Minneapolis, MN – A Hennepin County judge dismissed concerns from Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison last Friday and upheld his historic decision to allow cameras in the courtroom during the trial of the officers charged with the death of George Floyd.
Prosecutors had argued against allowing the trial to be broadcasted live and said it violated court rules and would scare away potential witnesses.
Ellison’s office wanted the judge to reverse or modify his ruling.
Defense attorneys for the four officers have argued that video coverage of the trial is the only way to ensure the defendants get a fair trial and the judge agreed to allow the proceedings to be filmed and broadcasted live, KMSP reported.
Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill declined on Dec. 18 to modify his Nov. 4 ruling that allowed cameras in the courtroom, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.
Cahill wrote in his decision that although he was allowing more coverage than court rules permitted, he was doing so because was allowed to change the rules “in any case to prevent manifest injustice.”
“Without question, deprivation of the constitutional rights that are the hallmarks of a public criminal trial would be a ‘manifest injustice,’ ” the judge wrote. “The only real issue then, is whether there is a reasonable alternative to televising the trial that would vindicate the defendants’ Sixth Amendment rights and the First Amendment rights of the public and the press. … The Court concludes that televising the trial is the only reasonable and meaningful method to safeguard the Sixth and First Amendment rights implicated in these cases.”
A news media coalition had also filed a memorandum opposing the attorney general’s request, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.
The group said that livestreaming was the only option that could guarantee the constitutional right to a public trial because the court didn’t have the technology in place to deliver clear video and good sound to those who wanted to watch during the pandemic.
In his ruling, Cahill called the pandemic a “unique and unprecedented situation” and pointed to problems with available space in the courthouse, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.
Only one of the Hennepin County Government Center’s largest courtrooms was updated and remodeled to fit social distancing requirements.
To do so, they removed the public gallery and left only one chair in the courtroom other than the seat on the witness stand, the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
That one seat will be occupied by a camera operator when the trial is televised.
“It would be farcical to say that this arrangement, by itself, provides meaningful access to the public or the press or vindicates the defendants’ right to a public trial,” the judge wrote.
Cahill agreed with the media coalition that what was in place at the courthouse wouldn’t work with “the likelihood of hundreds (if not thousands) of members of the public and press assembling at the Hennepin County Government Center every day” throughout the trial during the pandemic, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported.
The judge said he didn’t think there would be enough overflow courtrooms to accommodate the public.
“Two? Three? Twenty? Should the Fourth Judicial District pause all courtroom activity for the months of March and April 2021 to allow every courtroom in the Hennepin County Government Center to be used as courtrooms for this trial?” Cahill asked in his ruling. “At what point does this become televising the trial, but just to a select and limited group?”
The trial is scheduled to begin in Hennepin County on March 8, according to KMSP.
The day that Floyd died, officers had responded to a call about a counterfeit $20 that he had allegedly used to make a purchase at a deli.
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.