Reconsidering Third-Degree Murder Charges Against Other Ex-Policemen in George Floyd Killing 

On June 30, 2021, the Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed  Judge Cahill’s denial of the State’s motion to add a third-degree murder aiding and abetting charge against former MPD officers, J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao. Their trial is now scheduled for March 2022.[1]

Before looking at this Court of Appeals decision, we will examine a summary of the complicated background for this issue.

Background for Appellate Decision

“Murder in the Third Degree: in the Minnesota Statutes (section 609.195) is defined as “Whoever, without intent to effect the death of any person, causes the death of another by perpetrating an act eminently dangerous to others and evincing a depraved mind, without regard for human life, is guilty of murder in the third degree and may be sentenced to imprisonment for not more than 25 years.”

The original superseding criminal complaint of June 3, 2020, against Derek Chauvin included a third-degree murder charge while not so charging the other three former officers of aiding and abetting that charge in their original complaints of June 3.[2]

On August 28, 2020, Chauvin moved to dismiss the complaint, including the third-degree murder charge. On October 21, 2020, Judge Cahill granted Chauvin’s motion to dismiss the third-degree murder charge while denying the balance of the motion. According to the Judge, such a charge can be sustained only when “the defendant’s actions . . . were not specifically directed at the particular person whose death occurred.” [3]

On February 4, 2021, the State moved for leave to reinstate the third-degree charges against the former officers. The basis for this motion was the Court of Appeals’ February 4th 2-1 decision upholding a third-degree murder charge against Mohammed Noor for the 2017 killing of an Australian woman in south Minneapolis.[4]

On February 11, Judge Cahill denied this motion to add the third-degree murder charges. According to the Judge, the majority opinion in its recent Noor case “is not persuasive in this Court’s view because it departs from the Minnesota Supreme Court’s long adherence to the no-particular person requirement embedded in the depraved mind element [of the crime].” In addition, said Judge Cahill, the dissent in the Noor case was correct.[5]

On February 22, the State appealed that decision to the Court of Appeals. On March 1 the Court of Appeals heard arguments on that appeal, and on March 5 that court reversed Judge Cahill’s decision. As a result, on March 11, Judge Cahill reinstituted the third-degree murder charge against Chauvin. The Judge said he was “duty bound” to accept the appellate court’s ruling and interpretation of the statute.[6]

Court of Appeals June 30th Decision[7]

The Court of Appeals on June 30, 2021, said that its previous decision on the third-degree murder charge in the Chauvin case requires Judge Cahill to reverse his previous denial of the charge of aiding and abetting such a crime by these three former officers and to hear additional arguments from the parties.

Judge Cahill will be duty-bound to follow this decision and order.

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[1] Xiong, Court of Appeals ruling puts third-degree murder back into play in George Floyd killing, StarTribune (July 1, 2021); Williams, Minnesota appeals court clears way for third-degree murder charge against officers in George Floyd death, The Hill (July 1, 2021).

[2] The Criminal Complaint Against Derek Chauvin Over the Death of George Floyd, dwkcommentaries.com (June 12, 2020); The Criminal Complaints Against the Other Three Policemen Involved in George Floyd’s Death, dwkcommentaries.com (June 14, 2020).

[3] Chauvin Moves To Dismiss Criminal Complaint, dwkcommentareis.com (Sept. 9, 2020); Court Sustains Most Charges in George Floyd Criminal Cases, dwkcommentaries.com (Oct. 23, 2020).

[4] Prosecution and Chauvin Dispute Adding Third-Degree Murder Charges in George Floyd Criminal Case, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 10, 2021); Court Denies Third-Degree Murder Charges for George Floyd Killing, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 12, 2021).

[5] Ibid.

[6] Comment: State Appeals Dismissal of Third-Degree Murder Charges in George Floyd Case, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 23, 2021); Appellate Hearing on Third-Degree Murder Charge Against Derek Chauvin, dwkcommentaries.com (Mar. 1, 2021); Court of Appeals Reverses District Court’s Refusal To Follow Precedent on Third-Degree Murder Charge Against Derek Chauvin, dwkcommentaries.com (Mar. 5, 2021); Derek Chauvin Trial: Week One, dwkcommentaries.com (Mar. 15, 2021)Thomas Lan

[7] See n.1 supra.

 

Derek Chauvin Trial: Chauvin Sentenced to 22.5 Years Imprisonment           

                                                                                                                               On June 25, Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill entered the following order, “ As to Count I, based on the verdict of the jury finding you guilty of unintentional second-degree murder while committing a felony under Minn. Stat. sec. 609.19, subd. 2(1), it is the judgment of the Court that you now stand convicted of that offense. Pursuant to Minn. Stat. sec. 609.04, Counts II and III remain unadjudicated as they are lesser offenses of Count I.”

Therefore, the “Court commits . . . [Derek Chauvin] to the custody of the Commissioner of Corrections for a period of 270 months [22.5 years]. You are granted credit for 199 days already served.”[1]

With this sentence, the  Minnesota Department of Corrections has said that if Chauvin qualifies by good behavior in prison, he would be released from prison on December 10, 2035, which will be when Chauvin is 59 years old, followed by supervised parole until June 8, 2043.

