Lawyers reviewing more than 100 motions ahead of trial for former officers
5 EYEWITNESS NEWS is following discussion among the judge and lawyers involved in the upcoming state trial for former officers J Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao.
Read the latest updates below.
Judge Peter Cahill and lawyers for J Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao, two former Minneapolis police officers charged in connection to George Floyd’s murder, have started laying the groundwork for the upcoming state trial.
Thursday, prosecutors, defense attorney and Cahill met starting at 9 a.m. to review more than 100 pre-trial motions.
Kueng and Thao weren’t in attendance for Thursday’s morning session, with Cahill calling it “logistically impossible” for them to appear just days after the start of their federal prison sentences.
However, the judge noted, “Clearly, we need them for trial,” and some agreement is expected to be worked out so they can be present for the proceedings, which will begin with jury selection on Oct. 24, although it’s currently unclear if they will appear in person or virtually.
Cahill heard brief arguments on several requests to limit evidence or testimony when the trial begins.
Among the many topics discussed were the controversial concept of “excited delirium,” the Minneapolis Police Department’s Field Training Officer (FTO) program, the officers’ firing and Derek Chauvin.
At one point during the morning session, a document was referenced by defense attorney Robert Paule, who represents Thao, stating that Chauvin wasn’t well-suited to be an FTO. Specifically, Paule noted the document said Chauvin was “unfriendly,” didn’t work well with others and struggled to support others during stressful situations.
Additionally, the FTO program was discussed in regards to how well the ex-officers were trained.
Prosecutors noted that attorney Thomas Plunkett, who represents Kueng, is likely to focus a lot on Kueng’s inexperience, noting Kueng was on his third day by himself when he responded to the Floyd call. However, prosecutors noted that, in the FTO program, each officer has to write 100 substantive reports and wanted to get into those to counter the narrative that he was inexperienced and not well trained.
Cahill, however, said he wouldn’t allow prosecutors to get into those 100 reports unless they involved restraint similar to what Floyd experienced.
Training will be another big focus for defense attorneys, who will argue that MPD’s policies and training programs were inadequate. One witness who was cleared by Cahill Thursday is Shawn Pruchnicki, who is an expert on airline pilots’ duty to intervene.
Prosecutors argued that Pruchnicki isn’t qualified to talk about policing, noting police officers and airline pilots are different in many ways and Pruchnicki hadn’t reviewed scene video or testimony from Kueng or Thao. However, Cahil agreed to allow the witness to talk about the duty to intervene because it’s comparable enough to the duty to intervene for officers.
Many of the other witnesses called during the trial figure to be the same ones called in Chauvin’s state trial or the ex-officers’ federal trial.
Defense attorneys successfully got one of those witnesses, Lt. Richard Zimmerman, to only be able to talk about what he did when he responded to the Floyd scene and not about any opinions or conclusions he drew. Zimmerman, a homicide detective, is MPD’s longest-serving officer.
The defense attorneys, however, failed in their attempt to get Cahill to prevent prosecutors from showing synced, side-by-side clips of bodycam video and bystander-shot video.
While prosecutors were in favor of keeping many of the same guidelines from the Chauvin trial, Cahill opted to make a few changes.
One of the areas where Cahill drew a difference from the Chauvin trial is the number of use-of-force experts he’s allowing. While an exact number hasn’t been set, the judge told the state it wouldn’t get as many use-of-force experts in this trial because it became cumulative in the Chauvin trial.
The defense also tried to get Chauvin to squash emotional testimony that was prominent in the Chauvin trial. It was one of the longer and more passionately debated topics Thursday but Cahill noted that it’s difficult because the event itself is emotional and people will naturally get emotional thinking about it. However, the judge did tell the attorneys to avoid questions specifically designed to elicit emotion, such as, “How did that make you feel?”
The judge also noted that he never thought prosecutors in the Chauvin trial intentionally tried to elicit emotion from witnesses.
Finally, the defense tried to stop the state from calling a 9-year-old witness during the trial. Natalie Paule, who is representing Thao, called it “cruel” to call a witness that young. The state countered by saying the child could see Floyd was in medical distress and speaks to the notion that the officers should’ve also seen that.
Cahill noted the state has a legitimate reason to call the child to testify but urged prosecutors to seriously consider the trauma being called in a high-profile murder trial could cause to the child. However, the judge didn’t stop the state from using the child as a witness.
The attorneys and judge made it through around 100 motions and will continue going over motions Friday morning. They’re expected to wrap up by early afternoon.
An earlier version of this report appears below.
Thursday marks another step in the state trial of two former Minneapolis police officers charged in George Floyd’s murder.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys for J Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao are scheduled to go over more than 100 pre-trial motions Thursday and Friday.
Those include requests to limit evidence or testimony at the state trial.
The men are charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
Jury selection is scheduled to begin Oct. 24, after the men rejected a plea deal offer in August.
The final deal was a 36-month sentence from the state and would have dropped the highest offense of aiding and abetting second-degree murder. It also required both defendants to admit to aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter.
In addition, the deal would have run concurrently with their federal sentences – in federal court earlier this year, Kueng and Thao were convicted of violating Floyd’s civil rights. Kueng was sentenced to three years in prison, while Thao was sentenced to three and a half years.
As previously reported, they have both been in federal prison since Tuesday. Kueng is at a low-security prison in Elkton, Ohio, while Thao is at a minimum-security prison in Lexington, Kentucky.
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