As each of the four former Minneapolis police officers charged in connection with the death of George Floyd appeared in court on Monday (June 29), the presiding judge issued a warning that he may change the venue because of public officials making statements about the case.
Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill did not slap a gag order on attorneys in the case, but if the statements keep up, one could come. Also, that would motivate him to grant a change of venue if one was requested, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.
Each of the men, who were fired after public outcry over Floyd’s May 25 death, were charged earlier in June. Derek Chauvin, is charged with second degree murder and the three other officers who were at the scene, J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao, are charged with aiding and abetting him. But Thao’s attorney, Robert Paule criticized statements made by Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo and Public Safety Department Commissioner John Harrington, who have described Floyd’s death a “murder.”
Those, in addition to statements made by Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz and Attorney General Keith Ellison, would prompt Paule to motion for a change of venue, he said.
“The court is not going to be happy about hearing about the case in three areas: media, evidence and guilt or innocence,” said Cahill.
George Floyd died after the four officers attempted to detain him after being called in response to an alleged counterfeit $20 bill being spent at a store in Minneapolis. Chauvin knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes until he asphyxiated and later died. The other officers either assisted in holding the unarmed man to the ground, stomach down, or tried to keep crowds at bay. The entire incident was caught on cellphone video.
Pleas have not been entered yet and Chauvin’s attorney has not publicly commented on the case. Kueng, Lane and Thao’s attorneys have sought to minimize their roles in Floyd’s death, according to the Associated Press. Chauvin remains in jail on $1 million bail. Thao is held on $750,000 bond. Keung and Lane are out on bond.
Cahill turned down a defense request to allow cameras in the courtroom during the pretrial phase of the case. Prosecutors objected to the request. Kueng’s attorney Tom Plunkett said allowing cameras would make it easier to pick an impartial jury because it would help “educate the public that there may be more to the cases than what has been told to them by the state.”
A March 8 trial date was set for the four officers if they face trial together. But the judge said he expected new motions to be filed for separate trials. The next pretrial hearing date is set for Sept. 11.