Court’s Opinion Regarding This Sentence[2]

Judge Cahill first reviewed the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines, which were promulgated “to establish rational and consistent sentencing standards the promote public safety, reduce sentencing disparity, and ensure that the sanctions imposed . . . are proportional to the severity of the . . . offense and the offender’s criminal history.”  The Guidelines also establish “presumptive ranges” for the offenses and for most cases, the maximum sentence that may be imposed is at the top of that range.

However, the Guidelines also recognize that there are cases when the guidelines may not be appropriate and that a different sentence may be imposed for “substantial and compelling circumstances,” i.e., when the “defendant’s conduct in the offense . . . was significantly more or less serious than that typically involved in the commission of the crime in question.” (Emphasis in original quotation of Minnesota Supreme Court case.)

Here, the presumptive range of a sentence for second-degree murder is 128 to 180 months with a presumptive sentence of 150 months (12.5 years). To deviate from these guidelines, the court (or jury) must find that there were one or more “aggravating factors” in the crime at issue. Here, the court determined that there were two such “aggravating factors”: Chauvin abused a position of trust and authority and Chauvin treated Mr. Floyd with particular cruelty.

Although the court previously had concluded there were two other aggravating factors–children were present during the commission of the crime and Chauvin committed the crime with the active participation of three other former Minneapolis policemen—Judge Cahill for various reasons declined to use them for determining the sentence.

Judge Cahill then sought “to effectuate the Minnesota guidelines policy of reducing sentencing disparity” by examining Minnesota sentences over that last ten years for murder in the second-degree. For all such sentences, 67% were within the presumptive guidelines range while 20% were upward departures and 13% were downward departures. Moreover, the most common aggravated sentence has been 240 months (20 years) while the average aggravated departure for defendants with a zero criminal history score [like Chauvin] was 278.2 month (23.2 years).

Therefore, the court concluded, “Mr. Chauvin, rather than pursuing the MPD mission [to give citizens ‘voice and respect’], treated Mr. Floyd without respect and denied him the dignity owed to all human beings and which he certainly would have extended to a friend or neighbor. In the Court’s view, 270 months, which amounts to an additional ten years over the presumptive 150-month sentence, is the appropriate sentence.” In other words, “In consideration of all the facts presented at trial, this Court’s experience, and the collective experience of the entire Court over the last ten years, the Court finds the appropriate prison sentence for Mr. Chauvin is 270 months.”

This opinion demonstrates Judge Cahill’s careful attention to factual and legal details. The only part that is questionable, in this blogger’s opinion, is his refusal to consider for sentencing his previous conclusion that another aggravating factors was  the presence of children. Compare his previous conclusion on this factors with his stated rationale for not considering it for sentencing:

  • Sentencing conclusion. “Although four young women were present and observed portions of the nine and a half minutes restraint of Mr. Floyd, none was injured or threatened with physical injury so long as they did not interfere; none had been present during the previous police struggle to get Mr. Floyd into a squad car, were free to leave the scene at any time, they did not know any of the officers or Mr. Floyd and at trial did not present any objective indicia of trauma.”
  • Previous conclusion. “Children were present on the sidewalk adjoining Chicago Avenue standing only a few feet from where . . . [Chauvin] and the other officers were restraining George Floyd prone in the street and observed Mr. Floyd being asphyxiated as he begged for his life.. . . Although these four children did not observe all the events, they did observe a substantial portion of the . . .[Chauvin’s] use of force and witnesses the last moments of Mr. Floyd’s life.”

This sentencing conclusion, in this blogger’s opinion, is weak in light of  the trial testimony of then 17-year-old Darnella Frazier: “When I look at George Floyd I look at my dad, I look at my brothers, I look at my cousins, my uncles because they are all Black,” she said. “I have a Black father, I have Black brothers, I have Black friends. I look at them and how it could have been one of them. It’s been nights I’ve stayed up apologizing to George Floyd for not doing more and not physically interacting and not saving his life, it’s not what I should have done it’s what he [Chauvin] should have done.” Another 17-year-old girl testified at trial,  “It was difficult because I felt like there wasn’t really anything I could do. As a bystander I was powerless there, and I was failing to do anything.”

The court’s refusal to consider for sentencing the other aggravating factor of Chauvin’s committing the crime with the assistance of others, however, was justified given the statute’s requirement for sentencing that the others be “offenders,”  which has not yet been established with their trial scheduled for this August

Sentencing Hearing[3]

At the June 25 hearing, before the Court imposed the above sentence, the Court heard victim impact statements from members of the Floyd family (seven-year-old daughter Gianna, brothers Terrance and Philonise and nephew Brandon Williams), and Chauvin’s mother (Carolyn Pawlenty).

Derek Chauvin also made the following statement. “At this time due to some additional legal matters at hand, I’m not able to give a full, formal statement at this time. Briefly though, I do want to give my condolences to the Floyd family. There’s going to be some other information in the future that would be of interest, and I hope things will give you some peace of mind. Thank you.” (Emphases added.)

No further information was provided as to what this future information will be, but the only thing this blogger can think of that would be of some comfort to the Floyd family would be an overall agreement among Chauvin and the federal and Minnesota prosecutors for Chauvin to plead guilty to all charges and to abandon any appeal from this guilty verdict and judgment in exchange for an agreed sentence to a federal detention facility.

In addition, at this hearing, Assistant Minnesota Attorney General Matthew Frank and defense attorney Erik Nelson made short statements in support of their requested sentences (30 years by the State and probation and parole by the defense).

