Minnesota prosecutor quits over lenient crime policies

A long-time local Minnesota prosecutor has quit over a recent policy shift that he believes is more lenient on crime and designed to keep offenders out of jail.

Richard Dusterhoft, 55, threw in his job at the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office this month after becoming frustrated with policies that call for diversion programs instead of prison time.

Dusterhoft, who has worked for Ramsey County for more than 20 years after starting out as a law clerk, argued that statistics showing fewer people are being sent to prison may look good, but he believes it only results in crime rising in the long term.

The veteran prosecutor told the Pioneer Press that sending fewer people to prison shouldn’t be considered a victory.

“There are multiple initiatives in my office that are designed to not put people in prison,” Dusterhoft said.

“To feel that it’s a victory to send less people to prison is just kicking the can down the road. If this is what the community wants, that’s not what I want to do for the rest of my career,” he added.

“The thought of working that hard to then achieve these lower outcomes, I don’t want to be part of it.”

His boss, Ramsey County Attorney John Choi, has introduced a number of initiatives designed to try to rehabilitate offenders, as well as reduce racial disparities.

Among the initiatives are granting second chances to some offenders and not charging for fifth-degree drug possession amid the pandemic.

Part of the push for diversion has also come from statewide initiatives, which include treatment programs for DWI and mental health offenders.

There have also been changes to the Minnesota sentencing guidelines that allow for probation in some cases instead of a prison sentence.

Meanwhile, Dusterhoft argued that when offenders don’t comply with the diversion requirements given to them, prosecutors have to reassemble their case — including speaking to witnesses and victims again.

That task is time-consuming and not always possible, Dusterhoft said.

Choi told the local outlet that Dusterhoft’s decision to quit was amicable — despite their difference of opinion.

Ramsey County Attorney John Choi (center) told a local outlet that Dusterhoft’s departure was amicable.
Star Tribune via AP

“Rick has been a valued member of my management team,” Choi said.

“We don’t see the world in the same ways, without a doubt. But, I’m a big believer that I want diversity of thought with respect to the management of the office.”