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Judge warns public officials about speaking out on George Floyd case

Chao Xiong, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) on

Published in News & Features

MINNEAPOLIS -- Four former Minneapolis police officers charged in the Memorial Day killing of George Floyd appeared in court Monday, where the Hennepin County judge presiding over the cases warned that public officials speaking out about the case are pushing it toward a change of venue if they continue to do so.

It was among several issues at the brief omnibus hearing for Derek Chauvin, who knelt on Floyd's neck for nearly eight minutes, J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao. Defense attorney Robert Paule, who is representing Thao, decried statements made by police Chief Medaria Arradondo and Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington, who have called Floyd's death a "murder," among other statements by Gov. Tim Walz and Attorney General Keith Ellison. Paule said he plans to file a motion for change of venue.

"I'm fighting the battle with one hand," because of the public statements, Paule said.

Judge Peter Cahill acknowledged the statements, and said people who are aligned with the state's stance on the case are pushing it toward a change of venue.

"It's in everyone's best interest" that no public statements about the case be made, Cahill said, noting that they've come from family, friends and law enforcement officials. "What they're doing is endangering the right to a fair trial" for all the parties.

"They need to understand that; at this point they need to be aware of that," Cahill said, and asked Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Frank if prosecutors are addressing the matter with public officials.

"We are just as interested in fair trial and are acutely aware of the issues you talk about," Frank said. "We have asked people not to talk about this case ... we've done our best to make the court's concerns known to them and will continue to do so."

Chauvin is charged with second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, and he appeared remotely via TV from the state prison at Oak Park Heights, where he is being held on $1.25 million bail.

The other three are charged with aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter.

Kueng posted bond on a $750,000 bail and appeared out of custody. Lane posted cash bail on the same amount and was also out of custody. Thao remains in jail on $1 million bail without conditions or $750,000 bail with conditions.

Omnibus hearings are typically procedural and cover issues such as the probable cause evidence that supports the charges, evidentiary issues and discovery, the process of state officials sharing evidence in the case with defense attorneys. Future court dates are also set.

 

Pleas can be entered at an omnibus hearing, but are not required.

Court hearings in the case have been anything but typical. When Kueng, Lane and Thao appeared in court for the first time earlier this month attorneys for Kueng and Lane -- Earl Gray and Thomas Plunkett, respectively -- began introducing their defense strategies.

Gray and Plunkett blamed Chauvin, a 19-year veteran on the police force, for killing Floyd, who repeatedly said he couldn't breathe and warned that he was going to die. Bystanders also pleaded with the officers; one recorded the incident, which sparked worldwide protests.

Lane was working his fourth shift and Kueng his third, and the rookies were following Chauvin's lead, they argued.

Gray noted at the time that Lane asked Chauvin two times whether they should roll Floyd, a 46-year-old black man from St. Louis Park, onto his side and was rebuffed. Plunkett noted that Kueng took Floyd's pulse and told his colleagues he couldn't detect one.

Lane restrained Floyd's legs and Kueng held onto his back as Floyd, who was handcuffed, laid stomach-down in the street.

Video of the killing showed Thao standing watch and dismissing bystanders' concerns.

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