On January 11, 2022, U.S. District Court Judge Paul Magnuson held a pre-trial hearing in the federal criminal case against three ex-Minneapolis police officers (J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao) on charges of violating the civil rights of George Floyd in connection with his May 2020 killing. The trial is scheduled to start on January 20.
The Judge expressed his concern about the potential impact of COVID-19 on the trial. “Move the case along and get it tried in a shorter time. The longer we are in the courtroom, the more exposure we have to COVID. And if we get to that point and we don’t have 12 people sitting here, you know what happens. We all go home.” The Judge also expressed concern about the threat of “outside pressures” that could interfere with the case.
With the prosecution’s filing a list of 48 potential witnesses, the Judge said the case was “getting out of proportion” and that the parties needed to reduce the number of witnesses. The Judge also ruled that a 10-year-old witness will not be allowed to testify and that other witnesses may testify in uniform only if they are appearing in their “official function” and thus an off-duty firefighter [at the scene of the killing] will not be allowed to wear her uniform on the witness stand.
Judge Magnuson also stated that he expects the 12 jurors and six alternates to be selected in two days (January 20 and 21) and the opening statements to begin the following Monday (January 24). There will be no live-streaming of the trial and thereby not allowing the public to follow every minute. Instead there will be only a few journalists and members of the public in the courtroom while a small group of other journalists and members of the public will watch a video feed of the trial from other rooms in the courthouse.
The next day (January 13), the prosecution filed a brief saying that prohibiting some witnesses from testifying in the upcoming civil rights case against three former Minneapolis officers will hinder their argument and “deprive the government of its right to a fair trial.” Although they plan to shore up their witness list and heed the concerns for the virus interfering with the trial, “the pursuit of justice should not become a subordinate interest to brevity here. This case involves constitutional violations by sworn law enforcement officers that resulted in the death of a man, and neither COVID nor concerns about security should limit the government or the defense from presenting its case.”
The prosecution also said the nine-year-old witness is not a mere prop, and objectively serious medical need, “meaning one that is so obvious that even people with no formal medical training would recognize that care is required. Viewed through this lens, it is significant that a then-9-year-old observed and immediately understood that Mr. Floyd needed medical attention.”
In addition, the prosecution also objected to Magnuson’s ruling that calling multiple medical experts to testify would be “inefficient” and “improper.” Prosecutors plan to call two medical experts, including Andrew Baker, who they say is limited to his specialized expertise as Hennepin County Medical Examiner, who”only treats the dead.” As a result, the prosecution wants to call a second expert who can speak to medical issues such how the officers’ compression on Floyd’s airway and torso could hinder his ability to breath, how resuscitation could have saved him and specific effects of the combination of fentanyl and methamphetamine.
 Mannix, With opening arguments on horizon, judge worries COVID outbreak could upend trial of three former Minneapolis officers, StarTribune (Jan. 12, 2022); Memorandum and Order, U.S. v. Thao, et al., Crim. No. 21-108 (D. Minn. Jan. 11, 2022).
 Mannix, Prosecutors say barring witnesses in case against ex-officers in George Floyd death deprives them of fair trial, StarTribune (Jan. 13, 2022).
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