Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) said Friday that it was “absolutely false” that she declined to prosecute Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin during her time as a county attorney.
“This idea that I somehow declined a case — which has been reported on some news blogs and then sent out on the internet — against this officer is absolutely false,” she told NBC News host Andrea Mitchell. “It is a lie. I don’t know what else to say about it.”
Chauvin on Friday was charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter for the killing of George Floyd. Klobuchar cheered the charges on Twitter as a “first step toward Justice.”
Klobuchar’s remarks to Mitchell came in response to criticism that Chauvin was let off the hook for another police killing in 2006, which a grand jury later found was justified.
Klobuchar’s presidential bid, and speculation that she could become Joe Biden’s vice presidential pick, have sharpened the scrutiny of her record as a prosecutor. From 1999 until January 2007, Klobuchar had served as the top cop of Hennepin County, which includes Minneapolis.
The charges against Chauvin Friday, meanwhile, have turned a spotlight on his actions 14 years ago — and on Klobuchar’s office’s response to them.
On Oct. 29, 2006, Chauvin was among a group of six officers who opened fire on and killed a man at the end of a police chase.
That night, Wayne Reyes, 42, had stabbed his girlfriend Jamie Fink and Fink’s friend Tommy Strom, Strom told the Minneapolis Star Tribune at the time. Strom said Reyes then threatened to kill all three people — Fink, Strom and himself — with a shotgun. Strom called 9-1-1 and Reyes fled when police arrived.
Police pursued Reyes until he pulled his car over after several blocks, exiting the vehicle with what appeared to be a shotgun. “Several officers fired multiple shots,” and Reyes was killed, police said, according to the Star Tribune report.
Klobuchar was the county prosecutor at the time of the killing, but a week later she won her U.S. Senate election, on Tuesday Nov. 7. She was sworn in the following January.
Klobuchar’s last day as a prosecutor was Dec. 31 of 2006, a Hennepin County prosecutor’s office spokesperson told The New York Times. Referring to the Reyes case, the spokesperson said Klobuchar had “no involvement in the prosecution of this case at all.”
Klobuchar’s office, as was the case with many police shootings during her tenure, declined to charge the officers who shot and killed Reyes. Instead, the case was referred to a grand jury, who determined the use of force was justified. By the time that the case reached that grand jury, Klobuchar told NBC News, she’d been sworn in as a senator.
“The decisions were made when I was in the U.S. Senate,” she said Friday. “In fact, nine months after I was in the U.S. Senate is when it went to the grand jury.”
It was widespread at the time for police shooting cases to be sent to grand juries, the proceedings of which are secret and often result in outcomes favorable to law enforcement.
Several analyses — in the Star Tribune, the Minnesota-based American Public Media, The Washington Post and The New York Times — note that then-prosecutor Klobuchar’s office did not bring charges in dozens of cases of police killings during her tenure, instead opting to use grand juries.
In one case cited by American Public Media, the grieving mother of a black teenager shot and killed by police, Courtney Williams, pleaded with Klobuchar to charge the case, rather than sending it to a grand jury.
“The grand jury is a way of hiding that the prosecutor is not giving the full information of guilt to the grand jury,” Tahisha Williams Brewer wrote to Klobuchar. “I want this process out in the open, where everyone can observe it and make sure that it is fair to my son.”
Klobuchar did not respond directly to the letter, APM reported, but her office sent the case to a grand jury that found the use of force justified.
As a presidential candidate, Klobuchar backed away from the practice of using grand juries to decide whether or not to indict officers in police killings.
Asked by Politico in February about her time as Hennepin County attorney, Klobuchar said “if I would change one thing — back when I was there, all the DAs in our state, and really around the country, used grand juries to make decisions about police shootings.”
“I think it is much better if you just take responsibility for that yourself.”