The former Minneapolis Police Officers who murdered George Floyd were all convicted of violating his civil rights in federal court. However, our communities still await justice in state criminal court. The state criminal trial of Tou Thao and J. Alexander Keung was set to begin today, June 13th, 2022. Judge Peter Cahill delayed this trial a third time, and it will now begin January 5th, 2023 – nearly 2 ½ years after Floyd’s murder. Concerned about Thao and Keung’s right to a fair trial, Cahill wrote that the significant publicity surrounding Lane’s guilty plea and the federal convictions of Chauvin, Lane, Thao, and Keung, “[C]ould make it more difficult for jurors to presume Thao and Kueng innocent of the state charges.”
We continue to stand with our BIPOC communities in the fight for justice. As we await these trials, the LRC will provide resources and opportunities for restorative processing of any trial developments. We are also connecting with community members who have had direct experience with the criminal legal system to create a community led vision of justice reform. If you are interested in sharing your story or your ideas on how to transform the legal justice system, please email us at email@example.com.
George Floyd’s life mattered, and his murder is a tragedy. As many of our community members know, his death took place in a system that permits and perpetuates the oppression of communities of color. In May 2022, following a comprehensive investigation, the Minnesota Department of Human Rights (MDHR) found that the Minneapolis Police Department engages in a pattern and practice of race discrimination in its policing. This report validates generations of experiences and provides a meaningful tool for reform – a consent decree.
A consent decree is an enforceable court order and will act as an agreement between the state of Minnesota and the City of Minneapolis on how the city will govern the police department. The LRC has partnered with the Minnesota Justice Research Center to gather input from our community on how policing practices should be changed and the content that should be included within a consent decree. This input will ensure the consent decree best serves our community. Continue to follow us on social media for more information on opportunities to provide your input.
In the two months since Amir Locke was shot and killed by Minneapolis Police Officer Mark Hanneman, our community has awaited the decision of the Hennepin County Attorney's Office regarding accountability for his death. Yesterday’s decision to not file charges is another failure of our criminal legal system, and it is another blatant example of the disparate treatment that low-income people and people of color experience everyday.
The statement released by the County Attorney’s Office rings hollow. The platitudes about this being a tragic killing and finger pointing to other justice system stakeholders deflects from the power and responsibility of the Office in deciding on charges in this case. As the chief prosecutor for the county, in partnership with the state’s chief prosecutor, County Attorney Freeman has an obligation to seek justice for our community, to be an advocate for the public, to protect the innocent. Amir Locke was an innocent man, with a future and a family, who was startled as a troupe of screaming people woke him up with conflicting commands. The individual officers and leadership of the Minneapolis Police Department should be held accountable for taking his life. The county attorney has a role in this.
The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office prosecutes thousands of Black and Brown people every year, and rarely takes the time to determine whether they will have sufficient admissible evidence before bringing charges. Over and over again, our attorneys challenge the weak evidence used to justify the aggressive prosecution of low-income people of color. Even when charges are dismissed, this overzealous prosecution leads to lifelong consequences. But Mark Hanneman is a white man and a police officer, so he was afforded lengthy investigation and consideration before a charging decision was made. As we noted when Derek Chauvin was convicted for the murder of George Floyd, our criminal legal system is not designed to hold white police officers accountable for killing Black people. We need systemic change.
We stand with community members demanding that County Attorney Mike Freeman file charges related to Amir Locke’s killing. As we move forward, we also see the upcoming county attorney election as an opportunity for Hennepin County voters to elect a leader whose values and actions reflect the type of community we want to live in. One where there is meaningful accountability for all. Yesterday’s announcement highlights the power and influence of the county attorney in these decision making spaces, underscoring the importance of the upcoming race this fall. We also support efforts to ban no knock warrants and call on state and local leadership to end their use.
We are disappointed today, but know that justice is still possible. The Legal Rights Center stands in solidarity with all communities and allies seeking transformative change in our legal system and with the family of Amir Locke.
