Hennepin County prosecutor Mike Freeman discusses decades-long career

He is Hennepin County’s longest serving top prosecutor. And with just a couple weeks left in office, Mike Freeman is opening up to FOX 9 about the highs, the lows, the tough decisions and the things his office got wrong over two decades.

Freeman says he wants his legacy to be the wonderful staff he leaves behind.

"What is most important to me, it is not the numbers of prosecutions. It is not any of those statistics. It is whether we did the right thing in every case we did. And that's what these people do," Freeman told FOX 9. "Every day these people do the hard work that needs to be done. And I'm real proud of them."

Freeman has spent a total of 24 years as Hennepin County Attorney. He has two weeks left to serve. Freeman opened up to Paul Blume in a free ranging interview at the Government Center on Tuesday. 

He insisted the criminal justice system works.

"Oh, yes, absolutely," he told Blume. "And that's one of my bigger disappointments. Some of the criticism is, it does not work. It makes mistakes. There's no question about it, we would not be truthful. But we try to clear up the mistakes we make. And there are good people here. I wouldn't have done this job if I didn't think I had something to add to maintain that high level of honesty and authority and commitment. And I think I have done that, and that's what I feel most comfortable about."

One of the mistakes Freeman now acknowledges is the prosecution of Jaleel Stallings, blaming law enforcement for what happened.

A jury acquitted Stallings on charges the Army veteran fired at police officers in the chaos following George Floyd’s murder in which Stallings claimed self-defense.

The record would show MPD swat team members shot less lethal rounds first and then pummeled Stallings afterwards.

The city of Minneapolis settled a lawsuit with Stallings for $1.5 million.

Said Freeman, "Frankly, the police lied to us. Lied? Tough word. They did. And we charged it based on their representations and what they said happened and their reports. And they lied. And when we found out that at least some of the evidence wasn't as they said it was, we reduced the charge considerably, but we didn't reduce enough. We should have dropped it. In retrospect, that's when we made a mistake. I wish Minneapolis police had been honest with us on that case, and they didn't, and that was wrong… Stallings is kind of a terrible example of justice run amuck. Police kicked Stallings in the face. They didn't need to do that."

Over two decades, Freeman came under fire for his decision-making around deadly police encounters eventually doing away with the use of anonymous grand juries and making the call himself.

He ultimately charged Derek Chauvin and Mohamed Noor with murder. But neither Mark Ringgenberg nor Dustin Schwarze for their roles in the fatal 2015 shooting of Jamar Clark. It is a decision freeman stands behind.

"I do not support the actions of the police officers that day," explained Freeman. "They pulled the gun when they didn't need to. They took Clark down. They didn't de-escalate. They didn't do a lot of things. But my job is to ascertain whether there's sufficient admissible evidence to prove that cops committed a crime beyond a reasonable doubt. That evidence wasn't there."

Freeman insists he is not concerned about the upcoming transition to his successor, former long-time Hennepin County public defender Mary Moriarty even though the two often sparred about the direction of the legal system.

He wished Moriarty well as he described a changing landscape for top prosecutors where demonstrators are willing to protest and bring their demands to your front door as happened following George Floyd’s murder.

"These were tough decisions we had to make. And, you know, when we ended up being chased out of our house, selling it at a loss, I mean, my neighbors didn't deserve that either, but it shouldn't be part of the job. We ought to be able to have discourse that doesn't disrupt neighborhoods. Don't take it home," concluded Freeman.

As for what’s next for Freeman, he told Blume, "I promised myself only one thing. I am not going to make any decisions until after labor day 2023. For 50 years, I put a tie on and I have gone to work. That's long enough, 50 years. It's time to have a break and we'll see what happens then."