A letter from Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty sent Wednesday to the police chiefs in her county has reignited confusion surrounding a new law impacting school resource officers (SROs).
The debate over the new law, which prohibits the use of the prone restraint and other physical holds, stretched on for weeks as up to 40 police agencies pulled their officers from schools, some of which began sending their officers back this week.
Attorney General Keith Ellison intervened in the debate twice, issuing legal opinions Aug. 22 and then again last week to offer his interpretation of the law. He concluded that the restrictions on force do not apply in cases where there is a threat of bodily harm or death or when SROs are carrying out their “lawful duties,” such as making an arrest or enforcing a court order.
Moriarty, however, believes “reasonable force” is only allowed “when there is a risk of bodily harm or death.”
“I also want to be clear that our office’s interpretation of these statutory changes is not legally binding. Only the Attorney General has the authority to issue binding opinions in this context,” she wrote in her letter, which was obtained by Alpha News and first reported by KARE 11.
“Even the Attorney General’s opinions are binding only until reviewed by a court, which could occur in the context of a criminal prosecution. Given our office’s jurisdiction to review cases and make charging decisions in Hennepin County, we do think it important to provide insight on our interpretation of this new statutory language,” she added.
The release of the letter prompted a new round of criticisms from Republican leaders in the state, who for weeks have been calling for a special session to address the law.
“This latest interpretation is further proof that the only way to solve this issue once and for all is through a legislative fix. Schools don’t need more contradicting opinions, they need clarity so they can return SROs to their posts. We need a clear, permanent solution that only the legislature can provide,” House Minority Leader Lisa Demuth, R-Cold Spring, said.
“Waiting until next session — six months into the school year — to even consider making changes is not acceptable. House Republicans are ready to hold hearings and develop a bipartisan fix that puts the safety of our students and teachers first. Governor Walz needs to call a special session and Democrats need to stop putting politics above school safety.”
Democratic leaders have thus far rebuffed calls for a special session and instead have committed to holding “hearings” on the issue during the 2024 session.
“If Democrats aren’t willing to fix this right now, what makes us think they will be willing to fix this in February?” Demuth asked.
Republican Party of Minnesota Chairman David Hann contended that the Moriarty letter proves “Republicans have been correct when they claimed the uncertainty in this law is making students, teachers, and staff less safe.”
“Anything short of calling a Special Session to solve the growing school safety crisis shows that Governor Walz is more interested in protecting his political base’s zealous anti-police agenda than protecting our schools.”