The Legal Rights Center, Inc. (LRC) seeks outstanding candidates to join our team in two roles (1) as our Development & Communications Coordinator and (2) as a Staff Attorney in our Criminal Defense Program.
See the full postings for more information on the roles:
To apply, please email a letter explaining your interest in the position and your resume to firstname.lastname@example.org. Finalists will be asked to provide professional references.
The Legal Rights Center is deeply saddened by the passing of Neegawnwaywidung (Clyde Bellecourt) and the loss this represents for our community, our Native American neighbors, and for everyone involved in the fight for justice. Over 50 years ago, it was Clyde’s vision that helped create the Legal Rights Center. His passion for equity and his belief in community empowerment were the flames that ignited and sustained a movement. It was Clyde and the American Indian Movement, in partnership with Black community activists from North Minneapolis, who worked together to found a law firm that was by and for people of color. Clyde continued to lead the Legal Rights Center throughout his life, serving on our Board of Directors for almost 50 years.
We send our deep condolences to Peggy, the entire Bellecourt family, and to all who are mourning. At this very difficult moment, we know that Clyde would encourage us to continue living into our values and fighting for what is right. We will honor Clyde’s legacy by continuing to relentlessly pursue our mission of working with our communities to seek justice and promote racial equity for those to whom it has been historically denied. As Clyde told us in his autobiography, The Thunder Before the Storm, “If you don’t get out and do the damn hard work, it ain’t going to happen.” We will continue to do the hard work every day as we honor his memory.
Potter’s Attorneys File Notice Of Defenses to the Court
Kimberly Potter, the former Brooklyn Center police officer that fatally shot Daunte Wright after allegedly mistaking her gun for a taser, filed a notice of defenses on Wednesday, Oct. 13. Her attorneys, Paul Engh and Earl Gray have four potential options for Potter’s defenses: “Innocent Accident,” “Innocent Mistake,” “Her perceived use of a Taser was reasonable,” and “Lack of causation.” The attorneys plan to show the jury that the event was an accident and that a “police officer’s accidental shot is not a crime.” Each of these defenses relates to the narrative that the attorneys will use in court telling the jury that Potter made an honest mistake.
What is Innocent Accident & Innocent Mistake?
To win a conviction for some crimes, a prosecutor has to prove that there was some kind of intent to commit a criminal offense or intent to commit some act that led to the crime. Additionally, some crimes call for a prosecutor to prove that the defendant acted criminally negligent, meaning that the person behaved recklessly towards human life. When a person defends a criminal charge by showing an “Innocent Accident/Mistake,” they must show that there was no criminal intent, they acted with no criminal negligence, and they were engaged in lawful conduct at the time of the accident. If the defense is successful, it can serve to reduce the charge or even get a charge dismissed entirely. Accident works as a defense because it negates a showing that an accused acted with specific intent or negligence.
How Can Use of a Taser Reasonably Be a Defense?
The attorneys in this case plan to use the events that led up to the fatal shooting of Wright as justification for the action of Potter to reach for her taser. They will use those actions to portray that Potter was acting as a reasonable person when she reached for her taser, as Wright was fleeing the scene of the traffic stop. The defense has stated that the attempt to flee was a safety threat to the officers at the scene of the crime, including that one officer could have been “dragged to death.” Additionally, they will bring in a use-of-force expert to explain how Potter could have mistaken her gun for her taser. Using the expert, the defense will most likely use the reasonable use of a taser and innocent mistake defenses together to establish an idea of innocence to the jury.
What is Lack of Causation?
Causation is the “causal relationship between the defendant’s conduct and the result.” In other words, it is what connects the defendant and the crime that has occurred. The defense will try to prove that Potter didn’t want to kill Wright because she mistook her gun for a taser, and that Potter lacked causation because she never expected to use her gun. This argument would break the legal causation of the crime.
The defense plans to give these defenses in the case of Potter on the date of Nov. 30. The case will be live-streamed due to Covid-19 concerns and public demands for transparency.
LRC staff include attorneys and advocates from a range of background and lived experiences.
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