Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle | Sahan Journal

Martha Holton Dimick was the first community prosecutor assigned to north Minneapolis when she worked at the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office in 1999. 

She’s looking to return to the office—this time as Hennepin County attorney.

“We have got to put our emphasis on violent crime such as murders, rapes, aggravated roberies, assault with a dangerous weapon, and carjackings,” Holton Dimick told Sahan Journal. “We need to be in the communities so that people know that we work for them.”

If elected, Holton Dimick, who is in her 60’s, said that she will work closely with Mayor Jacob Frey and Minneapolis’ next police chief to recruit better officers, particularly from north Minneapolis. She also wants to create a standardized process for addressing police misconduct and address the county attorney’s high backlog of cases due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Holton Dimick served as a district court judge in Hennepin County for 10 years until she retired in January to run for county attorney. Prior to that, she was the Minneapolis deputy city attorney, where she said she played a key role in reducing crime in Minneapolis. She’s concerned about the current rate of violent crime—especially in north Minneapolis.

Holton Dimick has also worked as a private attorney, and said she’s particularly proud of her commitment to pro bono work for women, people of color, and people living in poverty.

Her path to the legal world was unorthodox. She worked as a nurse in Milwaukee for 12 years before enrolling at the Marquette University Law School.

Sahan Journal recently spoke with Holton Dimick about her campaign, and how her experience as a single teen mom informs her take on the U.S. Supreme Court’s potential overturning of abortion rights. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

What should people, especially immigrants and people of color, know about the Hennepin County attorney and how the role impacts them? What about young people going through either the juvenile justice process or child protection cases?

I worked in the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office for 10 years, and during that period of time there were four or five other attorneys of color also working in the office. With the way we were trained, we were more or less the gatekeepers, because we knew more about what to look for in terms of how a person was treated upon arrest. I would like to see this process change.

If you get a case, and you know that the police officer didn’t conduct the stop in a constitutional way, you probably would charge the case depending on how serious the case is. Then, when you get into court, most likely the defense attorney will bring a motion to suppress–not allow the stop–which sometimes leads to dismissal of the charges.

I would like to get that done when we review the cases rather than wait until a later date to address those issues. County attorneys should be really scrutinizing the stops, really scrutinizing the warrants that were used to arrest someone. We are the gatekeepers, and we really have to pay more attention to how those cases and procedures are handled. That really will address some of the issues people have of the arrests that are made of people of color. 

With regards to immigrants, I know there are people that are very concerned about immigrants being deported as a result of their criminal behavior. I need to get more information and talk to some immigration specialists. If there is a problem and it’s a minor problem, say a misdemeanor or even a low-level felony, if we sentence them to 364 days instead of 365 or higher, they’re not going to be deported. I don’t know if that’s likely to change, but that’s what we can do. But we’d have to do that for everybody. We can’t just single out immigrants, because we do want a system that’s fair to everyone. 

When a defendant comes into my courtroom, I don’t know if they’re an immigrant. I don’t know anything unless they disclose it. So we do have a warning that we give them that if you’re going to plead here you could be deported, before you decide to plead, you should probably talk to an immigration attorney.

With the juvenile offenses, the carjackings have gotten out of control and they are also spreading into the suburban areas. The problem is that they closed down the county homeschool. This is just a tiny bit of the problem, but there’s no alternative to where to place these kids.

We’re closing all these places where these kids can be kept in their communities. I would like to see the office collaborate with the state and get another facility set up so that these kids have a place to go, where their issues—in terms of trauma, type of crimes that they committed, and the trajectory—should be rehabilitated. 

I’m also a huge proponent of involving families, having them brought in and having services available to help them with their parenting issues. These individuals are seriously having problems within their own communities with their kids because they can’t control them and they’re looking for our help. 

I want to see consequences. You have to have consequences when these kids come in. They need a time-out. And they need a time-out with services.

How do you plan to address racial equity issues in prosecution?

I don’t want prosecutors making a decision based on a person’s color, religion, sexual preference. or anything. We cannot have that. I dealt with racial inequality my whole entire life, so I know what it feels like to be discriminated against. And I know that it’s not a fair system and everyone’s not being treated the same way.

