Downtown Minneapolis was a flurry of intense activity Friday morning as protesters, the family of George Floyd, local and national media, and increased law enforcement all converged outside of the Hennepin County courthouse for a pretrial hearing in the case against four officers charged in Floyd’s death.
This was the first time all four former Minneapolis police officers Derek Chauvin, Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane, and Tou Thao appeared in person at the hearing. For the previous hearings, Chauvin had appeared via video. He was ushered in and out of court under heavy security on Friday. He is being held at Oak Park Heights prison, the state’s maximum-security prison.
The video of Floyd’s fatal arrest on Memorial Day has ignited a global protest movement against police brutality and spawned renewed calls for police reform and divestment. In the video shot by bystanders, former officer Chauvin was seen pressing his knee against Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes until he became unresponsive and died.
Chauvin has been charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. The other former officers are charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder.
The massive amount of media attention over the case and public comments from local officials were cited by defense attorneys on Friday as a reason for a change of venue. They argued that it would be impossible to receive a fair trial in Minneapolis given all the publicity.
However, Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill stated that more evidence was needed to prove that point. “There is not a county or state in this country that has not had publicity in the George Floyd case,” he said, according to reports. Cahill indicated that potential jurors will be sent questionnaires. Jury selection is expected to be one-by-one and on the witness stand and there is expected to be a two-week jury selection and a four-week trial.
There were many issues raised during the hearing, but the biggest takeaway was Judge Cahill disqualifying Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman and three other county attorneys from the proceedings involving Floyd’s death.
At issue was their handling of an interview with Hennepin County Medical Examiner Dr. Andrew Baker, who performed Floyd’s autopsy. Judge Cahill noted that having members of the attorney’s office present without a non-attorney witness to interview Dr. Baker was “sloppy” as they’re now witnesses who can be called by the prosecution or defense during the trial.
In a statement, the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office’s said it “fully stands by the work” of its prosecutors; the interview in question was “completely routine;” and they are certain that the judge’s order will “eventually be withdrawn or modified.” Cahill did grant the reconsideration motion but no dates for the motion have been set.
Judge Cahill also ruled that he would not admit into evidence any criminal records involving Floyd from his time in Texas.
Defense attorneys have indicated that they will argue that Floyd died of an overdose and not due to the officers’ actions during his arrest. All four officers have filed motions to dismiss charges. Cahill did not rule on these motions on Friday but cautioned the court not to read anything into his non-ruling.
The judge also did not rule on a motion by prosecutors to hold a joint trial for the former officers. All four officers are requesting that each officer be tried separately, as attorneys for each officer have already indicated that they will work to lessen the role of their clients in Floyd’s death and shift blame to their co-defendants.
The Floyd family rebutted the defense attorneys’ claims that Floyd died of a drug overdose. At a press conference following the pretrial hearing on Friday, the family spoke to the media and crowd gathered outside the courthouse.
Terrence Floyd, one of George’s brothers, pushed for accountability. “If you do the crime, you do the time. So why is it different for these guys? It shouldn’t be different. It will not be different. Because we will get justice for my brother,” he said.
The family’s attorney Ben Crump also addressed the crowd gathered, saying, “Who are you going to believe, your eyes or these killer cops?! The only overdose that killed George Floyd was an overdose of excessive force!”
The lead prosecutor in the case, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, also spoke to the press after the hearing, reaffirming his pursuit of justice for George Floyd. But he was quickly drowned out by protesters shouting at the former officers seen leaving the courtroom with their attorneys.
Although Judge Cahill didn’t rule on many of the key issues brought up in the hearing, he stated in writing that most of his decisions will be made by Oct. 15. The start of the trial is scheduled for March 8, 2021.