WASHINGTON — George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis this week has flared up criticisms of Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s record on responding to killings by police when she was Hennepin County Attorney.
It could complicate her political prospects. Klobuchar has reportedly been asked by presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden to undergo vetting to be No. 2 on the ticket.
Klobuchar has condemned Floyd’s death, writing on Twitter Thursday, “Anyone with an ounce of humanity is outraged by George Floyd’s killing in the hands of police. The case cries out for action, charges & justice.”
But to some of her critics on the left, this week’s events offer a stark reminder of why they want to keep Klobuchar off the ballot in November.
“The albatross on her neck is the legacy that she has as a prosecutor,” said Aimee Allison, founder and president of She the People, a national network focused on elevating the political power of women of color.
The renewed scrutiny of Klobuchar’s record — she was Hennepin County attorney from 1999 until she joined the Senate in January 2007 — comes as the Minnesota Democrat was already scrambling to repair ties with the Black community, The Washington Post reported.
Allison told the Post before Floyd’s death that Biden’s camp was making a “dangerous and reckless choice” by seriously considering Klobuchar for vice president.
As county attorney, Klobuchar “chose to avoid police accountability again and again,” Allison told the Minnesota Reformer this week after Floyd was killed. That created an environment that allowed people with histories of violence to continue to serve as police officers, she added. “What’s happening in Minnesota is part of a legacy that [Klobuchar] helped build.”
Klobuchar declined to bring charges in more than two dozen cases in which people were killed in encounters with police, The Post reported in 2019.
One of the officers who was fired in the wake of Floyd’s death was involved in a civilian killing in 2006, when Klobuchar was county attorney.
Derek Chauvin, the officer who was filmed kneeling on Floyd’s neck this week as Floyd told him he could not breathe, was among the officers who responded to a Minneapolis stabbing in 2006, NBC reported.
Police said at the time that Wayne Reyes had stabbed his friend and his girlfriend. Reyes fled in his truck, then emerged from the vehicle with a gun and was shot and killed by the officers, the police report said.
In response to media reports about her response to that case, Klobuchar’s office pointed to the fact that Klobuchar had been sworn into the U.S. Senate by the time the case was presented to a grand jury in 2007.
The Hennepin County Attorney’s office did not respond to a request for comment about the details of that case.
Emily Galvin-Almanza, executive director of Partners for Justice, said that Klobuchar could likely have moved more quickly on that case, had she wanted to.
Generally, there’s nothing that stops a prosecutor from going immediately to the grand jury or filing charges immediately, said Gavin-Almanza.
“It’s [Klobuchar’s] job to create the office policies that result in a response to these cases,” she added. The fact that the case wasn’t presented to a grand jury “until the next year suggests that either the office policy was to not prioritize this” or there was something exceptionally complicated about the case.
Hennepin County officials told ABC News that a grand jury ultimately declined to indict the officers of wrongdoing in that case.
American Public Media reported last year that during her time as county attorney, Klobuchar chose not to criminally charge any fatalities involving law enforcement, instead regularly putting the decision to a grand jury. Critics say that keeps the proceedings shrouded from public view and tips the scales toward police.
Klobuchar told APM last year in a statement, “I don’t have a perfect record, but I promise you, every single day in that job I tried to put myself in other people’s shoes to try to do the right thing.”
Her prosecution of convicted child murderer Myron Burrell also came under scrutiny during her presidential campaign, when an Associated Press investigation “uncovered new evidence and myriad inconsistencies, raising questions about whether he was railroaded by police,” according to the reporting.
In March, Klobuchar urged Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman to pursue an independent investigation of the case.
Klobuchar declined to be interviewed for this story and her office did not provide comment on the record.
The spotlight this week on Klobuchar’s time as a prosecutor comes as some progressive Democrats have already been cautioning Biden against picking her as his running mate.
Among their arguments: Klobuchar’s policy positions are too moderate; Biden should pick a woman of color (he has pledged to pick a woman); and the Minnesota Democrat would do little to galvanize voters in November.
“Choosing someone like Amy Klobuchar would be the worst of all worlds,” said Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. “It would neither energize the party nor be someone known for proposing big solutions. Central to Klobuchar’s brand is small, incremental steps, at a time when even Joe Biden is saying we need bold structural change to dig us out.”
Allison of She the People said that “status quo politics” won’t help Democrats to defeat President Donald Trump this fall. “We know that two moderate, white candidates aren’t going to have what it takes.”
University of Minnesota political science Professor Larry Jacobs doesn’t think Biden’s vice presidential election will be a decisive factor this fall.
“Over the last three decades, I don’t think you can name one presidential election that was influenced by the VP candidate,” he said. “By the time you get to October, it’s the top of the ticket, it’s partisan ID, it’s the state of the economy. Those are overwhelming drivers.”
Jacobs said of the media frenzy surrounding presidential candidates’ vice presidential picks, “This is simply a late spring charade that we go through.”