strike force caseby Tim Nelson, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Two civil rights groups are calling on the Hennepin County attorney to present evidence from the Metro Gang Strike Force to a grand jury for possible criminal charges.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said last week that his office wouldn't be filing any charges against any of the officers that worked at the scandal-plagued gang unit, a move the civil rights groups say was premature.
Freeman said there wasn't enough evidence regarding specific officers.
But both the Minnesota chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP said on Monday that the Hennepin County attorney should present the case to a panel of citizens -- in the form of a grand jury -- to settle the matter.
"We believe that this is the largest public corruption scandal in decades," said Minnesota ACLU Executive Director Chuck Samuelson. He said the case warrants more than just a review by prosecutors.
"And if county attorney Freeman isn't willing to do it, there's county attorney Backstrom, or there's other county attorneys that could bring it and the governor could call for the attorney general of the state to bring a grand jury," Samuelson said.
The scandal has been running for nearly two years. Two state investigations found the gang unit was missing evidence and seized property.
One report said police seized items like televisions and sporting goods and sold them to friends and relatives for cents on the dollar. The report said some cases may have amounted to little more than appropriation of cash and property unrelated to law enforcement.
The Hennepin County attorney's office took up the matter earlier this year to investigate the scandal for possible state charges, but instead issued a 19-page report last Wednesday.
Deputy County Attorney Pat Diamond said prosecutors were confident that a grand jury would have reached the same conclusion. But because grand jury proceedings are secret, Diamond said the public would have actually had less information about the case if it went to a grand jury.
"The public in the case of a no-bill would have been left wondering why it was the grand jury didn't indict, and none of the grand jurors nor our office would have been in a position to explain exactly what went on in the case," Diamond said.
But others disagree.
Samuelson, the ACLU director, said dozens of police who refused to talk to investigators could have been compelled to talk to a grand jury, if only about other officer's alleged misconduct.
Brian Smith, a vice president with the NAACP in Minneapolis, said he worries that there is a double standard for law enforcement.
"We think there is enough evidence to prosecute, because the office has prosecuted others with way less evidence," Smith said. "But since that isn't happening, unfortunately we have to go this other route, which is asking for a grand jury."
Federal authorities are continuing to investigate the scandal. Agencies that sent officers to the gang unit signed on through an insurance pool to a $3 million civil settlement last month.
- All Things Considered, 09/13/2010, 5:20 p.m.