At the conclusion of the hearing, Judge Cahill said the sentence was “not based on public opinion. I am not basing it on any attempt to send any messages. The job of a trial judge is to apply the law to specific facts.”

Court’s Order Denying Two Defendant’s Motions[4]

 On June 24 (the day before the hearing), the Court denied Chauvin’s motions for a new trial and for a Schwartz hearing to investigate the jury’s conduct during the trial.  Those denials followed from the following findings of fact and conclusions of law by the court:

  1. “Defendant has failed to demonstrate that the Court abused its discretion or committed error that Defendant was deprived of his constitutional right to a fair trial.”
  2. “Defendant has failed to demonstrate that the State engaged in prosecutorial misconduct such that Defendant was deprived of his constitutional right to a fair trial.”
  3. “Defendant has failed to establish a prima facie case of juror misconduct or that a juror gave false testimony during voir dire to warrant an evidentiary hearing pursuant to Schwarz v. Minneapolis Suburban Bus Co. . . . [and] State v. Ussee. . . .”

Commentary About the Sentencing[5]

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison. Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison in a statement published by the Washington Post said, “Chauvin is one of the few police officers ever convicted of murder for a death on the job. Chauvin’s 22½-year sentence, announced Friday, is one of the longest any police officer in the United States has received in modern times for the death of a civilian.”

“But one exceptional case does not solve the problem. Can this conviction help us finally break the cycle of inaction once and for all?”

“It depends whether we act.”

“Prosecutors must act.”

“Prosecutors must commit to vigorous, visible and swift prosecutions of in-custody deaths when there is probable cause that the use of force was unlawful. They should not be afraid to use all the tools the law puts at their disposal. The visibility of prosecutions, to restore and build credibility with the public, is as important as the vigor employed.”

“The Justice Department must also be a partner in prosecuting cases when local prosecutions fail to win convictions — or fail to act. The Biden administration’s return to conducting investigations into biased policing patterns and practices is also welcome.”

“Prosecutions must also be swift. Chauvin was convicted less than a year after he took Floyd’s life. By contrast, it took four years from the death of Laquan McDonald for Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke to be convicted. We cannot possibly build public trust if we allow prosecutions to take this long.”

“Lawmakers must act.”

“Congress must pass the strongest version of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act it can pass. Don’t wait for the perfect bill when a meaningful first step is within reach. Remember: the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Fair Housing Act of 1968 were passed after the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Enduring, systemic change takes time.”

“At the state level, legislatures should authorize attorneys general to conduct investigations into local law enforcement to bring to light any persistent patterns of misconduct within a given police department. State-based pattern-or-practice investigations — which critically involve both community members and police officers — have proved successful. If states don’t do that, Congress should make it possible for attorneys general to rely on federal authority to conduct these investigations.”

“City councils and county boards must support reform-minded law enforcement leaders and, if necessary, use the power of the purse to compel reform by directing money toward progressive training and holding leadership accountable for outcomes. We must also recognize that, too often, we ask police officers to solve problems they are neither trained nor intended to solve. We must provide people in crisis with comprehensive social services that law enforcement cannot provide, and we must also support officer wellness.”

“Law enforcement must act.”

“Police leadership must be empowered to take meaningful action. Rather than punishing good officers who call out their colleagues’ bad behavior, as sometimes occurs, police departments should celebrate them and commend their service.”

“The Chauvin trial produced some remarkable, even astonishing, moments, with multiple police officers testifying for the prosecution, and with the police chief, in full uniform, testifying that the defendant’s behavior was not a reasonable use of force in line with department policy. Such testimony should become commonplace, not remain a rarity.”’

“This isn’t about creating a culture of ‘snitching” — it’s about creating a culture of accountability that sets and enforces clear professional standards that protect both police officers and community members.”

“Finally, communities must act.”

“It is imperative that communities keep up the pressure for reform and accountability, and finally end the cycle of inaction. My office could not have led the prosecution of Chauvin without the help of ordinary people who courageously bore witness to Floyd’s death, and the pressure from a community that demanded accountability and action.”

President Joe Biden. At the White House on June 25, President Biden responded to a reporter’s question about the sentencing with this comment: “I don’t know all the circumstances that were considered but it seems to me, under the guidelines, that seems to be appropriate.”

Washington Post Editorial. An editorial in the Washington Post said Chauvin’s conviction and sentencing “should bring a measure of satisfaction that justice was served and assure Americans that the system is not hopelessly broken.”

But more broadly , “Policing in the United States could be more effective and less threatening to minority communities. Officers who commit wrongdoings could face more certain punishments. Floyd’s death last spring appeared to spur a reckoning on U.S. policing, but that momentum has slowed in recent months.”

For example, a bipartisan criminal justice reform bill so far has failed to pass in the U.S. Congress. The House of Representatives in March passed a sweeping police reform bill, but Republican opposition in the Senate appears to doom that bill.

Experts’ Reactions. Although the Chauvin case could lead to better police hiring and training, more trust between police and communities and make the public and future jurors more reception to complaints about police interactions with minorities, this case “ doesn’t address deep-rooted issues of race and violence affecting police interactions with minorities [and does not] . . . result in charges or convictions against officers, according to Sheila A.Bedi, a professor at Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law, Director of its Community Justice & Civil Rights Clinic and an attorney in use-of-force lawsuits against the Chicago Police Department.

