UPDATE: 4 former MPD officers charged in Floyd's death appear in court, judge hopes to limit pre-trial publicity

Rebecca Omastiak & Eric Chaloux
Updated: June 30, 2020 05:46 AM
Created: June 29, 2020 05:48 AM

Monday, four former Minneapolis police officers charged following the death of George Floyd appeared in court.

The four former officers—Derek Chauvin, J Alexander Keung, Thomas Lane, and Tou Thao—were charged in relation to Floyd's death in police custody May 25.

Chauvin is charged with unintentional second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter, while the other three face charges of aiding and abetting unintentional second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter.

Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill stopped short of issuing a gag order on attorneys, but he said one is likely if public statements continue. Cahill added that such a situation would also make him likely to grant a change-of-venue motion if one is filed.

"The court is not going to be happy about hearing about the case in three areas: media, evidence and guilt or innocence," Cahill said.

Cahill asked Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank to use his influence to keep public officials silent, warning that if they continued to discuss it publicly, he likely would "have to pull (trials) out of Hennepin County and they need to be aware of that."

Cahill also rejected a defense request to reconsider his earlier decision to allow cameras in the courtroom during pretrial proceedings. Defense attorneys asked to allow such coverage, but prosecutors objected. The judge has not ruled on whether to allow cameras for the trial itself, which in Minnesota usually requires the consent of all parties.

Kueng's attorney, Tom Plunkett, was the attorney asking Cahill to reconsider his ruling on cameras. He asserted that prosecutors and other officials forfeited their right to object to cameras in the courtroom by making public comments that went as far as "saying the defendants are guilty of murder." He said allowing electronic coverage of pretrial proceedings would actually make it easier to impanel a fair jury by helping to "educate the public that there may be more to the cases than what has been told to them by the state."

On Monday, Kueng's attorney submitted a court filing indicating that his client intends to plead not guilty, along with claims of self-defense, and using reasonable and authorized uses of force.

Prosecutors said they've gathered about 8,000 pieces of evidence and continue to gather more.

Thao's attorney, Robert Matthew Paule, provided the following statement on Monday:

"I have not commented publically in any regard... I've done so out of respect for Mr. Floyd and his family, I'm going to continue to do that. The judge today issued an order telling the litigants, whom I'm one, that we're not to comment on the evidence, what we see as the merits to the case, or a person's guilt or innocence... so I'm not going to do that."

He later added, "my condolences to Mr. Floyd and his family, the death of a loved one is a very sad thing even under the best of circumstances."

Chauvin's attorney Eric Nelson did not comment on today's court hearing. 

Prosecutors: Officer had knee on Floyd for 7:46, 1-minute error not expected to impact criminal case

Angela Harrelson, Floyd's aunt, gave KSTP reporter Eric Chaloux an update on how things are going for the family lately.

"It was just another day. Going through the process and trying to cope, it's very difficult. My stress level is really up," she said. "I think my nephew's case is going to be a fight. This is going to be a heavy fight, I see it right away, it's going to be a fight."

Selwyn Jones, Floyd's uncle, added his thoughts.

"It's just absolutely insane that we're all gathered here, to talk about my nephew getting murdered by a damn mad man in the middle of the street for what reason... because the color of his skin," Jones said. 

The next court appearance for the officers was set for September with a tentative trial date set for March 8, 2021.

Attorneys said they may file a motion to join the officers' trials going forward.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS was inside the courtroom but cameras weren't allowed after a judge's decision last week.

Friday, a judge denied a motion seeking to allow pre-trial proceedings in the case of George Floyd's murder to be recorded and broadcast.

The motion stated the defendants requested the coverage as "necessary to promote the possibility of a fair trial." However, the presiding judge denied the motion.

"Given that this is a case that has already received substantial pretrial media coverage, the Court finds that audio or video coverage of the pretrial hearings in this case would not only violate Gen. R. Prac. 4.02(d)(v), but would risk tainting a potential Hennepin County jury pool," District Court Judge Peter A. Cahill wrote. "In addition, not all parties consent, as required by the rule."

In Minnesota criminal cases, the judge, prosecutor and defense must all agree to allow news cameras, which hasn't previously happened.

The court appearances lasted a total of 40 minutes with the first of the four appearances (Chauvin's) starting at 12:17 p.m. and the last of the appearances (Lane) ending at 12:57 p.m. Chauvin appeared via a video stream while the other three former officers appeared in-person.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly spelled the name of George Floyd's aunt. It has been corrected to identify her as Angela Harrelson. 

Copyright 2020 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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