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Minnesota prosecutors fail to hold police accountable, critics say

Andy Mannix, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) on

Published in News & Features

MINNEAPOLIS -- Over the past three years, five different judges in Hennepin County have ruled that Corcoran, Minn., police officer Cody Vojacek conducted unlawful searches, leading to the dismissal of six criminal cases.

In a February hearing on the most recent case, when asked under oath if he had adjusted his methods based on the courts' repeated rebuffs, Vojacek was unequivocal that he had not.

"No, because I disagreed with the findings of those orders," Vojacek said. "So no, I didn't. I do things exactly the same as I always have."

The case illustrates a problem in America's criminal justice system that defense attorneys and reform advocates say enables bad policing: Prosecutors continue to bring criminal charges against suspects based on evidence and testimony from police officers who have lied on duty, conducted illegal searches or violated suspects' civil rights.

In a time of nationwide soul searching on police accountability, "it's vitally important to bring prosecutors into this conversation," said Kate Levine, associate professor at New York City's Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. "I think it's totally facetious to suggest we could have police reform without huge changes in the way prosecutors operate. How they charge. Who they charge."

Last month, citing the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Rayshard Brooks, San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin announced a new policy directive to stop charging cases that rely on officers with histories of serious misconduct. Boudin's office will compile a list of unreliable police to safeguard against citizens being "wrongly or unfairly accused by officers whom we know have displayed the kind of misconduct that permanently damages their credibility or the trust we place in them."

 

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner has created a similar list of tainted officers to keep off the stand.

Vojacek didn't respond to messages seeking comment. After the repeated dismissals, prosecutors contacted his supervisors and provided training materials, said Deputy Hennepin County Attorney Andy LeFevour.

"I would expect we would not see that behavior moving forward with that officer," LeFevour said.

Defense attorneys say that's not enough, and prosecutors are still pursuing charges on cases investigated by Vojacek moving through the courts.

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