Request to dismiss Hennepin County Attorney Freeman from George Floyd case denied; Ellison adds attorney to prosecution team

A judge overseeing the cases against the four former officers charged in the death of George Floyd has denied a request to have a local prosecutor removed.

J. Alexander Kueng’s attorney filed a motion Thursday arguing that Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, the county’s top prosecutor, had “compromised his ethics” and his ability “to impartially prosecute” the case.

Among other things, attorney Tom Plunkett said Freeman had called Floyd’s death a “senseless death” and that Freeman said a bystander’s video of the incident “is graphic, and horrible and terrible, and no person should do that.” Plunkett also accused Freeman’s office of leaking information about potential plea negotiations.

Judge Peter Cahill ruled Friday that Freeman can stay on the case, saying Plunkett failed to establish that there was a conflict of interest and “failed to provide legal authority for the removal of a prosecutor by the Court, even if the allegations of improper conduct are true.”

A spokeswoman for Freeman’s office said Thursday that the office would not comment on the case. Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison’s office is leading the prosecution.

Kueng is one of four officers charged in the May 25 death of Floyd, a handcuffed Black man who died after Derek Chauvin, who is white, pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck for nearly eight minutes as Floyd said he couldn’t breathe. Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter. Kueng and two other officers, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao, are charged with aiding and abetting both second-degree murder and manslaughter. All four were fired.

The next court hearing for the four is Sept. 11.

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Ellison adds attorney to prosecution team

Cahill on Friday also granted a motion to add an attorney to Ellison’s prosecution team.

Neal Katyal, who was the acting solicitor general of the United States from 2010-11, was granted permission to join the prosecution team; he is licensed to practice law in Washington, D.C., and Maryland. According to his profile with D.C.-based law firm Hogan Lovells, he specializes in appellate and complex litigation.

During his tenure as acting solicitor general, Katyal represented the U.S. federal government in all appellate cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and federal appeals courts throughout the country.

Katyal also defended the constitutionality of the 1965 Civil Rights Act and wrote the regulations for special counsel investigations — such as Robert Mueller’s investigation of President Donald Trump’s campaign — as a Justice Department attorney in the late 1990s.