A Minnesota judge on Tuesday lifted a gag order in the criminal case against four former officers charged in death of George Floyd, but declined to rule on a news media coalition’s request to make body camera footage more widely available.
Judge Peter Cahill, of Hennepin County, said he agreed with defense attorneys’ arguments that a gag order, imposed on July 9, would be unfair to their clients and limit their ability to defend themselves against negative publicity.
Cahill said, however, that he expects all attorneys in the case to follow the rules on disclosure of information.
J. Alexander Kueng, left, enters the Hennepin County Government Center in Minneapolis with his attorney Thomas Plunkett, right, for the hearing on lifting the gag order imposed July 9
Thomas Lane, another of the four former officers, arrives in court on Tuesday
Tou Thao is charged with aiding and abetting both second-degree murder and manslaughter
Cahill also ruled Tuesday that he would not hold the lead prosecutor in the case, Attorney General Keith Ellison, in contempt of court as two defense attorneys requested.
He ruled that a statement Ellison made, when he announced that additional attorneys would be assisting the prosecution, was innocuous and did not violate the gag order.
Floyd, who was black, died on May 25 after Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, pressed his knee against a handcuffed Floyd’s neck for nearly eight minutes as Floyd said he could not breathe.
Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter.
Three other officers who were at the scene, Tou Thao, Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng, are charged with aiding and abetting both second-degree murder and manslaughter.
All four officers were fired.
From left to right: Derek Chauvin, who remains in jail; plus Kueng, Lane and Thao
Thao, Lane and Kueng are all out on bail.
Thao, 34, posted a $750,000 bond on July 4 and was released.
Lane, 37, walked free on June 10 after paying his $750,000.
J. Alexander Kueng, 26, was released on June 19 following his payment of the same amount.
Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck on May 25
Chauvin, 44, remains behind bars, with his bail set at $1.25 million – a sum he is yet to obtain.
Police body camera videos were filed with the court this month by Lane’s attorney, Earl Gray, as part of a request to have Lane’s case dismissed.
Gray said he wanted the videos to be made public — prompting Cahill to issue the July 9 order barring attorneys and parties from discussing the case.
Defense attorneys for all four of the former officers asked that the gag order be lifted. The Associated Press is among news organizations that objected to the gag order.
Cahill made the videos available for in-person, by-appointment viewing only.
Media attorney Leita Walker objected to that format, saying it violated the common law, rules of public access to records and the First Amendment, and was essentially equivalent to keeping the videos under seal.
Records of all courts are presumed to be open for public inspection with limited exceptions. Prosecutors said a court may impose restrictions if that access will interfere with the fair and impartial administration of justice, and that reasonable alternatives aren’t adequate.
Judge Cahill now has 90 days to make a decision on the body camera footage, but said he plans to do so sooner than that.
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