Most of the time, the criminal justice system works. People commit crimes, the police investigate, they make a report to the prosecutor, in Minnesota a city attorney or county attorney, the prosecutor files charges if they are guilty of a crime. Part of the job of the prosecutor is to weed out reports that do not add up to a crime, even if the police want a crime charged. The prosecutors independence from law enforcement is one of the checks that protects all of us from being charged with crimes based on a mistake by a police officer, or worse, a police officer wanting to get someone. The vast majority of police officers are hard working, honest, and would not think of accusing someone of a crime unless they think they did the crime.
But, like all occupations, law enforcement has it’s bad apples, officers who abuse their authority. In most departments, those officers are weeded out, and, when they are not, good prosecutors will say no when they bring a bad case. Recently, in Crosby, a city in north central Minnesota, the system broke down. The Crosby Police Department was lead by officers who abused their authority to ask for charges against a local elected official they did not agree with. Instead of taking a close look at the accusations, and weeding them out, the County Attorney filed several serious charges, ones that could have put the individual in prison if he was convicted. Fortunately, three separate juries did not go along with this, returning verdicts of acquittal on 4 of the charges, the others were dismissed. The individual suffered huge financial and personal loses because the County Attorney would not go against the leadership of the Crosby Police, even though it was obvious to anyone who took a close look that the serious charges did not make sense. All of us should expect that our elected County Attorney will protect us from being charged with crimes that we did not commit.