Some fear another wave of MPD departures with arrival of reform-minded Moriarty

‘They’re shaking in their boots right now’ Minneapolis officer says

By: - November 15, 2022 6:00 am

Mary Moriarty stands for a portrait in September 2021. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

Mary Moriarty’s election as Hennepin County attorney could lead to another wave of Minneapolis police retirements and resignations, some current and former officers say. 

Former Minneapolis police officer Chris Steward said he fears the new prosecutor’s posture will be perceived as anti-police, given Moriarty’s resume as previous chief public defender.

“I don’t think it’s gonna be very friendly toward police officers or even victims of crime,” he said. 

Leila Kasso, an MPD officer on leave, said while she’s personally thrilled about Moriarty’s election, she expects officers will “quit in droves” when Moriarty takes office next year because she’s promised reforms.

Moriarty has said she will increase police accountability and expand alternatives to incarceration when it advances public safety. She has also said she will create a so-called Brady list of law enforcement officers with credibility issues due to misconduct or lying; prosecutors can consult the list and decide whether to turn over information to the defense. Prosecutors can opt not to have an officer on the list testify, or opt not to press charges if an officer on the list is a key witness.

Freeman doesn’t keep such a list, and instead looks at incidents case-by-case. But his office was recently reproached by the state for not turning over Brady material, or evidence that could be used to impeach police witnesses.

MPD has been under a microscope since George Floyd’s 2020 police murder, and about 300 officers have left the department since then, leaving about 600 officers, although some are on leave. The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating MPD for racist policing, and the state Department of Human Rights is negotiating a consent decree after finding the department engaged in a pattern or practice of race discrimination. Many officers may decide it’s “not worth it” anymore, Kasso said.

“They’re shaking in their boots right now,” she said.  

Former head of the MPD police union, Bob Kroll, wrote on social media “I don’t know how anyone can continue in, or enter law enforcement” after the election of Moriarty. Kroll declined to comment on the post, deferring to his successor at the Minneapolis Police Federation, Sherral Schmidt, who did not respond to a request for comment.

The first post-Floyd police union labor agreement included retention bonuses of $7,000 — half was paid out to 570 officers when the deal was ratified last spring, and the other half will be paid out in January for those that stay through the end of the year. 

Will more officers leave after getting the second half of the bonus in December?

“That’s got to be the million-dollar question,” said Jim Mortenson, executive director of Law Enforcement Labor Services, the largest Minnesota law enforcement union. “I know what I would do if I was in their position.”

Moriarty said the City Council has already been warned to prepare for more police to leave next year — after the retention bonuses run out — so officers using her election as a reason for leaving are being “disingenuous.” She said she assumes good officers want to stay and make MPD a department that’s trusted by the community.

The former MPD officer, Steward, said officers may be considering more than just Moriarty’s election, including the new Minnesota political landscape. The Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party won the governorship and both the state Senate and House, and Steward said officers will be looking to see if elected officials are instituting programs to help recruit and retain law enforcement or “demonizing law enforcement.”  

“These guys and gals love what they do… they’re in it for the long haul… as long as they have the support they need,” he said. 

There’s also concern that the county attorney’s office could see more departures, especially given senior prosecutors supported Moriarty’s opponent, former prosecutor and judge Martha Holton Dimick.

A state board declined in 2020 to extend Moriarty’s contract as chief public defender after she was portrayed as divisive, ineffectual and “bitter” by the state’s Chief Public Defender Bill Ward — who was Hennepin County’s chief public defender from 2009 to 2014.  Moriarty  her allies say were the allegations were retaliation for her racial justice advocacy. She was awarded a $300,000 settlement.

Union leader: Prosecutors already under strain

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, who is retiring after 24 years, would only say in an emailed statement “We are in contact with Mary and are working cooperatively on the transition.”

He told the Star Tribune after Moriarty’s win that he encouraged his staff to stay on and doesn’t expect a “mass exodus.”

But Freeman also told FOX9 that Moriarty “didn’t get along very well with all of us” when she was chief public defender.

“She’d pick fights with me, she’d pick fights with the chief judge, she’d pick fights with the county administrator; she’d pick fights with people in charge of the public defense system. It’s not my style but she has a chance and a job that requires even more cooperation. She’s a smart person; she knows she’s got to do that.”

Adam Tomczik, president of AFSCME Local 2938, which represents Hennepin County attorneys and legal staff, said the office is already under strain because staffing hasn’t kept pace with “huge increases in violent felony offenses” since 2020. Some attorneys have hundreds of pending cases.

“It’s completely unmanageable,” he said.

Whether more people will leave when Moriarty arrives, he said, “I am committed to working with Mary when she comes in on issues that are important to both workers and the office. It’s important that we have a strong office.”

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Deena Winter
Deena Winter

Deena Winter has covered local and state government in four states over the past three decades, with stints at the Bismarck Tribune in North Dakota, as a correspondent for the Denver Post, city hall reporter in Lincoln, Nebraska, and regional editor for Southwest News in the western Minneapolis suburbs. Before joining the staff of the Reformer in 2021 she was a contributor to the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. She and her husband have a daughter, son, and very grand child. In her spare time, she likes to play tennis, jog, garden and attempt to check out all the best restaurants in the metro area.

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