Minneapolis, MN – Attorneys for former Minneapolis Police Officer Tou Thao claimed in a motion filed Wednesday that the medical examiner had been coerced into finding that George Floyd died of asphyxia from neck compression and asked the judge to kick the attorney general off the case for prosecutorial misconduct.
Activity had picked up for the impending joint trial in August of former Minneapolis Police Officers J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane, and Thao.
But on Thursday, the judge bumped the officers’ trial back to March of 2022, KARE reported.
Former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and third-degree manslaughter for the death of Floyd as he was being arrested on May 25, 2020.
Kueng, Lane, and Thao are charged with third-degree aiding and abetting the murder of Floyd.
Chauvin will be sentenced on June 25 and faces up to 40 years in prison after Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill ruled the aggravated nature of his crimes warranted enhanced sentencing.
Cahill said he delayed the other former officers’ trial in order to create “space” from the publicity that will surround Chauvin’s sentencing, KARE reported.
Eric Nelson, Chauvin’s attorney, has also filed a motion for a new trial citing prosecutorial and juror misconduct, as well of abuse of discretion by Cahill that deprived his client of due process.
Judge Peter Cahill said that the main reason is that there needs to be "space" from the publicity that is no doubt going to occur from Chauvin's June 25 sentencing.
— Lou Raguse (@LouRaguse) May 13, 2021
At a hearing for Thao, Lane, and Kueng on May 13, the defense attorneys for all three former officers agreed the federal civil rights cases against their clients should proceed before the state trial since those charges carried more serious potential penalties, KARE reported.
On May 6, a federal grand jury indicted all four officers involved in the arrest of Floyd on charges they violated Floyd’s civil rights during the incident that led to his death.
Cahill also ruled on a motion from Lane’s attorney, Earl Gray, seeking all Minneapolis police use-of-force complaints to demonstrate that no officer has ever tried to intervene with force on another officer, as the prosecution has said the other three officers should have done with Chauvin, KARE reported.
The state is struggling to produce documentation to back up the claims made by experts and Minneapolis police officials on the stand during Chauvin’s trial and the defense is demanding it since the same sort of testimony was expected for the next trial.
Cahill ordered prosecutors to get Minneapolis Police Lieutenant Richard Zimmerman to locate a police report from the late 1980s or early 1990s to back up his testimony in the Chauvin trial, KARE reported.
Lt. Zimmerman told the jury he had physically used force to stop another officer from using excessive force on a prisoner in handcuffs.
Cahill also began to tackle a weighty motion from Thao’s attorney that accused Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison and Principal Deputy Solicitor General Neal Katyal of ethics violations, KARE reported.
Robert M. Paule and Natalie R. Paule, attorneys for Thao, claimed in a motion filed on May 12 that Hennepin County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Andrew Baker changed his autopsy findings after he was threatened by the former DC chief medical examiner with a nasty column in The Washington Post, Law&Crime reported.
The Paules alleged in their motion that Baker received a call in the two days prior to the release of the autopsy report from former DC Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Roger Mitchell who reportedly told the Hennepin County ME he “should fire his public information officer” for releasing the initial statement that said the autopsy “revealed no physical findings that support a diagnosis of traumatic asphyxia or strangulation.”
“After the phone conversation between Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Baker, Dr. Mitchell decided he was going to release an op-ed critical of Dr. Baker’s findings in the Washington Post,” the motion read. “Dr. Mitchell first called Dr. Baker to let him know.”
Thao’s attorney alleged that Mitchell told Baker he didn’t want to be the smartest person in the room and be wrong and told him that neck compression had to be in the diagnosis, Law&Crime reported.
“The final autopsy findings included neck compression,” the motion read. “This was contrary to Dr. Baker’s conclusion before speaking with Dr. Mitchell twice.”
The Paules also pointed out in the motion that Mitchell went after former Maryland Chief Medical Examiner David Fowler after he testified on behalf of the defense and sent a letter asking for an investigation of Fowler’s medical license, Law&Crime reported.
“Less than 24 hours after receiving the letter, the Maryland Attorney General’s Office announced that there should be a review of all in custody death reports produced by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner during Dr. Fowler’s tenu[r]e,” the motion read.
“There is no discovery disclosed condoning Dr. Mitchell’s intimidation and coercion,” the defense filing reads. “This includes no documentation that the State reported Dr. Mitchell to the pertinent medical board(s) for his behavior and potential criminal activity.”
The Paules alleged in the document that several specific prosecutors had knowledge that Mitchell had coerced Baker but did nothing about it, Law&Crime reported.
Cahill has not ruled on those motions.
He scheduled an evidentiary hearing for August to go into more depth on Thao’s attorneys’ motion seeking discipline against whomever leaked information that Chauvin had attempted an earlier plea deal to The New York Times during jury selection, KARE reported.
Cahill said the hearing could have been avoided if prosecutors had been willing to swear they hadn’t done it.
The state has claimed the leaks were from the U.S. Department of Justice but only one of the prosecutors from the attorney general’s office or the Hennepin County district attorney’s office has submitted an affidavit swearing they were not the source of the leak, KARE reported.