Mike Freeman, Hennepin County Attorney: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

mike freeman

Hennepic Co/Getty Mike Freeman (l) and protesters.

Mike Freeman, the Hennepin County Attorney who charged former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin with murder and manslaughter in the death of George Floyd, is a veteran prosecutor who is the son of a former Minnesota governor.

As the Hennepin County DA, Freeman handles “the largest public law office in Minnesota, with 460 employees. We handle tens of thousands of adult felony, juvenile and civil cases each year,” his website says. He’s also weathered controversies over the years, including relating to other police-related deaths, and he’s spoken openly about having problems with alcohol.

His charging of Chauvin has placed him in the national spotlight. National outrage erupted after a viral video showed Chauvin restraining Floyd, a black man, with his knee. Floyd later died. The death ignited nights of unrest in Minneapolis, including the torching and looting of businesses.

The complaint says that Floyd’s autopsy revealed “no physical findings that support a diagnosis of traumatic asphyxia or strangulation. Mr. Floyd had underlying health conditions including coronary artery disease and hypertensive heart disease. The combined effects of Mr. Floyd being restrained by the police, his underlying health conditions and any potential intoxicants in his system likely contributed to his death.” Chauvin “had his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds in total. Two minutes and 53 seconds of this was after Mr. Floyd was non-responsive. Police are trained that this type of restraint with a prone position is inherently dangerous,” the complaint says.

“I am here to announce former Derek Chauvin has been charged by the Hennepin County attorney’s office with murder and with manslaughter,” Freeman said in a May 29, 2020 press conference. The day before the charges, Freeman had said, “there is other evidence that does not support a criminal charge. We need to weigh through all of that evidence to come through with a meaningful determination, and we are doing the best of our ability.”

Here’s what you need to know:


1. Freeman Is the Son of a Former Minnesota Governor Who Once Acknowledged Some People Think He’s a ‘Media Hog’

Freeman comes from prominent political lineage in Minnesota. According to a profile on him by University of Minnesota Law School, Mike Freeman is from a family with a “tradition of public service.”

His late father was Orville Freeman, who was Minnesota”s governor from 1955 to 1961, and served as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. According to an inventory of his personal papers at the Minnesota Historical Society, Michael O. Freeman “was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota on May 7, 1948, one of two children of Orville Freeman and his wife Jane. Orville Freeman served as governor of Minnesota (1955-1961) and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture (1961-1969).”

According to the Miller Center, “In 1954, (Orville) Freeman became governor of Minnesota, where he earned a reputation as a progressive; he was re-elected to that post in 1956 and 1958.”

The site adds that, “after serving as secretary of agriculture until January 1969, Freeman became president of the Business International Corporation in 1970.” According to to the Miller Center, “Orville Lothrop Freeman was born on March 9, 1918, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Freeman attended public school in Minneapolis and then received his B.A. from the University of Minnesota in 1940. During World War II, he served in the Marine Corps, following which he received his A.B. and LL.B. from the University of Minnesota.”

The Miller Center says that Orville Freeman was “a close political associate of Herbert Humphrey.”

With public service has come public scrutiny.

In the law school interview, Freeman said that the biggest challenge of his career has been, “The constant public scrutiny of everything I do. Lawyers in private practice simply don’t have that level of scrutiny. People say I’m a media hog, but part of my job is public education. People will not support the decisions we make unless they know why we did it, and what kind of people we are. Whenever I write or do something, I just anticipate that I may be reading about it the next day on the front page of the Star Tribune.”


2. Freeman Wrote That He Has Prosecuted ‘Racists,’ a Police Officer Who Kicked a Suspect & has Tackled the Opioid Crisis

On his website, Freeman highlighted that, in 2017, his office “successfully prosecuted two cases against racists: A jury found Allen Scarsella guilty of shooting and wounding five men who were peacefully protesting outside the 4th Precinct police station and he was sentenced to 15 years in prison. In a separate case, Anthony Sawina was also found guilty and was sentenced to 39 years in prison for shooting at five young Muslim men in a car in Dinkytown.”

His statement adds, “As shown in these cases and so many others, gun violence continues to be a serious problem and innocent people often end up being the victims in these senseless crimes. Our office is working to combat them by charging felons who are found to be in possession of a gun, which is against the law. We prosecute these cases and seek the highest possible sentences.”

He also highlighted that his role in the “opioid crisis,” saying he had “joined other county attorneys and county commissioners from Ramsey and Washington counties in taking the bold step of filing civil lawsuits against the manufacturers and distributors of opioid drugs. Our office also continues to vigorously prosecute drug dealers and we are working to raise awareness and educate the public about the highly addictive nature of opioids as a way to prevent addiction.”

Freeman added, “We must charge cases without fear or favor. In October, we obtained a guilty verdict against Minneapolis Police Officer Christopher Reiter for kicking a suspect in the face while the suspect was on his hands and knees.”

He told the law school that his office “has been at the forefront of criminal justice reform. I’m proud of creating one of the first domestic abuse service centers in the country. Frankly, I’m proud of my decision not to prosecute marijuana possession cases of smaller amounts, for sale or possession, because it doesn’t do us any good.”