Another professor of criminal justice, Philip Stinson of Bowling Green State University, pointed out that since 2005 only 11 non-federal law officers, including Chauvin, have been convicted of murder for on-duty conduct, the nine who were sentenced before Chauvin received sentences ranging from six years to life behind bars with the median being 15 years.

Floyd Family Attorney’s Reaction. Ben Crump, the attorney for the Floyd family, called for a federal conviction of Chauvin that might lead to a longer sentence.

Conclusion

We now wait to see the results of any appeal of this conviction and sentencing by Chauvin; the results of the August trial of the other three ex-officers in state court and any subsequent appeals; developments in the federal court criminal cases against the four ex-policemen; and the details of any guilty plea agreements by any or all of the four men.[6]

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[1] Sentencing Order and Memorandum Opinion, State v. Chauvin, Hennepin County District Court, Dist. Ct. , File No. 27-CR-20-12646 (June 25, 2021); Derek Chauvin Trial:  Week Seven (Conviction), dwkcommentaries.com (April 21, 2021).

[2] Ibid; Derek Chauvin Trial: Week Four, dwkcommentaries.com (April 2, 2021). Derek Chauvin Trial: Court finds Aggravating Factors for Sentencing, dwkcommentaries.com (May 12, 2021); Derek Chauvin Trial: Arguments About Sentencing of Chauvin, dwkcommentaries.com (June 7, 2021); Derek Chauvin Trial: Issues for Sentencing, dwkcommentaries.com (June 18, 2021);

[3] Olson, Xioing & Walsh, Chauvin Sentenced to 22 ½ years for the murder of George Floyd, StarTribune (June 26, 2021).

[4] State v. Chauvin, Hennepin County District Court, Dist. Ct. File 27-CR-20-12646 (June 24, 2021); AP. Judge rejects Chauvin request for new trial in Floyd death, Wash. Post (June 25, 2021); Xiong, Former officer Derek Chauvin faces sentencing Friday afternoon; judge denies defense motion for new trial, StarTribune (June 25, 2021); Derek Chauvin Trial: Defendant’s Motion for New Trial and Impeachment of Verdict, dwkcommentaries.com (May 5 2021).

[5]  Ellison, Opinion: Derek Chauvin is going to prison. Let this be a turning point, Wash. Post (June 26, 2021); Goodnough, Biden calls long prison sentence for Derek Chauvin ‘appropriate,’ N.Y. Times (June 25, 2021); Editorial, Opinion: Derek Chauvin is headed to prison. But that is not enough, Wash. Post (June 25, 2021); Webber (AP), Experts: Impact of Chauvin case on policing yet to be seen, Wash. Post (June 26, 2021); Assoc. Press, Floyd family lawyer calls for federal conviction for Chauvin, Wash. Post (June 25, 2021).

[6] This blog has covered all of the details in these cases and intends to continue doing so. (See List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: George Floyd Killing.

Derek Chauvin Trial: Issues for Sentencing of Derek Chauvin 

June 25 is the scheduled date for the Hennepin County District Court hearing on the sentencing of Derek Chauvin for his conviction for second-degree and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter of George Floyd.

Already the State and Chauvin have submitted briefs calling for vastly different sentences. The State argued for 30 years imprisonment while Chauvin asked for time already served and probation. This blog already has opined that the State’s argument is persuasive given the court’s prior determination that there were four factors favoring upward sentencing departure and that Chauvin’s argument was ridiculous.[1]

Now we examine Chauvin’s arguments for a new trial and impeaching the jury verdict and the opposing arguments from the State.[2]

Arguments for and Against New Trial

Chauvin’s 42 pages of arguments for a new trial reiterate motions and arguments made and rejected by the court before and during trial: pretrial publicity, change of venue, continuance or new trial, sequestration of the jury, and alleged prosecutorial misconduct. The first 54 pages of the State’s June 16th Memorandum provide exacting details on why this Chauvin argument is not meritorious.

Arguments for and Against  Schwartz Hearing

The last 11 pages of Chauvin’s brief set forth alleged acts of juror misconduct that purportedly justify a hearing to investigate alleged misconduct by two jurors: Juror 96 (Lisa Christiansen), who was an alternate released from jury duty prior to the jury’s consideration of the evidence and deliberation and Juror 52 (Brandon Mitchell).

The State, however, says these claims “are a desperate attempt to escape a lawful verdict, are barred by the law, and not supported by the facts” and should be rejected. (State’s Memorandum at 55-77.)

First, this motion cannot be granted for anything Ms. Christianson did because she was an alternate and excused by the court before the jury heard any evidence and deliberated in reaching a verdict. Moreover, she was truthful in responding to defense counsel’s questions during voir dire. (State’s Memorandum at 75-77.)

Second, Juror 52 (Brandon Mitchell) did serve on the jury and after the conclusion of the trial made public statements about the trial and the jury’s deliberations. Although such statements cannot be considered by the court on such a motion, they reveal that the jury carefully followed the court’s instructions and properly considered only the evidence, that they carefully deliberated after a preliminary vote with each juror expressing why he or she came to a conclusion of guilty on all counts.

Moreover, Mitchell in his written responses to over 69 written questions by the court and nearly 45 minutes of responding to defense counsel’s questions “extensively detailed his pre-existing views on a range of issues, including a “highly favorable opinion” of Black Lives Matter, and his prior impression of the case.

Conclusion

For the foregoing reasons, this blogger believes that the court should reject Chauvin’s motions and impose a sentence of 30 years imprisonment.

