MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A Minnesota judge has ruled that the trial of three fired Minneapolis police officers charged with aiding and abetting George Floyd’s killing will not be livestreamed.
Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill, who cited the threat of COVID-19 to allow livestreaming of last year’s murder trial of Derek Chauvin in Floyd’s death, wrote in an order filed Monday evening that the pandemic has receded to the point that he cannot override the other three officers’ objections to live audiovisual coverage.
The trial for former Officers Tou Thao, Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng is set to begin with motions on June 13. Jury selection begins June 14 with opening statements set for July 5. Cahill said he expects the evidence phase to take four or five weeks, meaning the trial could last into early August.
Kueng knelt on Floyd’s back, Lane held his legs and Thao kept bystanders back as Chauvin, who is white, used his knee to pin Floyd, a Black man, to the pavement for 9 1/2 minutes on May 25, 2020, in a case that sparked protests around the world and a national reckoning on race.
Thao, Lane and Kueng were convicted in a separate trial in federal court in February of violating Floyd’s civil rights. Chauvin pleaded guilty in December to a federal charge of violating Floyd’s civil rights. Sentencing dates have not been set in those cases, which were not televised due to federal court rules.
Last year, Cahill sentenced Chauvin to 22 1/2 years in the murder case, which was viewed around the world. Prosecutors disclosed during a hearing two weeks ago that the other three former officers had rejected plea deals that would have averted the upcoming trial.
Prosecutors and a coalition of media organizations including The Associated Press had argued for allowing live televised coverage again, citing the continued intense public and media interest in the case, and the potential resurgence of the coronavirus.
But Cahill wrote that the “unusual and compelling circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic” at the time of the Chauvin trial have substantially abated, and court system rules in force at the time that mandated social distancing have been lifted. So, he said, he’s bound by Minnesota’s normal court rules, which allow cameras during most of a trial only if all parties consent.
“It is deeply disappointing that thousands of people interested in this important trial won’t be able to watch it,” said Leita Walker, an attorney for the media coalition, who noted in an email that an advisory committee to the Minnesota Supreme Court is considering whether the state court system should ease its restrictions on cameras. “Our Supreme Court needs to change the rule. They are working on it. I wish they could have worked faster.”
Cahill wrote that he agreed with prosecutors that livestreaming Chauvin’s trial “inspired public confidence in the proceedings and helped ensure calm in Minneapolis and across the country.” And he noted that he recommended to the committee that judges should have discretion to allow audiovisual coverage even if a party objects. But he said he has “no unfettered mandate” to ignore existing rules in the absence of compelling circumstances needed to prevent a “manifest injustice.”
News organizations will have to cover the upcoming proceedings mostly from a closed-circuit feed in one of at least three overflow courtrooms. Only two pool reporters can be present in the main courtroom. Only four members of the Floyd family and two members from each defendant’s family at a time may be in the courtroom. The general public can watch only from an overflow courtroom.
Cahill also ruled that the jury won’t be sequestered except for deliberations, but with security restrictions, similar to how he conducted Chauvin’s trial.