In Min­neapo­lis, a judge set a ten­ta­tive March trial date for the four for­mer po­lice of­fi­cers charged in the killing of Ge­orge Floyd.

Judge is­sues warn­ing for of­fi­cials to rein in pub­lic com­ments

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY HOLLY BAI­LEY AND MARK BER­MAN holly.bai­ley@wash­ mark.ber­man@wash­ Ber­man re­ported from Washington.

A judge ten­ta­tively sched­uled a March trial date for the four for­mer Min­neapo­lis po­lice of­fi­cers charged in Ge­orge Floyd’s death, though con­sid­er­able un­cer­tainty re­mains about how the case will un­fold fol­low­ing a hear­ing here Mon­day af­ter­noon.

Three of the four ex-of­fi­cers ap­peared in per­son in a Hen­nepin County court­room Mon­day for a joint hear­ing, with the one fac­ing the most se­ri­ous charges — Derek Chau­vin, who was filmed driv­ing his knee into Floyd’s neck — ap­peared re­motely from the state pri­son where he is be­ing held.

It is un­clear whether some or all of the of­fi­cers will be tried to­gether. While pros­e­cu­tors seem to be push­ing for a con­sol­i­dated trial, de­fense at­tor­neys are in­stead ex­pected to push for sep­a­rate pros­e­cu­tions.

Chau­vin was charged with sec­ond-de­gree mur­der, while the other three — Tou Thao, Thomas K. Lane and J. Alexan­der Kueng — were charged with aid­ing and abet­ting Chau­vin.

The Min­neapo­lis Po­lice De­part­ment fired all four of the men in the fren­zied af­ter­math of Floyd’s death, which set off na­tion­wide demon­stra­tions against racial in­jus­tice and po­lice vi­o­lence.

The case or cases are an­tic­i­pated to draw in­tense scrutiny through the trial phase, and the pub­lic­ity and me­dia at­ten­tion thus far prompted a re­buke from Hen­nepin County Judge Peter A. Cahill dur­ing Mon­day’s hear­ing. Cahill stopped short of is­su­ing a gag or­der in the case, but he sternly warned pros­e­cu­tors to get pub­lic of­fi­cials to stop talk­ing about it, say­ing that such ac­tions might re­sult in hav­ing to move the trial else­where.

Cahill also ad­mon­ished two mem­bers of Floyd’s fam­ily — An­gela Har­ri­son and Sel­wyn Jones, Floyd’s aunt and un­cle — for vis­i­bly re­act­ing to his state­ments in court. Speak­ing to re­porters af­ter­ward, Jones said he was of­fended by the judge’s com­ment, point­ing out that he was just “feet away” from the of­fi­cers ac­cused of killing his nephew and was deal­ing with the re­sult­ing emo­tions.

Jones said the hear­ing gave him lit­tle con­fi­dence in the case.

“I know how the sys­tem works. I’ve seen the sys­tem my whole life

— a black man get­ting shaded, slighted,” he said. “When I walk into a court­house and I see like 15 white peo­ple, I’m like, ‘Oh, hell, we’re go­ing through this again.’ So we’ll see how the process ends up.”

None of the of­fi­cers en­tered pleas in court Mon­day, but after the hear­ing, Kueng’s at­tor­ney filed a doc­u­ment with the court ad­vis­ing that his client in­tends to plead not guilty. Cahill set two dates for the case or cases ahead, sched­ul­ing a pre­trial hear­ing on Sept. 11 and then ten­ta­tively slot­ting the trial to be­gin on March 8.

Chau­vin is be­ing held at a state pri­son on a min­i­mum of $1 mil­lion bail, and Thao is be­ing held at the Hen­nepin County Jail on a min­i­mum bail of $750,000. Lane and Kueng are both out on bail.

