New court documents expose the “extreme pressure” prosecutors faced in Hennepin County to charge Derek Chauvin and three other former Minneapolis police officers in the death of George Floyd.
Several attorneys opposed charging the “other three” officers and withdrew from the case due to “professional and ethical rules.”
Now, hundreds of pages of sworn testimony of Hennepin County attorneys and other county employees that took place this summer have been made public.
The depositions were conducted in relation to a lawsuit filed by Amy Sweasy, who was one of the office’s top prosecutors, against former County Attorney Mike Freeman. Sweasy is suing after settling a claim with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights alleging that Freeman engaged in sex discrimination and retaliation in the office. Hennepin County agreed to pay $190,000 to settle the Department of Human Rights claim.
Freeman left office in January and Sweasy resigned from the current county attorney’s office in April.
According to the new documents, Senior Assistant County Attorney Patrick Lofton who worked on police use-of-force cases with Sweasy said the relationship between Sweasy and Freeman soured after Lofton and Sweasy withdrew from the officers’ cases formally on June 3, 2020. Lofton explained the pressure they were under to file charges.
“The Chauvin stuff is the catalyst of this,” Lofton said, according to a transcript from his June 6 deposition.
“There was extreme premium pressure, yes. The city was burning down,” Lofton said.
He explained that while he “wanted the case charged” and believed there was “probable cause to charge Mr. Chauvin with third degree murder,” the pressure from outside the office was “insane” and he had reservations about charging “the other three cops.”
Lofton wrote a letter to Freeman on June 3, 2020, explaining his decision to withdraw from the case.
“I wanted it in writing, and I wanted to make sure it was documented that I wasn’t going to let that situation, what was going on in the world, affect my judgment because I have to sleep at night no matter what, and so I wrote the letter, and I wanted it to be memorialized,” Lofton said.
“I can tell you that everyone that I associate with to any degree, professionally or personally, agreed with our decision,” he added.
“He was not happy,” Lofton said of Freeman’s reaction to the letter of withdrawal.
“He felt like our decision in Chauvin ruined him and ruined the office,” he continued. “He didn’t say those exact words to me … I know he was incredibly angry with me.”
Assistant United States Attorney Rachel Kraker, who previously worked in the county attorney’s office, was also deposed as part of the lawsuit.
“That was my understanding. That it was not about Chauvin, that it was about the others,” Kraker told attorneys during a June 13 deposition. “My understanding was that they withdrew because they would not file charges and that was the directive.”
In the days leading up to Sweasy and Lofton withdrawing from the case, Sweasy described tense meetings and phone calls.
“He (Freeman) was screaming at us. He asked whether we had worked out deals in state court with the other three officers. Of course, we had not. He screamed, ‘What the fuck have they been doing all day?’ to Andy LeFevour (former chief deputy county attorney) about Patrick and me,” Sweasy said, according to a transcript from her Aug. 21 deposition.
At one point, Lofton mentioned the optics surrounding the case.
“I don’t give a fuck about your optics. The two of you need to get back to work. You’re fucking this up,” Freeman replied, according to Sweasy’s deposition.
During her deposition, Sweasy also discussed a revealing conversation she said she had the day after Floyd’s death when she asked Hennepin County Medical Examiner Dr. Andrew Baker about the autopsy.
“I called Dr. Baker early that morning to tell him about the case and to ask him if he would perform the autopsy on Mr. Floyd,” she explained.
“He called me later in the day on that Tuesday and he told me that there were no medical findings that showed any injury to the vital structures of Mr. Floyd’s neck. There were no medical indications of asphyxia or strangulation,” Sweasy said, according to the transcript.
“He said to me, ‘Amy, what happens when the actual evidence doesn’t match up with the public narrative that everyone’s already decided on?’ And then he said, ‘This is the kind of case that ends careers.’”
There are also several pages of documents that are redacted and seem to go into much more detail about the case.
More attorneys working within Hennepin County, including Senior Assistant County Attorney Judith Cole, seemed to express surprise at how the case was handled.
“The AG taking over the Chauvin cases was difficult, particularly when we had a governor who kind of threw us under the bus. So, it made us discouraged, and people were no longer proud to say they worked there,” Cole said, according to a transcript from her Aug. 17 deposition.
Sweasy’s lawsuit claims Freeman threatened other members of the county attorney’s office “with retaliation if they support, talk to, and help Sweasy.”
“I do believe the things that I’ve witnessed here showed that Freeman was trying to get back at her because of Floyd …” Lofton said during his deposition.
Sweasy and Lofton both referenced what they called sexist comments Freeman is accused of making.
“The remarks were that he said to Patrick, ‘Big white boys like us aren’t going to be ruling the world anymore. We have to start letting,’ he either said ‘Black’ or ‘people of color in, particular men. We already had to let the white girls in,’ and he turned to me, looked at me and said, ‘because they’re smarter than we are and we all need someone to keep our feet warm at night,’” Sweasy explained.
Freeman’s attorney declined to comment. Sweasy’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment.