Questions regarding police accountability and gun violence in Minneapolis communities dominated a public forum on Thursday featuring candidates for the Hennepin County attorney’s race.
Candidates Mary Moriarty and Martha Holton Dimick traded responses to several questions submitted by the few dozen people in attendance at the forum put on by the League of Women Voters inside the gym of the Sojourner Truth Academy in north Minneapolis.
Moriarty, who spent 31 years in the Hennepin County Public Defender office, the last six as chief public defender, retired in 2021. She won the DFL endorsement and dominated the crowded field of seven candidates in August’s Democratic primary, receiving more than 36% of the more than 62,000 votes cast — twice as many as the next candidate.
Dimick, a former Hennepin County prosecutor and Fourth Judicial District judge before retiring in 2020, came in second in the August primary. Garnering nearly 18% of the vote, she beat out DFL state House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler by less than 2 percentage points to move on to face Moriarty head-to-head in November.
Violent crime, gun violence
On Thursday night, forum moderators asked multiple questions regarding rising crime across the county and how they would address gun violence.
Moriarty said she would partner with the U.S. Attorney’s office to target the flow of guns into communities to try to eliminate the supply before they’re used in neighborhoods. She said she’d also look into filing lawsuits against gun manufacturers using the county attorney’s office’s civil division, and pair those two solutions with youth violence intervention programs.
Dimick advocated for prosecuting gun violence crimes swiftly and establishing a task force with prosecutors, law enforcement and community members.
When asked how to prevent a “revolving door” of offenders committing crimes and being released to commit more, Dimick said she supports expanding diversion programs for low-level offenders, as well as individuals suffering from drug addiction or mental health issues. Violent offenders, however, should remain in jail, she said.
Moriarty said she would assess which offenders are being forced to remain in jail while awaiting trial, which are being released and whether those who are out are committing more crimes. Using that data-based approach would help prevent repeat offenders, she said.
“We can’t just talk in slogans like ‘revolving door,’” Moriarty said. “We have to look at the actual problems so we can get to the solutions.”
Working with police
The candidates were asked several questions around their interaction with the Minneapolis Police Department, including how they would address reports of racism and excessive use of force, and how to regain the public’s trust in the department more than two years after an ex-MPD officer’s murder of George Floyd sparked global outrage and unrest.
A report released by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights in April found MPD had engaged in racial discrimination in its policing. Dimick said community members have made it clear in her discussions with them that that behavior has been prevalent for a long time.
“I’ve spoken to members in my North Side community about the police interactions and that history has been very poor,” she said. “We didn’t need the Department of Human Rights to tell us that there’s discriminatory behavior towards black and brown people in my community.”
She said she has hope that proposed reforms by Mayor Jacob Frey and new Office of Community Safety Commissioner Cedric Alexander will help rebuild trust in MPD. She also stressed better communication between prosecutors and police.
In the past, Moriarty said, prosecutors have oftentimes not spoken up or even looked the other way when an officer engaged in discriminatory behavior.
As county prosecutor, she said her goal will be to hold police accountable by prosecuting if they commit a crime, and by flagging policy violations or misconduct to police leadership so they can intervene and correct the officers early.
The candidates also outlined their ideas to change how the county attorney’s office operates, including moving away from a cash bail system to one that isn’t wealth based, making expungement of criminal records easier and providing prosecutorial staff more input in decision-making.
Asked about how to improve the juvenile justice system as it exists, Dimick said she would foster programs that would help juvenile offenders better reintegrate into the community and keep them out of jail.
Moriarty emphasized violence prevention efforts that would stop crimes like shootings from happening in the first place.
“I have attended so many funerals for people and they all have one thing in common: nobody wants to be there,” she said. “So to the extent that we can partner with violence prevention programs to keep this from happening, the community will be better off and so will our youth.”
What people thought
Rochelle Washington, 43, a community engagement developer and resident of the city’s North Side, said she went into the forum unsure who to support but came away leaning towards Dimick.
“She lives in this community, she has worked in the community and she’s been over here invested for more than 20 years,” she said. “I resonate with her as an African American woman trying to make change in the community that we live in.”
Washington said she likes Dimick’s desire to rebuild county prosecutors’ relationships with both police and community members. She believes Dimick’s commitment to their community is illustrated by Holton Dimick’s decision to retire as a judge and run for a job that she said would allow her to be more hands on in addressing the city’s public safety problems.
“That says a lot,” she said. “Even though she’s going to be making less money, you can tell where her passion is.”
Real estate developer Liban Hassan, 25, said that while he thought both candidates made good points, he needs to see more before casting his vote in November.
Hassan said he wants to see the next Hennepin County Attorney address racial disparities in the criminal justice system and hold police accountable when they commit crimes. He also wants them to do a better job communicating with residents than the county’s current top prosecutor, who he said is maintaining a status quo that doesn’t work for anyone.
“They’re doing the same things every time and it’s not necessarily making the community better,” he said. “They need to do a better job of being transparent to community members, try different things and just listen to the people of Hennepin County.”