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[1] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Derek Chauvin Trial: Week Seven (Conviction) (April 21, 2021); Derek Chauvin Trial: Court Finds Aggravating Factors for Sentencing (May 12, 2021); Derek Chauvin Trial: Arguments About Sentencing of Chauvin (June 7, 2021).

[2] Defendant’s Notice of Motions and Post-Verdict Motions, State v.  Chauvin. Hennepin County District Court, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12646 (May 4, 2021); Memorandum of Law in Support of Defendant’s Post-Verdict Motion, State v. Chauvin. Hennepin County District Court., Court File No. 27-CR-20-12646 (June 2, 2021); State’s Memorandum in Opposition to Defendant’s Post-Verdict Motions, State v..Chauvin. Hennepin County District Court, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12646 (June 16, 2021); Forliti (AP). Prosecutors: New trial not merited for ex-cop in Floyd death, Wash. Post (June 16, 2021)

 

More Honors for Darnella Frazier

As is now widely known, on May 25, 2020, Darnella Frazier, a 17-year-old high school student happened to be at the  Minneapolis corner of 38th  and Chicago Avenue and observed Minneapolis policemen restrain a Black man on the street pavement by a police car. She had the presence of mind and courage to get out her cell phone and make a video recording of what turned out to be the last minutes of George Floyd’s life.[1]

For these actions in 2020 she received the PEN/Benenson Courage Award from PEN America. [2]

On May 25, 2021, the first anniversary of the death of Mr. Floyd, she penned a beautiful tribute to him on FACEBOOK that subsequently was movingly read on MSNBC by Caroline Randall Williams, an award-winning poet, young adult novelist, cookbook author and the Writer-in-Residence of Medicine, Health and Society at Vanderbilt University.[3]

On June 11, 2021, she received another award for her judgment and courage. This was a special Pulitzer Prize that recognized her for “courageously reporting the murder of George Floyd, a video that spurred protests against police brutality, around the world, highlighting the crucial role of citizens in journalists’ quest for truth and justice.”  In announcing this award, Mindy Marques Gonzalez, the co-chair of the Pulitzer Board, said this video was “transformative” and “jolted viewers and spurred protests against police brutality around the world.” [4]

This Pulitzer award was applauded by Roy Peter Clark, a senior scholar at the Poynter Institute and a five-time Pulitzer winner himself. He said, “”There she was, at 17, sort of witnessing an injustice and she stood there in the face of threats and captured that video. It would be hard to select, even from the work of professional journalists over recent years or decades, a 10-minute video that had as profound an impact as this young woman’s video did.”

On June 24, 2021, Ms.Frazier will receive the Human Rights Defender Award from the Minneapolis-based Advocates for Human Rights. The initial announcement of this award stated she “bravely documented the murder of George Floyd. Her quick thinking sparked a worldwide reckoning with systemic racism and police violence.”[5]

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[1] Witnessing, dwkcommentaries.com (April 26, 2021).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Darnella Frazier’s Continued Witnessing, dwkcommentaries.com (May 26, 2021).

[4] Columbia University, 2021 Pulitzer Prize Winners (June 11, 2021); Forliti (AP),Teen who recorded Floyd’s arrest, death, wins Pulitzer nod, Wash. Post (June 11, 2021); Hill (AP), Pulitzers honor coronavirus pandemic, US protest coverage, Wash. Post (June 11, 2021); Izadi, Darnella Frazier, the teen who filmed George Floyd’s murder, awarded a citation, Wash. Post (June 11, 2021).

[5] Advocates for Human Rights, 2021 Virtual Human Rights Awards Dinner.

Minnesota Supreme Court Hears Argument About Scope of Third-Degree Murder Statute

On June 9, the Minnesota Supreme Court heard arguments about the scope of Minnesota’s third-degree murder statute, which provides as follows:

”Whoever, without intent to effect the death of any person, causes the death of another by perpetrating an act eminently dangerous to others and evincing a depraved mind, without regard for human life, is guilty of murder in the third degree and may be sentenced to imprisonment for not more than 25 years.” (Minn. Stat. sec. 609.195 (a).)

These arguments were in the appeal of Mohamed Noor, a former Minneapolis policeman, for his conviction of that crime for the killing in 2017 of  Justine Damond in south Minneapolis and sentenced for same to 12.5 years in prison. The central issue of this appeal was whether this statute applied to a defendant whose actions were directed at only one, specific person.[1]

Noor’s attorney, Caitlinrose Fisher, argued that the statute’s language as well as case law “requires that a defendant’s actions must be directed at more than one person”  and that this law was meant only for such indiscriminate killings.

The prosecutor for Hennepin County, Jean Burdorf, however, argued that nearly all killings by police officers are directed at a specific person and if this statute is interpreted not to apply to such killings, then there could be no such prosecutions under this statute. Noor’s attorney basically agreed, saying, “’It would be very hard to imagine’ that an officer’s “split-second reaction to a perceived threat” would count as a ‘depraved-mind murder.”

Fisher, however, added that other charges, such as manslaughter, could be appropriate in some such cases and that Noor was not contesting his conviction for second-degree manslaughter and urged the Supreme Court to remand the case to the trial court for resentencing on that count with a likely sentence of four years.