Be­cause of the on­go­ing coro­n­avirus pan­demic, the county jail has is­sued masks to those de­tained there; when Thao ap­peared at the hear­ing, he was wear­ing such a mask and an orange jump suit. He glanced briefly at four peo­ple who were seated in the court­room, none of whom spoke to mem­bers of the me­dia af­ter­ward.

Lane and Kueng ar­rived at the hear­ing separately, both walk­ing in with their at­tor­neys through a glassed-in hall­way at the Hen­nepin County Pub­lic Safety Fa­cil­ity. Wear­ing masks, the two for­mer of­fi­cers avoided mak­ing eye contact with the dozens of re­porters and pho­tog­ra­phers crushed up against a win­dow ob­serv­ing their ar­rival.

At­tor­neys for those two men have ar­gued that their clients, rook­ies who had been full-time of­fi­cers for less than half a week, were fol­low­ing the or­ders of Chau­vin, a 19-year-vet­eran of the de­part­ment who had been their field train­ing of­fi­cer. They ar­gue that their clients tried to in­ter­vene to help Floyd as he strug­gled to breathe on the pave­ment but that they were re­buffed by Chau­vin, the se­nior of­fi­cer at the scene who they say was in con­trol.

Ex­perts and po­lice chiefs have ar­gued that a core is­sue hin­der­ing re­form ef­forts is vet­eran of­fi­cers who re­sist new train­ing and teach rook­ies other ways to po­lice their com­mu­ni­ties, point­ing to Chau­vin as a prime ex­am­ple. Lane’s at­tor­ney, Earl Gray, ar­gued dur­ing a bail hear­ing that his client was merely abid­ing by “what the train­ing of­fi­cer said.”

State pros­e­cu­tors and Min­neapo­lis Po­lice Chief Medaria Ar­radondo have pushed back against that ar­gu­ment, with the chief say­ing that merely be­ing a rookie is no ex­cuse for fail­ing to step in to do what is right.

“I don’t put poli­cies out to say that you should only re­act or re­spond if you’re a two-year mem­ber or a five-year mem­ber or a 10-year mem­ber,” Ar­radondo said ear­lier this month.

Pub­lic of­fi­cials, re­spond­ing to the out­cry that be­gan in Min­neapo­lis and gripped the na­tion, have as­sailed Floyd’s death. Ar­radondo, who took over as po­lice chief in 2017, is­sued a state­ment say­ing that Floyd’s death “was mur­der; it wasn’t a lack of train­ing.”

De­fense at­tor­neys quickly seized on his re­marks. And at­tor­neys for the four for­mer of­fi­cers filed an un­usual mo­tion in court that sup­ported me­dia or­ga­ni­za­tions — in­clud­ing The Washington Post — that are seek­ing au­dio and video ac­cess to up­com­ing hear­ings. The de­fense at­tor­neys are seek­ing to coun­ter­bal­ance what other of­fi­cials are say­ing about the men.

Thomas Plun­kett, writ­ing for the de­fen­dants, cited “un­eth­i­cal leaks” and “many prej­u­di­cial com­ments” from pub­lic of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing Ar­radondo and Min­nesota At­tor­ney Gen­eral Keith El­li­son, whose of­fice is lead­ing the pros­e­cu­tion. Plun­kett wrote that hav­ing open me­dia cov­er­age of the hear­ings would give the for­mer of­fi­cers a bet­ter chance at a fair trial.



TOP: A court­room sketch shows Tou Thao, right, one of the four for­mer Min­neapo­lis po­lice of­fi­cers charged in Ge­orge Floyd’s killing, on Mon­day as his de­fense at­tor­ney, Robert Paule, sec­ond from right, and pros­e­cu­tor Matthew Frank con­fer with Hen­nepin County Judge Peter A. Cahill. ABOVE RIGHT: De­mon­stra­tors gather in late May at a memo­rial for Floyd near the spot where he was died days ear­lier. ABOVE LEFT: An­gela Har­rel­son, Floyd’s aunt, speaks to the me­dia out­side the court­house Mon­day in Min­neapo­lis.


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