Now, I am going to make sure that our cases are tried based off the facts and the law–that’s the only thing that we are supposed to be considering. I still have associations and connections with people on the bench. I can meet with the judges and if there is an issue in terms of sentencings that are not being equally dished out. I know I can meet with my former colleagues and we can sit down and iron this out. I have the relationships with probation, with psych services, with child protection.

I do know for a fact that more Black kids are taken out of their homes than any other race. And that’s something that has to be addressed too, because that certainly is very disruptive to the home environment. I don’t know how successful they are at reacclimating these kids to their homes or where they’re putting these kids. 

Because of the high rate of crime, sometimes the office might pull people from other departments to help with the charging. But we also have to have a sufficient number of social workers. I heard that the social workers are being rotated out too often so they don’t get any consistency in addressing the issues with the families. 

If Roe v. Wade is overturned, do you plan to prosecute abortion cases in Hennepin County?

I was a single mom at 19 and that was pre-Roe v. Wade. The option was open to me in Wisconsin–of which I was not anywhere interested in–of a back-alley abortion. My father wanted me to go to an unwed mothers’ home and give up my daughter if I didn’t get married. But I chose to have my beautiful daughter. 

I will not interfere with any woman’s choice. I am pro-choice. It’s none of my business what anybody else does. I will not prosecute anyone if they get an abortion. But I’m pretty sure Minnesota is not going to let that fly. We’re just too liberal for that.

I will not prosecute any woman if she gets an abortion.

How do you plan to address rising violent crime while also implementing criminal justice reform measures, since a lot of people think of it as one or the other?

We have to work within the communities and we have to have all eyes on the streets. We’ve lived in these communities long enough to know who the criminals are. We have to get into a situation where we have a way to share this information and not be retaliated against, because a lot of the conduct in the neighborhoods is due to gang violence. 

We also have to build trust. The Minneapolis Police Department is gonna have to show us that they can be trusted and then there would be avenues that some of us can go to. Crimes that are being committed in my neighborhood, they’re committed by people who live in my neighborhood. If the people in my neighborhood happened to be Black, then that’s who’s committing these crimes. And I will prosecute anyone in my neighborhood who’s out here killing children, babies, and turning their neighborhood into the most frightening place to be. 

We have to send messages that we will prosecute violent criminals. With that effort to defund the police, people sent the wrong message. Because right after George Floyd’s murder, you have these these activists running around talking about defunding the police. That sent a wrong message to my community, because up went the crime over here. 

As an aside, while my community members and these babies were being shot, you didn’t see any of those activists coming over here protesting like they did when the police shot a Black man. I ask the question, “Don’t Black lives matter in north Minneapolis?”

What role should the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office play in reviewing and prosecuting officer-involved killings?

Right now, they’re not processed through the grand jury because that procedure is something that people don’t like. So I believe that Mike Freeman took it upon himself to just review these cases on his own and then make a decision based on his review of facts, circumstances, and the law. Unfortunately, the [Derek] Chauvin case turned into a complete mess. The [Minnesota Attorney General’s Office] was asked to take over the case. 

I believe that we can prosecute those cases on our own. And I believe that each case has to be looked at on a case-by-case basis. Look at the facts, look at the evidence, and look at the law. 

We also have to not feel that we have to answer to activists. We don’t make any comments until we have everything. Now we certainly will be very transparent, since I don’t believe the office is transparent in a lot of matters right now. 

How will you vet police testimony and evidence in cases presented by Minneapolis police in light of the Jaleel Stallings case?

That was pretty bad. We had to have all the information. I don’t think the office had all the information. I would want to know everything before any charging decision is made, and that includes Mr. Stallings. You’ve got to get the whole picture. 

There are police officers that are going to tell you the truth, that are going to lead you in the right direction. If that’s not the case, I want to interview everyone who was involved. I want to make sure that those officers have been adequately interviewed. I want to look at their reports, if anyone has a history. And we’re going to find out if anyone has a history of lying or making things up.

Then we are going to investigate, we’re going to notify the [Minneapolis Police Department], and we’re going to disclose that information to the defense attorneys, because the credibility of a witness is very important, regardless of if it’s a police officer, a bystander, or the defendant.

Hibah Ansari is a reporter for Sahan Journal covering immigration and politics. She was named the 2022 Young Journalist of the Year by the Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists. She’s a graduate...