Minneapolis, MN – Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill tossed the county prosecutor and three other prosecuting attorneys off the George Floyd case on Friday, calling their behavior “sloppy.”
He also said the independent autopsy conducted on behalf of the family couldn’t be introduced as evidence or discussed under cross-examination unless the state first provided the full autopsy report.
Cahill did not rule on the motions to dismiss charges against any of the four former Minneapolis police officers charged in connection with the death of the 46 year old in custody, KSTP reported.
All four former officers – Derek Chauvin, Tou Thao, Thomas Lane, and J. Alexander Kueng – appeared in court on Sept. 11 for a Contest Omnibus hearing during which the judge tackled motions related to the upcoming trial.
Chauvin is facing manslaughter and murder charges, the other three men are charged with aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter, MPR reported.
Floyd died on May 25 while the officers were attempting to arrest him following a report he had used a counterfeit $20 bill to make a purchase at a deli.
He resisted arrest and actively refused to be put inside a police car, so officers took him to the ground while they waited for EMS to respond.
Cell phone video taken by bystanders quickly went viral after the incident and showed that then-Officer Chauvin held his knee on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes, during which time the suspect lost consciousness.
The officer remained on Floyd’s neck for almost three minutes after he was unresponsive.
Floyd was pronounced dead 90 minutes later at the hospital.
The former officers’ attorneys have argued that their trials must be separated, KSTP reported.
Former Officer Lane’s attorney, Earl Gray, said that if Chauvin was tried first and acquitted, the trials for the other officers involved likely wouldn’t go forward.
The prosecution has argued that four separate trials would be an onerous and painful burden on the family and the jury members, KTSP reported.
Attorneys for the former officers have also requested a change of venue and an anonymous jury, citing the slew of death threats that have been received by those who are representing and prosecuting them.
Robert Paule, attorney for Thao, expressed concerns about juror safety, KTSP reported.
Paul told Cahill that “one lead prosecutor has moved out of their house” because of protests already.
“We can only imagine what would happen to these jurors if they were made public,” he added.
Eric Nelson, Chauvin’s attorney, said he had gotten almost 1,000 unsolicited emails since taking on this case, KSTP reported.
Nelson said that other lawyers who have the same name have “modified their business practices” because they’re receiving the same onslaught.
Lane’s attorney confirmed that he had also received “many, many, many threats” for representing one of the officers, KSTP reported.
Minnesota Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank said he disagreed with the defense attorneys’ assessment and said there was no evidence that there was a threat anyone would attempt to influence the jury.
But the judge disagreed wholeheartedly with Frank citing the “barrage of calls” he had received ahead of the hearing, KTSP reported.
Cahill determined that a questionnaire should be sent out to prospective jurors ahead of selection to determine whether the jury pool in the area that has been the subject of violent anti-police riots since Floyd’s death on May 25 could be considered unbiased.
He said he was leaning toward an anonymous jury and said he planned to release juror names after the trial was over.
“With the only exception that if there is civil unrest, I’m not going to release the names during civil unrest,” Cahill said, according to MPR.
Attorneys for the defense argued that some prospective jurors might be afraid of what could happen to them or their families if the community doesn’t like the verdict and said pre-trial publicity in Hennepin County has been impossible for residents to avoid, MPR reported.
The judge postponed ruling on the change of venue and whether jurors were to be sequestered, saying those matters weren’t on a deadline, KSTP reported.
Cahill said he was leaning toward a semi-sequestered model that would allow the jury to leave the courthouse and go home at night.
The judge ruled the evidence related to Floyd’s conviction for a 2007 armed robbery in Texas and a 2019 overdose in Minneapolis that defense attorneys said mirrored his behavior the day he died would not be allowed at trial.
Attorneys for the former officers scored a big win when the judge disqualified Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman and three members of his staff from participating in the case, MPR reported.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, who has taken personal responsibility for overseeing the prosecution of the Minneapolis police officers, argued vehemently against the judge kicking the prosecutors off the case, pointing out that two of the banned attorneys had successfully prosecuted former Minneapolis Police Officer Mohamed Noor for the officer-involved fatal shooting of Justine Ruszczyk.
But Cahill removed the prosecutors and called it “sloppy” to have met privately with the medical examiner to discuss Floyd’s autopsy results, MPR reported.
Chauvin’s attorney claimed that the prosecutors violated attorney witness law and should be disqualified, KSTP reported.
Nelson’s brief said Freeman and several of the assistant attorneys “are potential witnesses due to their interviews of Hennepin County Medical Examiner Dr. Andrew Baker, regarding his autopsy of George Floyd without having a non-attorney witness present.”
Freeman defended the prosecutors’ actions in a statement later but that move did nothing to change the fact that he and half his senior team had been sidelined, MPR reported.
Cahill scheduled the trial to begin in March and estimated it would last for six weeks, including jury selection.