Hennepin County Mike Freeman won't be running for re-election when his term expires in 2022.
"Next year I will have been Hennepin County Attorney for 24 years, the longest-serving in county history and I will also be 74 years old. It’s time to move on," Freeman said in a statement released Wednesday.
Freeman began as county attorney in 1991, serving 14 years. He was elected again in 2006 after then-county attorney Amy Klobuchar decided to run for U.S. Senate.
"It has been a marvelous privilege to serve the people of Hennepin County and to lead the state’s largest and most experienced public law office," Freeman said.
His tenure as the county's lead prosecutor included some of the state's highest-profile cases, namely police killings of civilians. These cases often led to sharp criticisms by activists and others who've said he's on the side of police, as well as protests outside of his home.
Freeman praised his office's work to stop using grand juries to make charging decisions in police killings in an effort to be more transparent and accountable (it started with the case against the Minneapolis police officers who killed Jamar Clark in 2015).
"I have been proud of our work on officer-involved killings of civilians. We were in the forefront of the nation in moving away from grand juries in making those decisions. More importantly, we believe we were the first in the nation to then publish our report of our decision, with all evidence included," Freeman said.
Freeman called the decision not to charge the MPD officers who killed Clark "one of the toughest decisions" he made, reiterating what he said years ago: the officers' conduct "was wrong and is not acceptable, but it was not criminal."
"That is my job: to charge those whose conduct is criminal and can be proven to a jury with admissible facts. I have spoken out about flaws in police training and urged reforms. We successfully convicted those officers who have committed crimes. That’s my job," Freeman said.
He said the work to develop protocols and procedures for thorough investigations into police killing cases led to former Minneapolis officer Mohamed Noor's murder conviction (the first time in modern Minnesota history an officer was convicted of an on-duty killing), and led to a "strong investigation" into George Floyd's killing. Freeman's office charged Derek Chauvin with murder days after Floyd's May 25, 2020, death.
Freeman though drew harsh criticism from many when he said there was "other evidence" that didn't support a criminal charge against Chauvin. (He later said his remarks were misinterpreted.) The Minnesota Attorney General's Office ended up taking over the prosecution of Chauvin and the other three officers involved in Floyd's death with assistance from Freeman's office, though a judge later removed Freeman from Chauvin's case.
Related [May 29, 2020]: Minnesota House members say they've 'lost faith' in Hennepin County attorney
Freeman also touted other efforts executed under his watch, including the be@school program to reduce truancy; being tough on gun crimes; diversion programs to keep minor offenders out of the criminal justice system; ending the prosecution of possession and sale of smaller amounts of marijuana; establishing a Domestic Abuse Service Center; making expungement laws "fairer and easier to use"; and reducing bail amounts.
Freeman said his deepest regret is that his office has yet to be able to bring charges against the person who killed 3-year-old Terell Mayes in December 2011; the people responsible for the shooting deaths of 9-year-old Trinity Ottoson-Smith and 6-year-old Aniya Allen earlier this year; and the shooter who critically wounded 10-year-old Ladavionne Garrett, Jr. this spring.
"Our efforts must never cease to stop this senseless killing of children," Freeman said.
Freeman, a Democrat, called public life "rewarding and demanding," and thanked his family for their support during political campaigns and the personal attacks directed at him (and them) at their home.
"I am proud of the job we did; I know this office will continue to serve justice and the people of Hennepin County well. I am grateful for the opportunity to serve with you and pledge my continued best efforts in the remaining months of this term," Freeman concluded.
In addition to serving as the Hennepin County Attorney for nearly 24 years, Freeman served in the Minnesota Senate and ran twice for governor of Minnesota, though he was unsuccessful.
Voters in Hennepin County will be electing a new county attorney on Nov. 8, 2022. And one name has already popped up as a possible candidate: former Chief Hennepin County Public Defender Mary Moriarty (if her name sounds familiar, she tweeted throughout Chauvin's trial providing context, insight and explanations of the legal process).
Moriarty, who has been a loud critic of Freeman, told the Star Tribune she is exploring running for the position, adding people have lost trust in the county attorney's office.
"We need a county attorney that is willing to invest in transformational change," she said.
You can read Freeman's entire statement about his decision to not seek re-election here.