Minnesota's top cop, prosecutor to study police shooting investigations

Minnesota’s top law enforcement official and lead prosecutor say the time is now to consider overhauling how the state handles police shooting investigations.

Attorney General Keith Ellison and Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington on Monday formed a working group to weigh potential changes. The group will file a report by February, when state lawmakers return for their 2020 session.

“Our presence here today as community, law enforcement, prosecution – everybody -- signals an attitude shift that we cannot keep going from crisis to crisis to crisis,” Ellison told reporters. “We’ve got to take a look at this.”

The 16-member panel’s work follows criticism of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, which currently handles investigations when a police officer uses deadly force. The BCA’s independence and investigative skill were questioned during the murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Mohammad Noor this year.

The working group includes no employees of the BCA. That was not an oversight, said Harrington, who has the BCA under his control.

“I didn’t feel like we were short-cutting them at all,” he said. “They will have my voice there representing them, and they will have their director there testifying so that the working group will have a clear understanding of what our current best practices are.”

The BCA is facing intense scrutiny after the Noor case. Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman openly questioned the bureau’s investigative work, while loved ones of Justine Damond – the woman who called 911 only to be shot by Noor, one of the responding officers – wondered aloud whether the BCA tried to cover up Noor’s actions.

Freeman said after the verdict this year that his office had won convictions on two of three counts in spite of the BCA’s lack of cooperation.

For now, Ellison isn’t saying whether his office should play a bigger role in police shooting investigations. Attorneys general in other states oversee such investigations, though some – like Wisconsin –have a much larger Department of Justice apparatus.

The Minnesota attorney general’s office wouldn’t be able to handle the workload with its current staffing, Ellison said.

“I’ll be very candid with you. There would be some resource commitments that would have to be made,” Ellison said.

The working group includes Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, St. Louis County Attorney Mark Rubin, two state lawmakers, a representative from the ACLU of Minnesota, and the uncle of Philando Castile, who was shot and killed by a police officer in 2016.

“It is an honor to bring something to this table, to this floor, to this group here, to try to do something positive for our community,” Clarence Castile said Monday.

Ellison and Harrington have yet to choose the final member of the panel, a representative from tribal law enforcement.