The Supreme Court’s decision in this case is directly on point to Derek Chauvin’s conviction for third-degree murder of George Floyd even though his actions were directed at only one individual, namely George Floyd. [2]

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[1] Karnowski (AP), Minnesota 3d-degree murder law at issue in ex-cop’s appeal, StarTribune (June 9, 2021); Killing of Justine Damond, Wikipedia.

[2] Karnowski (AP), EXPlAINER: Noor ruling could have impact for other ex-cops, StarTribune (June 9, 2021).

 

 

Derek Chauvin Trial: Arguments About Sentencing of Chauvin

On June 2, the State and Derek Chauvin submitted vastly different briefs about the appropriate sentence for his conviction for second- and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The State argued for 30 years imprisonment while Chauvin asked for time already served and probation. [1]

The State’s Argument for 30 Year Sentence  [2]

The State’s argument for a 30-year sentence was based upon the trial court’s already having decided that there are “beyond a reasonable doubt” four separate aggravating factors in  Chauvin’s] killing of George Floyd: () Chauvin “abused a position of trust and authority” as a police officer; (2) he “treated George Floyd “with particular cruelty;” (3) Chauvin “acted in concert with three other  .. . [officers], who all actively participated in the creimes;” and (4) children were present when Floyd was pinned to the pavement at 38th and Chicago for more than 9 minutes until he died. (Pp. 1-2.)

In reliance upon Minnesota Supreme Court decisions, the State argued that “each of these factors supplies a “substantial and compelling reason’ for imposing an aggravated sentence” and that “where one or more aggravating factors are present, the district court can impose a sentence up to ‘double the upper limit of the presumptive range.’” This is especially true in this case when the court has concluded that Chauvin’s abuse of his position of trust and authority was “egregious and that multiple aspects of his conduct were ‘particularly cruel.” (Pp. 1-2.)

Here, the “presumptive sentencing range . . . [for Chauvin’s] conviction for . . . second-degree unintentional murder, [which is the  most serious of the crimes for which Chauvin was convicted] is 128 to 180 months. The State therefore respectfully request that the court sentence . . . [Chauvin] to 360 months, or 30 years, in prison.” (P. 3.)

In addition, the State took no position “at this time” on the recommendation in the pre-sentence investigation report that Chauvin pay restitution in an amount to be determined by the Court, but reserved the right to address restitution at the sentencing hearing or thereafter. (P. 21, footnote 7.).

Chauvin’s Argument for Mitigated Departure  and Sentencing [3]

First, Chauvin argued for a discretionary downward departure and a sentence for a “stringent probationary term.” This departure purportedly was justified by the following alleged facts (pp. 4-10):

  • Chauvin was 44 years old at the time of his encounter with George Floyd and his having led “a hard-working, law-abiding life . . .[his not having experienced] a legal issue,  [his still having] the ability to positively affect his family and his community” and the likelihood as a former police officer of his  “becoming a target in prison” by other inmates.
  • “Chauvin has a criminal history of zero [with] no previous convictions for felony, gross misdemeanor, or misdemeanor offenses.” Moreover, “prior to his conviction, [he] complied with all the terms of the Court’s release orders and made every court appearance.”
  • ”Chauvin has been very respectful of the judicial process, the Court, and the State;” upon learning that a complaint and warrant had been issued for him, he turned himself into custody; [after being released on bail, he] remained out-of-custody, attended all court appearances, was never unruly, was properly dressed for court, and was deferential to the Court under all circumstances.” He thereby “established that he is particularly amenable to probation.”
  • Before “this incident” occurred, Chauvin was an average man with a loving family and close friends, and he still has such close relationships. “He has the support of his mother, stepfather, father, stepmother, and sister [and his] ex-wife, her family and his former stepchildren.”
  • Chauvin has demonstrated that he is amenable to probation and will be an asset to the community.

Second, these same alleged facts also support Chauvin’s alternative request for a  durational  downward departure for his sentence as do the following additional factors (Pp. 10-12):

  • “Chauvin was unaware that he was even committing a crime.[ Instead,] in his mind, he was simply performing his lawful duty in assisting other officers in the arrest of George Floyd.” Chauvin’s “offense is best described as an error made in good faith reliance [on] his experience as a police officer and the training he had received—not intentional commission of an illegal act.”
  • Chauvin did not use “a dangerous weapon” and “did not intend to cause George Floyd’s death.”

Third, Chauvin argued that an aggravated upward departure was unwarranted for the following reasons (pp. 12-16):

  • “There is no evidence that the assault perpetrated by Mr. Chauvin against Mr. Floyd involved a gratuitous infliction of pain or cruelty not usually associated with the commission of such an offense.” This assault “occurred in the course of a very short time, involved no threats or taunting, such as putting a gun to his head and pulling the trigger. . . and ended when EMS finally responded to officers’’ calls.”
  • The officers twice called for medical assistance and Chauvin remained on scene until it arrived.
  • “The defense is aware of no caselaw in Minnesota . . in which a peace officer’s position has been considered an aggravating factor for an upward departure in sentencing.”
  • None of the codefendants has been convicted of a crime related to the crimes of which Chauvin has been convicted.
  • “The defense is unaware of any case in Minnesota in which the presence of children factor has been considered in a bystander-witness situation where the children, themselves, were not placed in danger.”

Conclusion

 The State’s argument for a 30-year sentence was persuasive, given the court’s prior determination that there were four factors favoring upward sentencing departure.

