Minneapolis, MN – On Tuesday, February 20, a Hennepin County jury found Minneapolis Police Officer Efrem Hamilton not guilty on multiple felony charges for shooting at a car occupied by six young adults. Hamilton was charged with second-degree assault with a dangerous weapon, reckless discharge of a weapon, and felony discharge of firearm after a November 19, 2016 incident in which he shot his 9mm gun at a car in downtown Minneapolis.
Jurors deliberated for two days and came to the conclusion that Hamilton was not guilty on all charges levied against him. The trial lasted a few weeks and at times featured a tense courtroom with one of the victim’s parents being kicked out of the proceedings, testimony from an ex-cop cited in recent excessive force cases, and Hamilton himself taking the stand.
Prosecutors claimed that Hamilton endangered the six people in the car by responding to the scene and recklessly shooting at the car without warning.
The defense, led by Fred Bruno, claimed that Hamilton feared for his life and that he thought the car was the getaway driver from the radio call.
Hamilton was working off-duty in uniform at the Pourhouse bar on November 19th, 2016 when a shots fired call came across the radio. Hamilton responded to the call by driving to the scene a short distance away.
Caylea Wade and five of her friends were trying to the leave downtown when a fight broke out in which shots were fired. They were in their car, with their windows down, and directed by police to leave the street they were driving on. They put the car in reverse and backed up the street.
At the moment they were backing up, Hamilton was driving up. An accident occurred. Hamilton jumped out of his police cruiser and within three seconds, fired a single shot at the vehicle with six people in it.
The six youth in the car were then surrounded by police with guns drawn and held for over six hours after the incident, detained as if they were suspects. A couple days after the shooting, the family and others held a press conference and told their story.
Police officer Efrem Hamilton was charged with felonies for the shooting in January 2017; he was booked and released hours later with no bail required. Families of the victims of the shooting held another press conference the day after Hamilton was charged.
We heard from one of the young adults who said Hamilton’s bullet missed her by inches, whizzing by her head:
Last January, when Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman filed charges against Hamilton, he said, “Officer Hamilton fired a shot at a car full of people just three seconds after getting out of his car. This is unacceptable behavior by a police officer, endangering the lives of innocent people”.
Expressing his disappointment after the not guilty verdict on Tuesday, Freeman said, “I’m not an expert on police procedures … I cannot believe that good police procedures support officer Hamilton’s shooting in this case.”
Just a couple of months ago, Freeman’s office received a guilty verdict in the prosecution of former Minneapolis Police Officer Chris Reiter, who was sentenced to six months in the Hennepin County workhouse for kicking a suspect who was on his hands and knees in 2016.
Freeman’s office is also in the spotlight due to the expected upcoming announcement in the case against Minneapolis Police Officer Mohamed Noor. Noor shot and killed unarmed 911 caller Justine Ruszczyk in an upper class Minneapolis neighborhood in July 2017. A grand jury has been called and many police officers have been subpoenaed.
The six young adult survivors of the Hamilton shooting have expressed that their lives have changed after the incident. A year ago, they received a settlement from the city of Minneapolis for $150,000, acknowledging wrongdoing. Taxpayers in the city of Minneapolis have paid over $24 million to victims of police brutality in the last 15 years.
A couple of weeks ago, five of the six youth testified during the trial. They expressed discontent with the verdict and many of their supporters weren’t surprised as one of them who wished to remain nameless said they “expected the police to get away with it”.
Hamilton’s family was relieved at the verdict. Hamilton kept his POST certification and is expected to be working as an officer on the streets again soon.