St. Paul, MN – A federal judge on Monday shot down security concerns by city officials who objected to moving the trial of four former Minneapolis police officers charged with violating George Floyd’s civil rights to the federal courthouse in St. Paul and the police chief is not happy about it.
St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter and St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell both expressed concern about moving the trial of former Minneapolis Police Officers Derek Chauvin, Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng, and Thomas Lane to the Warren E. Burger Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse on Robert Street ahead of the final decision, the Pioneer Press reported.
All four former officers have pleaded not guilty to charges they violated Floyd’s civil rights during the incident that led to his death.
A Hennepin County jury convicted Chauvin of second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter on April 20.
That trial was held in Minneapolis.
The criminal trial of the other three officers in Hennepin County for aiding and abetting in Floyd’s murder was postponed until after the federal case was completed.
The St. Paul mayor met with U.S. District Court Judge John Tunheim ahead of the final decision and asked the judge to reconsider the trial’s location, the Pioneer Press reported.
City officials argued that since Minneapolis had already hosted one Floyd trial, that city should host the federal trial, too, since they knew what they were doing.
St. Paul Deputy Mayor Jaime Tincher sent a follow-up letter to Tunheim on Nov. 24 that spelled out the city’s concerns about hosting the high-profile trial likely to attract a significant number of protesters, the Pioneer Press reported.
Tincher told the judge that St. Paul’s 1960s-era courthouse was smaller than the federal courthouse in Minneapolis and was not set far enough back from the street.
She said access to the courthouse was complicated and protests around it could easily spread into blocking trains or quickly shift to Minnesota State Capitol building, the Pioneer Press reported.
The deputy mayor also opined in the letter that weather would drive protesters inside to the city’s Skyway system, further complicating matters.
“This trial is likely to start within 8 weeks,” Tincher wrote in the letter to Tunheim. “Typically, for a trial of this magnitude we would start the planning process 6-8 months prior to the trial to ensure we have a fully vetted plan to include contingencies.”
She blamed manpower problems, the Pioneer Press reported.
“If the trial is held in St. Paul there is a greater likelihood that we won’t have enough sworn staff to adequately manage demonstrations throughout our city,” the letter read.
Chief Axtell said Minneapolis police were better prepared to manage the chaos that would likely surround the trial and said St. Paul “will be starting our plan from scratch,” the Pioneer Press reported.
His comments also implied that he thought Minneapolis should bear the brunt of the work form something that happened there.
“I’m deeply disappointed that the trial will be held outside the jurisdiction where this incident occurred,” the police chief said.
He said the police department estimated that the cost of security for the trial in St. Paul will be at least $2 million, plus additional money to pay other local law enforcement agencies that will be needed to help them.
Chauvin’s first trial, which lasted six weeks, cost Hennepin County about $3.7 million in additional employee salaries, courthouse security, victims’ services, and other expenses, the Pioneer Press reported.
“It’s very late in the game, but we don’t use that fact as a crutch to not get the work done,” Chief Axtell said. “It’s an all-hands-on-deck posture right now.”
The U.S. Marshals Service has the responsibility for keeping the federal courthouse safe for the upcoming trial, the Pioneer Press reported.
But Chief Axtell said his department was responsible for dealing with the civil unrest that was expected to happen outside the federal courthouse.
He said local law enforcement would be “protecting people, property and free speech” while making sure pedestrians, traffic, and businesses weren’t blocked by the protesters, the Pioneer Press reported.
St. Paul officials said on Dec. 6 that they hadn’t given up hope the judge might change his mind about the venue.
“While we have shared our concerns with the court, we will continue our preparations with law enforcement partners should this trial move forward at the federal courthouse in our city,” Peter Leggett, the mayor’s communications direction, told the Pioneer Press.