MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- The Hennepin Country Attorney's Office is changing its policy on cases where someone spits on a law enforcement officer. Under a new policy, anyone accused of spitting on an officer's uniform or boots will not be prosecuted by Hennepin County.
It's written in Minnesota law that anyone who "intentionally throws or otherwise transfers bodily fluids or feces at an officer" is guilty of a felony.
However, Hennepin County is now only prosecuting felony cases when a person spits on an officer's hands or face.
"We think the harm caused by spitting on the boot or uniform does not rise to the level of spitting on the face or hands," Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said.
Freeman also cited the full workload his prosecuting team faces.
"We have a full deck," he said.
This does not mean the spitting cases rejected by Hennepin County would then be prosecuted by the Minneapolis City Attorney. A city spokesperson said the offence is a felony, and their office doesn't prosecute felonies.
The change in policy prompted the following statement from the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association:
"It's ridiculous the Hennepin County Attorney's Office will not uphold state law and not prosecute felony-level assault. Just as violent crimes in our communities are increasing, physical assaults of law enforcement officers are also increasing. This decision is also bizarre and reckless considering the global pandemic."
WCCO brought this issue to law Professor David Schultz. Asked if prosecutors can basically decide whether they want to prosecute or not, Schultz answered in the affirmative.
"Prosecutors have incredibly broad discretion to not only prosecute or not prosecute, but based on how they view the evidence perhaps what type of charges to bring," Schultz said.
WCCO checked with Ramsey County, where officials said when the facts of the case support it, they will charge spitting at on officer as a felony assault. They generally prosecute spitting cases as fourth-degree felonies.
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