3. Freeman Has Openly Discussed Having Issues With Alcohol & Once Was Accused of Slapping a Police Car & Joking About a Former Police Officer’s Prosecution

Mike Freeman

Hennepin CoMike Freeman

In August 2019, Freeman discussed his alcoholism in an article in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

He told the newspaper that his alcoholism was caused by “huge stressors,” including the death and illness of his mother Jane Freeman; “tough re-election battle in 2018”; and community pressure over the Jamar Clark fatal police shooting and the murder trial of Mohamed Noor, a former Minneapolis police officer.

Freeman had declined to press charges against two police officers who shot and killed Clark, who was unarmed, causing community outcry, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Freeman said the evidence “points to justifiable officer force after Jamar Clark attempted to take one of the officers’ guns,” the newspaper reported.

He had just returned from a June medical leave at the time of the interview. “You don’t think this stuff can get to you. But guess what? It did,” he told the newspaper, adding that he “voluntarily sought outpatient treatment.” He was planning to participate in Alcoholics Anonymous.

“Alcohol had no impact on the way I did my job,” he said to the newspaper. “I never got into a situation where I was drinking in the morning or during the workday. I know I didn’t make a decision while I was impaired.”

He also stated that he was dealing with high blood pressure and other health problems. This announcement came after sources told the Star Tribune that Freeman “had behaved erratically at a meeting in north Minneapolis, slapping a police squad car and making a joke about Noor’s prosecution.” Freeman said he was drinking before that incident.

“The facts didn’t support charges in the Jamar Clark case, and the facts simply required a charge with Mohamed Noor,” he said to the newspaper.

Noor, a Minneapolis police officer, shot and killed an Australian woman named Justine Damond, who had called police to report a possible assault near her home.

A jury found Noor guilty of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in Damond’s death. According to Intercept, Noor’s conviction marked “the first guilty verdict for a fatal shooting by an on-duty cop in Minnesota in decades.” He received a 12.5 year prison sentence.


4. Freeman, a Member of the ‘Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party,’ Has Served as County Attorney for More Than 20 Years & Ran Unsuccessfully for Governor

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Freeman “was first elected to the office in 1991 and served until 1998, when he launched an ultimately unsuccessful campaign for governor of Minnesota,” according to an article posted by the University of Minnesota Law School, which identifies him as part of the class of 1974.

According to Ballotpedia, “Freeman’s current term ends in 2022.”

“In 2007, Freeman reclaimed the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office after Amy Klobuchar vacated it to run for U.S. Senate. He continues to serve there today,” the article states.

Klobuchar, of course, was a Democratic candidate for president who is considered a potential vice presidential pick for Joe Biden.

“Mike Freeman earned a bachelor’s degree from Rutgers University in 1970, and a law degree from the University of Minnesota in 1974. He was a law clerk for United States District Court Judge Earl Larson (1974-1975) and for United States 8th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Gerald W. Heaney (1975-1976). He was an active trial attorney with the Popham Haik law firm, Minneapolis (1979-1991), and was designated a civil trial specialist by the Minnesota State Bar Association in 1988, 1994, and 1997. Freeman argued Dickerson v. Minnesota before the United States Supreme Court in March 1993,” the papers say.

The papers say:

Freeman, a member of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (DFL), was elected to the Minnesota Senate in 1982, representing Richfield and eastern Bloomington (District 40); he was re-elected in 1986. As a state senator Freeman was vice-chair of the Senate Finance Committee (1987-1990) and vice-chair of the Senate Economic Development and Commerce Committee (1983-1986). He was the chief author of the Hunger Reduction Act, the MEED Jobs Bill, the Minnesota Anti-Racketeering Act (RICO), and the revision of Minnesota Criminal Forfeiture Statutes (1988). He also chaired the Senate Conference Committees on Capital Bonding that financed new college buildings, environmental projects and expanded roads and bridges. He chaired the Hennepin County legislative delegation (1989-1990).


5. Freeman’s Mom Was a Highly Regarded Humanitarian & His Wife Is an Educator Who Served on a School Board

Freeman’s mother, Jane, was described as an “international humanitarian” by TwinCities.com, when she died at age 96.

She was described as a “charismatic foil to her husband’s non-nonsense style.”

She was on the board of the Girl Scouts of America, an aid group called CARE, and she was an “active campaigner for Democrats.” Her grandson, Matthew Freeman, served as an aide to former St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman.

“As I got a little older and could see how they interacted with people,” he said. “Dad was brilliant and highly structured and highly disciplined and kind of no-nonsense. And Jane was the people person.”

Mike’s sister, Connie, has “made a career in international economic development,” including work for the Peace Corps and State Department, the article states.

Freeman is married. “Mike Freeman and his wife, Teresa Mathison Freeman, had three children: Katie, Beth, and Matthew. They made their home in Richfield, Minnesota, a suburb of Minneapolis, where Terry was an educator and a member of the local school board,” the Minnesota State Historical Society says.

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