Chauvin’s argument, on the other hand, was ridiculous in claiming the right to probation or downward departure in the length of any sentenced imprisonment, given the trial record and his conviction of all three counts by a jury.  Here are some additional reasons for that reaction.

First, Chauvin did not testify at trial, and there were no purported evidentiary bases asserted for his sentencing argument.

Second, many people who were interviewed about Chauvin by the New York Times said Chauvin “did his job as if he were playing a role—a tough Dirty Harry on the lookout for bad guys … [and] seemed to operate at an emotional distance from those around him. [He] was a quiet and rigid workaholic with poor people skills and a tendency to overreact—with intoxicated people especially .” [4]

Third, Chauvin ‘s record as a MPD policeman for 19 years includes 22 complaints that many people believe should have raised alarm in the MPD and triggered a general review.[5]

Fourth, In the state criminal case, in which the jury concluded that Chauvin was guilty of all three charges—second- and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter–the prosecution requested court permission for admitting into evidence eight of the previous MPD complaints against Chauvin for his actions as a policeman, and the court granted permission for evidence of one such incident on June 25, 2017 and provisional permission for another on August 25, 2015 if there was “clear and convincing evidence that Chauvin was present when a medical professional made certain remarks.” [6]

Fifth, the previously mentioned June 25, 2017 MPD complaint against Chauvin recently has been asserted in a separate federal grand jury indictment of Chauvin in the Minneapolis federal court. It alleges that in this instance Chauvin deprived a 14-year-old boy of his civil rights by pinning him down, striking him on the head with Chauvin’s flashlight and grabbing him by the throat and hitting him again.[7]

Sixth, another troublesome Chauvin incident that took place only three weeks before the killing of George Floyd was his takedown of another Black man (Adrian Drakeford) in a manner very similar to the takedown of Floyd that was videotaped by the man’s brother. Drakeford was not involved in any suspected crime and was released without charges and without any complaint against Chauvin and his colleagues (J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane). [8]

Seventh, the Floyd family’s complaint in a federal-court civil lawsuit for money damages against the City of Minneapolis, Chauvin (and his three colleagues) alleged that Chauvin was the subject of 17 citizen complaints from 2006 to 2015, that Chauvin as a policeman participated in the shooting and killing of three individuals and in 2005 engaged in a reckless police chase resulting in the deaths of three individuals. On March 12, 2021, in the midst of the state court trial of Chauvin, the City of Minneapolis announced its agreement to settle this case with a payment of $27 million to the Floyd family.[9]

Eighth, only a few days after Mr. Floyd’s death, Chauvin and his then-wife reached an agreement for divorce that would transfer the bulk of his assets to her and thereby presumably protect those assets from any attempt by the Floyd family to seize them to collect a future money judgment against Chauvin.  However, a Minnesota state court found that divorce agreement to be fraudulent and that the court subsequently subsequently approved that agreement only after there were major changes. This interpretation of the proposed divorce agreement is also supported by Chauvin’s claim in his sentencing brief that he “is still supported by his ex-wife, her family, and his former stepchildren.”([10]

Ninth, Chauvin and his-then wife in July 2020 were charged with criminal tax fraud by the State of Minnesota for failure to report over $460,000 of Minnesota income since 2014 resulting in illegal failure to pay over $20,000 of Minnesota taxes. [11]

======================

[1] Xiong, Chauvin attorney argues for probation instead of prison time for George Floyd murder, StarTribune (June 2, 2021); Forliti (AP), State seeks 30 years for Chauvin; defense want time served, Wash. Post (June 2, 2021).

[2] State’s Memorandum of Law on Sentencing, State v. Chauvin, Hennepin County District Court File No.: 27-CR-20-12646 (June 2, 2021); Derek Chauvin Trial: Court Finds Aggravating Factors for Sentencing, dwkcommentaries.com (May 12, 2021).

[3] Defendant’s Motions for Mitigated Departure and Sentencing Memorandum, State v. Chauvin, Hennepin County District Court File No.: 27-CR-20-12646 (June 2, 2021).

[4]  See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Ex-Cop Derek Chauvin: An Enigma in Blue (Aug. 9, 2020); Derek Chauvin’s Policing Background (July 20, 2021); Comment: Journalist’s Report on Derek Chauvin’s Prior Instances of Alleged Abuses (Feb. 2, 2021); https://dwkcommentaries.com/2020/07/20/derek-chauvins-policing-background/Comment: Video of Another Chauvin-Led Takedown of Black Man (Feb. 9, 2021).

[5]  See n. 4.

[6] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Evidentiary Rulings and Request for Delay in Chauvin’s Expert Report in George Floyd Criminal Cases (Jan. 26, 2021); Comment: Journalist’s Report on Derek Chauvin’s Prior Incidents of Alleged Abuses (Feb. 2, 2021).

[7] Federal Court Charges Against Ex-Minneapolis Policemen Over George Floyd’s Killing, dwkcommentaries.com (May 7, 2021).

[8]  Comment: Video of Another Chauvin-Led Takedown of Black Man, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 3, 2021).

[9]  See thees posts to dwkcommentaries.com: George Floyd Family’s Complaint Against the Four Ex-Police Officers Over His Death, (July 17, 2020); Derek Chauvin Trial: Week One, (Mar. 15, 2021); Derek Chauvin Trial: Week Two, (Mar. 21, 2021).

