Amy Klobuchar denies that she failed to prosecute former officer who kneeled on George Floyd's neck

"This idea that I somehow declined a case . . . against this officer is absolutely false," Klobuchar says

By Igor Derysh

Deputy Politics Editor

Published May 29, 2020 10:49AM (EDT)

Amy Klobuchar (AP/Steven Senne)
Amy Klobuchar (AP/Steven Senne)

This article has been updated with comments from Klobuchar and new information from the Hennepin County Attorney's office.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., denied reports that she had failed to prosecute the former cop who kneeled on George Floyd's neck before he died in police custody in an earlier police killing.

Klobuchar, the former top prosecutor in Hennepin County, which includes Minneapolis, called the reports a "lie."

"This idea that I somehow declined a case . . . against this officer is absolutely false," she told MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell on Friday, adding that she now believes it was "wrong" to leave the decision to a grand jury.

The interview came after The Minneapolis Star-Tribune and The Guardian noted that Klobuchar ran the Hennepin County Attorney's office in 2006. The office did not charge officer Derick Chauvin and others in the October 2006 death of a man who reportedly threatened police. The case was later dismissed by a grand jury after Klobuchar had already started a new job as senator. Chauvin was seen in video posted online kneeling on Floyd's neck for several minutes as he struggled to breathe.

Chauvin was one of several officers involved in the shooting death of Wayne Reyes, who reportedly pointed a shotgun at police after stabbing his friend and girlfriend in 2006. The case was not declined by a grand jury until 2008.

The Hennepin County Attorney's office confirmed in a statement that the investigation stretched beyond Klobuchar's tenure, and she was not involved in its prosecution. 

"Sen. Klobuchar's last day in the office here was December 31, 2006, and she had no involvement in the prosecution of this case at all," the office said in a statement to the New York Times.

"I never declined the case. It was handled and sent to the grand jury," Klobuchar told MSNBC. "When I was county attorney, cases we had involving officer-involved shootings went to a grand jury."

Chauvin was later placed on leave after the shooting of a Native American man by another officer. A review later determined the officers acted "appropriately."

Chauvin, who was among four officers fired by the Minneapolis Police Department after the Floyd video was posted online, received at least 10 conduct complaints during his 19 years on the force, according to a police complaint database. The database shows that seven of those cases were closed with no discipline against the officer, while three others were met with an "oral reprimand."

Klobuchar, who has emerged as a potential running mate of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, faced criticism over her prosecutorial past during the primary season, as well. The Associated Press raised questions about her prosecution of Myron Burrell, a black teenager convicted of killing an 11-year-old girl, after finding "new evidence and myriad inconsistencies, raising questions about whether he was railroaded by police."

The Washington Post reported in March that Klobuchar had "declined to bring charges in more than two dozen cases in which people were killed in encounters with police" while focusing on "smaller offenses," which have been "criticized for their disproportionate effects on poor and minority communities."

Klobuchar told MSNBC that she should have made decisions on whether to bring charges rather than leaving them up to grand juries, which she argued was the norm when she ran the office.

"I think that was wrong, now," she said Friday. "It would have been much better if I took responsibility and looked at cases and made a decision myself."

The latest news came as current Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman raised doubts about whether charges would be brought against Chauvin in Floyd's death, pointing to evidence that "doesn't support a criminal charge."

"My job, in the end, is to prove that he violated a criminal statute, and there is other evidence that doesn't support a criminal charge," he told reporters Thursday. "We need to weigh through all of that evidence and come through with a meaningful determination, and we are doing that to the best of our ability."

About 90 minutes after the comment, Freeman's office issued a statement saying that he misspoke about "other evidence."

"Evidence not favorable to our case needs to be carefully examined to understand the full picture of what actually happened," the statement said. "This happens in every case. "

Federal prosecutor Erica MacDonald made a similar statement to reporters.

"Sometimes that takes a little time, and we ask people to be patient," Freeman said. "We have to get this right."

Floyd, 46, died after Chauvin was seen kneeling on his neck for several minutes as the man repeatedly told officers he could not breathe. The death sparked days of protests in Minneapolis, where some demonstrators set fire to the police precinct where the officers involved in Flloyd's arrest had worked in addition to other businesses in the area. Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz activated the National Guard and declared a state of emergency in response to the unrest.

"I am absolutely sorry for the pain, devastation and trauma Mr. Floyd's death has left on his family, his loved ones," Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said in a Thursday news briefing. "I know there is currently a deficit of hope in our city . . . and I know our department has contributed to that deficit as a whole."

Michigan Attorney General Keith Ellison said he expected the officers to be charged once the investigation is complete.

"I anticipate there will be charges. I hope they're soon," he told CNN on Friday

"Everybody believes that this is a violation of Mr. Floyd, and I believe that everybody wants to see these charges filed as soon as they can be," the attorney general said. "But again, I do want to say we have seen cases that seem so clear go south."

Philonise Floyd, George Floyd's brother, pleaded for peace as he demanded the officers involved in the death be arrested.

"I want everybody to be peaceful right now, but people are torn and hurt, because they're tired of seeing black men die," he told CNN. "These officers (involved in George's arrest) need to be arrested right now . . . and held accountable about everything because these people want justice right now."

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's Deputy News and Politics Editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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Aggregate Amy Klobuchar Derick Chauvin George Floyd Joe Biden Mike Freeman Minnesota Politics Tim Waltz