Minneapolis, MN – The judge overseeing the trial of the former Minneapolis police officers charged with the death of George Floyd reversed his earlier decision on Tuesday morning and ruled the officers will have separate trials.
Defense attorneys for former Minneapolis Police Officers Tou Thao, Thomas Lane, and J. Alexander Kueng had argued that their clients’ trials should be separated from that of former Officer Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.
The lawyers for the other three former officers charged in connection with Floyd’s death wanted Chauvin to go to trial first and have argued that if he was not convicted, the charges against all three other officers should not stand.
In November, Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill ruled against separating the former officers’ trials and said it was too complicated, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.
Cahill said holding the trials together would “ensure that the jury understands… all of the evidence and the complete picture of Floyd’s death.”
Chauvin has been charged with second-degree unintentional murder and second-degree manslaughter in the death of Floyd as he was being arrested by the four officers, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.
Thao, Lane, and Kueng are facing charges for aiding and abetting Chauvin in Floyd’s death.
But on Jan. 12, Cahill reversed himself and announced that Chauvin would stand trial by himself on March 8, and the other three former police officers would be tried together on Aug. 23, The Washington Post reported.
The ruling came on the heels of several requests to delay the proceedings from both the prosecution and defense attorneys for two of the former officers.
Attorneys for Chauvin and Thao had asked Cahill to delay the planned March trial because of prosecutorial delays in turning over evidence, The Washington Post reported.
The defense attorneys also complained that the materials they had received were disorganized and full of technical problems.
Prosecutors asked for the trial to be delayed til summer because of concerns that expected protests at the courthouse would create a pandemic “superspreader event,” The Washington Post reported.
“The prosecution is 100 percent ready to try this case in March, 100 percent,” Neal Katyal, an outside special attorney assisting with the prosecution, said. “We reluctantly concluded that a June trial date will be substantially safer for the public health.”
Cahill initially seemed like he wouldn’t grant the delay during a hearing on Jan. 7 and cited a packed court calendar, The Washington Post reported.
“I know I am going to be trying a case, come March 8, one way or the other,” the judge said.
But in his ruling on Jan. 12, Cahill cited an email he had received from the chief judge in Hennepin County that brought some new concerns to his attention, The Washington Post reported.
Hennepin County District Court Judge Toddrick Barnette told Cahill in the email that he had met with prosecutors and defense attorneys to review security logistics for the trial.
Barnette said he hadn’t been aware of how many attorneys and support staff would be present at trial and told Cahill that the designated courtroom was “not an adequate venue when enforcing social distancing,” according to The Washington Post.
The chief judge suggested that fewer defendants per trial would mean fewer legal advisors in the courtroom so that social distancing could be observed.
“I am not asking that you delay the trials,” he wrote. “I’m only asking that you consider having less than all four defendants stand trial.”
Based on the advice of the chief judge, Cahill decided that Chauvin would stand trial alone on March 8, The Washington Post reported.
His ruling said that he’d made his decision based on concerns about the pandemic and not because the prosecutors had been too slow in turning over evidence to defense attorneys and said the “state has not acted in bad faith.”
However, Cahill also gave Chauvin’s attorney extra time to disclose planned witnesses to prosecutors, The Washington Post reported.
The turnover of discovery by prosecutors has been further complicated by recent large dumps of additional investigative materials.
In December, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) got a warrant to search the Mercedes SUV that Floyd had been sitting in when the incident began.
The warrant application said BCA had “determined that multiple items located within the aforementioned Mercedes-Benz were previously not seized” but would be considered “pertinent” to the investigation, The Washington Post reported.
Investigators have not disclosed what was found in Floyd’s vehicle but a Dec. 9 laboratory request showed BCA investigators requested analysis of two white pills found in the vehicle’s center console, two packets of opiate addiction medication Suboxone, an empty package of “Goodnight Gummies,” and a pack of Airheads gum.
Attorneys for the former officers have argued that Floyd’s death was a result of an overdose and not the fault of the officers who were arresting him.
The officers had responded to a call about a counterfeit $20 that Floyd had allegedly used to make a purchase at a deli on May 25.
Store employees pointed out the suspect to police and they arrested him.
The complaint used to charge Chauvin said Floyd actively resisted arrest and then fought being put in the back of a police car once he had been handcuffed.
Viral cell phone video showed then-Officer Chauvin and three other officers holding Floyd on the ground.
The video showed Officer Chauvin held his knee on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes, during which time the suspect lost consciousness.
Chauvin remained on Floyd’s neck for almost three minutes after he was unresponsive.