Miles Christopher, staff writer
Amy Klobuchar, one of Minnesota’s current senators as well as a contender in the ongoing Democratic presidential primary, has come under fire for decisions she made as the Hennepin County Attorney from 1999 to 2007. During this time, Minneapolis paid out several million dollars in settlements for police misconduct, and officers and sheriffs were involved in more than twenty civilian deaths. Klobuchar, in response, routinely opted to place the cases before a grand jury as opposed to allowing criminal charges to be brought directly against officers and sheriffs accused of misconduct or other, often worse, offenses. Moreover, many citizens felt that her decisions extended into indifference towards the ongoing plight that African-American and Native American residents faced – and continue to face – when it comes to police brutality and abuse.
A grand jury, much like a normal trial jury, is a collection of randomly selected people who are asked to render a decision after being presented evidence from the prosecution and defense. Quite differently than a typical jury, however, a grand jury is not tasked with rendering a decision about the guilt or innocence of the defendant. Instead, the question is of whether or not an actual trial can take place at all. They are regarded as being less transparent than typical juries and have also recently been attacked for the favor they seem to show towards police when questions arise about justified use of force.
In deferring the decision of charges to a grand jury, critics say that Klobuchar repeatedly placed another obscuring layer between an accused police officer and their potential crime, an action that has prompted some of those watching her presidential bid, both in Minnesota and outside of it, to question her commitment to ensuring racial equality in criminal law as the Democratic voting bloc continues to grow more diverse and more receptive to sweeping overhauls to both policing and criminal law. Those questions may be heavily damaging, and, as someone who lacks much of the name recognition that some of the other primary candidates can boast, even minor setbacks could prove insurmountable to her.
During the time that Klobuchar was a county attorney, the use of grand juries for cases of police brutality was an accepted decision across the country, with activist groups like Black Lives Matter not yet in the picture and officers already rarely prosecuted. As a senator, however, Klobuchar has had the means and opportunity to lead on the issues of criminal justice reform. Yet, she has introduced fewer such bills than any of those running against her. With increasing scrutiny and pressure being placed on all of those who remain in the primary field, these allegations have not come at a good time for the Klobuchar campaign.