National News

Judge rejects request to delay access to Floyd case filings

Posted October 15, 2020 4:09 p.m. EDT
Updated October 15, 2020 4:10 p.m. EDT

FILE - This combination of photos provided by the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office in Minnesota on Wednesday, June 3, 2020, shows from left, former Minneapolis police officers Derek Chauvin, J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao. Prosecutors have offered additional explanation about why they believe longer sentences should be given if the four former Minneapolis police officers are convicted in the death of George Floyd. In a court filing Monday, Oct. 12 in Hennepin County, prosecutors said the position of trust the officers held and Floyd's vulnerability are two reasons why the men, if convicted, should receive longer sentences than guidelines recommend. (Hennepin County Sheriff's Office via AP)

— A Minnesota judge on Thursday rejected prosecutors' request to put a 48-hour hold on filings in the criminal cases of four Minneapolis police officers charged in George Floyd's death.

Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill said a natural lag in the court filing system gives prosecutors sufficient time to see filings and, if they choose, to ask that they be sealed.

As evidence of that lag, Cahill cited this week's filing by defense attorneys that sought to introduce evidence from a 2019 arrest involving Floyd, including police body-camera video from the arrest. Prosecutors from the state attorney general's office successfully delayed public posting of that defense filing as they asked the judge for the 48-hour hold.

Floyd, who was Black, died May 25 after Derek Chauvin, who is white, pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck for several minutes even after Floyd said he couldn’t breathe. Floyd was in handcuffs as police tried to arrest him for allegedly passing a counterfeit $20 bill at a convenience store. Floyd’s death was captured on bystander video that set off protests around the world.

Chauvin and three other officers were fired. Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter; Lane, J. Kueng and Tou Thao are charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and manslaughter.

Cahill said attorney filings aren't considered official until the court reviews and accepts them. He said that had not yet happened with the filing from Lane's attorney, Earl Gray, before the state requested the delay.

Prosecutors argued that the body-camera video from the 2019 arrest could taint the pool of potential jurors, adding to pressure to move the former officers' trial from Minneapolis.

Cahill said the video simply shows Floyd had been arrested before — information “basically everybody already knows,” he said — and that it might even help the state's case.

Cahill wrote that he believed Gray's filing was “in good faith,” but ordered that going forward, only written motions will be accepted and no audio, video and photographic attachments will be allowed to be submitted with motions.

The court made the body-camera video publicly available shortly after the hearing.

Gray's filing this week also included transcripts of the 2019 arrest of Floyd, which he said shows Floyd was not the law-abiding citizen he has been portrayed to be.

In seeking the 48-hour delay on filings being made public, prosecutors had argued that the state “anticipates that filings in this case will involve protected or inadmissible evidence” and that if evidence becomes public it could unfairly influence public opinion.

“The proposed temporary protective order strikes the appropriate balance between the need for public disclosure and the need to avoid the disclosure of confidential or inadmissible information,” prosecutor Matthew Frank wrote. “Where no party objects to public disclosure, any restriction on the public right of access would be short and temporary.”

Frank said the public does not have an “absolute” right to access court documents.

Media organizations including The Associated Press had opposed the state's request.

In his documents, Gray said Floyd’s behavior on the night he died was “almost an exact replica” of how he acted during the arrest a year earlier. Floyd swallowed drugs, resisted police officers, ignored commands, acted erratically and cried and called out for his mother, Gray said. It should be admissible at trial because it shows Floyd’s modus operandi and counters prosecutors’ portrayal of Floyd as being scared, he said.

___

Mohamed Ibrahim is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

Our commenting policy has changed. If you would like to comment, please share on social media using the icons below and comment there.