Police departments in Hennepin County were recently notified by the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office that the personal cellphones of officers involved in “critical incidents” will be subject to search and seizure, a source familiar with the situation told The Minnesota Sun.
Chief Deputy Hennepin County Attorney David Brown allegedly announced the policy during a recent meeting with the police chiefs for all departments within the county.
Chuck Laszewski, media coordinator for the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office, confirmed with The Minnesota Sun that the policy is part of a new “investigative protocol” that was “just released in the last couple months.”
Laszewski said the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office doesn’t believe the new policy is a violation of privacy rights “because there are no privacy rights in a criminal investigation.”
The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office said that the new investigative protocol also calls for seizing the cellphones of civilians who witness certain crimes.
The new policy reportedly states that if there is an investigation of any “critical incident,” such as a shooting, major car crash, or use-of-force incident, then the officers involved in the incident could have their personal cellphones searched.
According to the source, Brown directed the police chiefs to notify their officers of the new policy so they are aware their phones could be searched and seized in an investigation. Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman allegedly wants to understand the “state of mind” of officers under investigation.
Many police departments in Hennepin County issue cellphones to their officers to use for police business and they operate with the “understanding that anything sent on these devices are subject to search by the employer,” the source said. However, personal cellphones that are never used for police business and never carried on the job could still be searched in an investigation under Freeman’s new policy.
“If a police officer uses their personal cellphone at the scene of an officer-involved shooting they understand that phone could become part of the investigation. However, if the phone is not even in the officer’s possession, how in the world could that have a nexus to the investigation?” the source, who is close to the situation but asked to remain anonymous, told The Minnesota Sun.
“What rights to privacy does a police officer have with respect to a personal cellphone? The courts are protecting this data more and more for the general public so why are the police officers not afforded the same civil rights?” the source added.
The source expressed concern that personal medical information or family affairs could be made public through the search of a cellphone in an investigation.
“To search a cellphone an investigator needs to establish probable cause in a search warrant affidavit. What probable cause is there in these fishing expeditions?” the source asked.
“This one really kind of struck a chord with the officers,” the source added. “The ACLU should be all over this but I can tell you without even calling them that they’re not interested.”
Freeman caused a stir in March 2016 when he decided against charging two Minneapolis officers involved in the shooting death of Jamar Clark. He said the evidence of the case pointed to justifiable use of force since Clark attempted to take one of the officer’s guns.
He “did the right thing and stuck up for the officers because they didn’t do anything wrong,” said the source, noting that Freeman ended up coming across as “pro-police.”
“I think his own party said you’re not being tough enough on the cops,” the source continued.
Two years after the fact, Freeman lost the DFL endorsement at the party’s endorsing convention to challenger Mark Haase, but still managed to win a sixth term.
“After he lost his endorsement, the Democrats got his attention,” the source said. “This is bigger than just the cellphones. It goes into how Mike Freeman wants to handle officer-involved shootings.”
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Anthony Gockowski is managing editor of Battleground State News, The Ohio Star, and The Minnesota Sun. Follow Anthony on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Mike Freeman” by Mike Freeman. Background Photo “Hennepin County Courthouse” by City of Minneapolis Archives. CC BY 2.0.