Past 42 officer-involved killings in Hennepin County had no indictments

The decision to press charges in the Jamar Clark police shooting case rests with one man, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman. This comes after he decided not to rely on a grand jury for a charging decision, traditionally done in cases where a cop shoots a suspect.

A deeper look into the numbers behind grand juries show they have not indicted a police officer in all 42 police shooting cases in Hennepin County since 2000.

Skipping the grand jury

Ultimately, Freeman will be seeking to answer the same question a grand jury would: What would a reasonable officer do in the same situation as the one that presented itself with Jamar Clark?

For Freeman, it's a high-risk play. He will skip the grand jury and make the decision himself whether to charge two police officers with the killing of Clark.

"The burden is on him either way,” said former U.S. Attorney Tom Heffelfinger.

Heffelfinger went on to say he doesn’t believe Freeman is acting out of a political calculation, but as a matter of principal -- “I believe Mr. Freeman made choice because he valued transparency over secrecy."

Before we even knew the name Jamar Clark, there were other names of those killed by police like Terrance Franklin and Fong Lee -- all cases sent to a secret grand jury proceeding.

No recent indictments for officer-involved killings

In Hennepin County in the last 16 years (2000-2015), there have been 42 cases of officer-involved killings that have gone to the grand jury. And not one has returned an indictment. In Ramsey County, 15 officer-involved shootings have gone to the grand jury in the last six years (2009-2015), also with zero indictments.

Heffelfinger said depending how prosecutors presented the facts, those numbers could play either way.

"All they should tell you is I'd like to know more about how the grand jury made their decision," he said. “I'm a believer that when a grand jury of 23 people has all the facts they're in a position to make a good and informed decision."

And yet, in recent six-year period (2006-2012), the city of Minneapolis paid out $14 million for police misconduct. And Police Chief Harteau's Citizen Advisory Council heard 439 complaints, without a single officer disciplined. 

Pressure on Freeman for Jamar Clark decision

Already members of Black Lives Matter are calling for Freeman's election defeat if he doesn't charge the police officers. And if he does charge the officers, activists will likely demand to see the video -- an act Heffelfinger said would jeopardize the entire case. 

"He runs the risk then of motions to dismiss brought by defense counsel right to fair trial. As a prosecutor supposed to make the case in court and not in press conferences," Heffelfinger said.

It would be highly unusual for prosecutors to release evidence like a video when they charge a case, but they could argue they believe there's a compelling public interest.