The four dismissed Minneapolis police officers charged criminally with George Floyd’s death appeared before a judge Monday for a brief pre-trial hearing that was also attended by Floyd’s aunt and uncle, who sat in the front row.
Derek Chauvin, J. Alexander Kueng, Kiernan Lane and Tou Thao appeared for separate and consecutive pre-hearings in court in downtown Minneapolis.
Judge Peter Cahill instructed prosecutors and defense attorneys to limit pretrial publicity about the case.
Thao’s attorney, Robert Paule, said in court that he is considering a motion to relocate due to what he described as damaging pre-trial advertising. He noted that public comments on the case of President Donald Trump, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz, the Hennepin County District Attorney’s Office, Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo and Mayor Jacob Frey could jeopardize a fair trial. in Hennepin County.
“We are equally interested in a fair trial,” said Matthew Frank, Minnesota’s assistant attorney general.
While Cahill failed to issue a gag order, he cautioned that he could do so if his instructions were not followed.
On Friday, Cahill banned news cameras and audio equipment during pre-trial proceedings after expressing concern that the advertising may contaminate the pool of potential jurors. He said he has yet to decide whether to allow news cameras in the courtroom during the actual trial.
Chauvin, who remains in custody, appeared in court by video. Thao, who is also in custody, was physically in the courtroom, but stood inside a wooden cubicle similar to a phone booth during the hearing.
Kueng and Lane, who have been released on bail, were in the courtroom for the process.
Chauvin is charged with second degree murder and involuntary manslaughter in Floyd’s death. Lane, Kueng, and Thao are charged with aiding in the second degree and inciting felonies and second-degree murder.
None of the former officers has released a statement. But court documents show that Kueng intends to plead not guilty and will argue in self-defense.
Frank informed the court that prosecutors have compiled about 8,000 pages of discovery material in the case.
Cahill scheduled the next defendants’ court appearance for September 11 and tentatively scheduled a trial date for March 8, 2021. He asked Chauvin if it would be okay with him to extend the time frame for those dates given the large amount of discovery evidence.
“Yes, your honor,” Chauvin replied in the only statement he made at the hearing.
Cahill has yet to decide whether the men will be tried separately or together.
Floyd, a black man, was arrested May 25 in front of a convenience store in Minneapolis and charged with using counterfeit money to buy cigarettes, according to police.
During the arrests, Chauvin, a 44-year-old white police officer, nailed his knee to Floyd’s nape. Floyd repeatedly yelled, “I can’t breathe,” before passing out, according to a criminal complaint. Floyd was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Lane, 37, allegedly held Floyd’s legs down, while Kueng, 26, allegedly held Floyd’s back when Chauvin allegedly dug his knee into Floyd’s neck, according to the criminal complaint. According to the complaint, Thao, 34, allegedly observed the entire incident with his hands in his pockets.
The arrest was captured in a citizen video that was posted on Facebook and went viral, sparking protests and violence in Minneapolis and across the country. The episode has also become a rallying cry against police brutality and the removal of funds from law enforcement agencies.
Floyd’s death followed a long series of killings of black people by police in the United States.
All four officers involved in Floyd’s fatal arrest were fired from the police department. Two of the officers, Lane and Kueng, were rookies.
Monday in the courtroom were two members of Floyd’s family, his aunt, Angela Harrelson, and his uncle, Selwyn Jones. At one point, Cahill warned Floyd’s family members of reacting from the gallery during the hearing.
Outside of court, Jones described the emotions he felt during the hearing and said, “Absolutely crazy because I sat six feet from the person who murdered my nephew.”