MINNEAPOLIS (KMSP) - The jury has found Minneapolis Police Officer Efrem Hamilton not guilty on all three counts he faced for shooting his gun into a car full of innocent people.
In court Tuesday after hearing that he was cleared on three criminal counts, Officer Hamilton broke down. Through tears he thanked the jury, explaining that he only put his life on the line “to help people” and that he learned “the lives that mattered most are my wife, my family and my kids.”
“That was not in the script and it surprised me,” said defense attorney Fred Bruno. “It was very moving.”
Hamilton was charged with three counts, including second-degree assault and reckless discharge of a weapon, for shooting at a car full of people in downtown Minneapolis in November 2016.
Last week, Hamilton took the stand in his own defense, telling the jury why he opened fire on a vehicle with six people inside. The police officer said he was in uniform but working off-duty at a downtown bar when he heard reports of a fight with shots fired several blocks away.
After driving to the scene, Hamilton says he fired a single shot at a car that backed into his squad car, saying he feared for his life. But, prosecutors argue he was reckless and didn't take the time to assess the threat before shooting at innocent people.
Hamilton’s attorney ripped prosecutors, including Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, after the unanimous verdicts.
“Right after Freeman made the announcement that there would be no more grand juries, my guy was the first guy to come along,” said Bruno. “He latched on to prove that he’s man enough to charge a cop. Efrem was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“We do not believe this was good police work and hope not to see such carelessness in the future,” said Freeman.
For his part, Freeman defended his decision and says he supports the jury’s findings and the process.
Fox 9 asked whether or not charging Hamilton, a popular former Marine, might have hurt relations with some officers at MPD. Freeman said he is committed to holding officers accountable for their actions while wearing the badge.
“[Cases like this] are very hard to win, we know that,” said Freeman. “That’s why we work hard that the cases we do charge are winnable.”
An MPD internal affairs review cleared Hamilton of his use of force in this incident. The police chief still will need to sign off before Officer Hamilton returns to duty on the streets.
MINNEAPOLIS POLICE CHIEF STATEMENT: "Today I was made aware of the jury's verdict in the Officer Efrem Hamilton case. I respect the decision of the jury and fully recognize situations that involve an officer and their use of force are at times difficult ones for the community to process and understand.
"Anytime that officers use force, it can have an impact on our communities. As part of the MPD's commitment to procedural justice, we ensure that all use of force incidents are taken seriously and investigated fully. We will continue as a department our outreach efforts working with our communities to create spaces that foster positive and trusting relationships.
"As peace officers, we are held to a higher standard and the MPD's core values focus on trust, accountability, and delivering professional service.
"Officer Hamilton remains a police officer with the MPD."
FINAL JURY QUESTION: Tuesday morning, the jury asked to watch Officer Hamilton's dashcam body camera footage a second time. Those videos were played in open court on Friday. The jury also had a question about defining the word "public" as it relates to a count of reckless discharge of a weapon.
LICENSE RETAINED: If convicted, Hamilton would have lost his police license, most likely ending his law enforcement career in Minnesota. A not guilty verdict keeps his law enforcement career intact.