A look at the prosecuting partnership between the Minnesota Attorney General, Hennepin County Attorney’s Office

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In an unprecedented move, the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office has stepped in to help prosecute the case of four former Minneapolis police officers charged in the in-custody death of George Floyd.

Sunday, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced he was asking the state office to partner on the case.

The AG’s office is most known for handling complex civil cases and suing on behalf of different state agencies, said former Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson.

Swanson, who was in office for more than a decade, said the AG’s criminal division often takes on high-profile criminal cases across the state.

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"Under the law, the attorney general doesn’t have authority to step into a criminal case until either the governor asks or the county attorney asks for help," Swanson said during an interview.

The former AG, who is now in private practice, said the criminal division is made up of seasoned, veteran homicide prosecutors who are often asked by county attorneys in rural parts of the state to join cases.

"Some of the most highest-profile homicide cases have been handled with the assistance of the attorney general’s office," Swanson said.

During her tenure, those cases included the 2008 prosecution of Randy Swaney, who was convicted in the murder of Carrie Nelson, a state parks worker who was beaten to death at Blue Mounds State Park in 2001.

The following year, Swanson’s office also prosecuted the man who shot Mahnomen County Sheriff’s Deputy Christopher Dewey. Dewey later died.

Swanson said while it is "not as common" for a larger, metropolitan county attorney to request help, it is significant.

"For this case, it wouldn’t surprise me if you had both offices involved," she said. "At the end of the day, you have to have a unified prosecution and you kind have to have all oars rowing in the same direction."