[10] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Derek Chauvin’s Wife’s Divorce Petition Raises Questions, (July 8, 2020);  State Court Rejects Chauvin Divorce Settlement,(Nov. 20, 2020); Complications in Derek Chauvin’s Divorce Case,(January 20, 2021); Comment: Court Approves Redacted Chauvin Divorce Agreement, (Feb. 4, 2021)

[11]  Chauvin and Wife Now Charged with Minnesota Tax Crimes, dwkcommentaries.com (July 22, 2020).

 

 

Federal Criminal Cases Against Ex-Minneapolis Cops for George Floyd Death: Initial Proceedings

On May 6, 2021, the U.S. Department of Justice filed in the U.S. District Court in Minneapolis an indictment over the killing of George Floyd on May 25, 2020 against four former Minneapolis policemen (Derek Chauvin, Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Kiernan Lane).

On the same date the Department filed a separate Indictment against Derek Chauvin over his alleged use  of unreasonable force against a juvenile in 2017.

The Indictment Over the Death of George Floyd [1]

The Indictment against all four former Minneapolis policemen asserted the following three counts:

  • Count 1 charged Derek Chauvin, “while acting under color of law . . . willfully deprived George Floyd of the right, secured and protected by the Constitution and laws of the United States, to be free from an unreasonable seizure, which includes the right to be free from the use of unreasonable force by a police officer.”
  • Count 2 charged Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng, “acting under color of law, willfully deprived George Floyd of the right, secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States, to be free from an unreasonable seizure . . . [by failing] to intervene to stop . . . Chauvin’s use of unreasonable force.”
  • Count 3 charged all four defendants, “while acting under color of law, willfully deprived George Floyd of the right, secured and protected by the Constitution and laws of the United States, not to be deprived of liberty without due process of law, which includes an arrestee’s right to be free from a police officer’s deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs [when they saw ] George Floyd lying on the ground in clear need of medical care, and willfully failed to aid Floyd, thereby acting with deliberate indifference to a substantial risk of harm to Floyd.”

Initial Hearing of Thao, Kueng and Lane [2]

On May 7, three of the defendants (Thao, Kueng and Lane), who were free on bail in the state criminal case, made their first appearance before U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson, who issued three separate Orders Setting Conditions of Release that included a $25,000 appearance bond and submission to, and cooperation with, a Pretrial Services interview.

Separate Indictment of Chauvin [3]

This Indictment charged Chauvin with two counts for allegedly willfully depriving a 14-year-old Minneapolis boy of his civil rights during a 2017 arrest. Chauvin allegedly pinned the teenager down and struck him on the head with his flashlight, then grabbed him by the throat and hit him again. The second count alleged that Chauvin held his knee on the neck and upper back of the juvenile while he was lying prone, handcuffed and unresisting.

Initial Hearing for Chauvin [4]

On June 1, Chauvin appeared remotely from a state prison before U.S. Magistrate Becky Thomson. She appointed Erik Nelson, who represented Chauvin in the state trial resulting in his conviction, to act as Chauvin’s defense  attorney. In response to a question whether Chauvin knew he had a right to a federal detention hearing, he said,  “I do know. [but] probably in light of my current circumstances, I believe that would be a moot point.” He then waived his right to a detention hearing and was remanded to federal custody in the state prison

=====================================

[1] Federal Court Charges Against Ex-Minneapolis Policemen Over George Floyd’s Killing, dwkcommentaries.com (May 7, 2021); Indictment, U.S. v. Chauvin, Thao, Kueng and Lane, U.S. District Court, District of Minnesota (CR. 21-108 PAM/TNL (May 6, 2021;

[2] Order Setting Conditions of Release, U.S. v. Thao, U.S. District Court, District of Minnesota (CR. 21-108-002 PAM/TNL (May 6, 2021); Order Setting Conditions of Release, U.S. v. Kueng,, U.S. District Court, District of Minnesota (CR. 21-108-003 PAM/TNL (May 6, 2021); Order Setting Conditions of Release, U.S. v. Lane, U.S. District Court, District of Minnesota (CR. 21-108-004 PAM/TNL (May 6, 2021).

[3] Indictment, U.S. v. Chauvin, U.S. District Court, District of Minnesota (CR. 21-109 WMW/HB, May 6, 2021).

[4] Mannix, Derek Chauvin appears before federal judge on civil rights charges, StarTribune (June 1, 2021); Forliti (AP), Chauvin makes appearance on federal charges in Floyd’s death, Wash. Post (June 1, 2021).

 

Darnella Frazier’s Continued Witnessing    

Darnella Frazier was the 17-year-old woman who had the wisdom and courage to use her smart phone to record the last 9:29 minutes of George Floyd’s life on May 25, 2020. That video was a key piece of evidence in the trial and conviction of Derek Chauvin this April for second and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter of Mr. Floyd. [1]

On the first anniversary of that horrible murder, Ms. Frazier continued her witnessing by making the following post on FACEBOOK:

Frazier’s Anniversary Statement [2]

“A year ago, today I witnessed a murder. The victim’s name was George Floyd. Although this wasn’t the first time, I’ve seen a black man get killed at the hands of the police, this is the first time I witnessed it happen in front of me. Right in front of my eyes, a few feet away. I didn’t know this man from a can of paint, but I knew his life mattered. I knew that he was in pain. I knew that he was another black man in danger with no power.’

“I was only 17 at the time, just a normal day for me walking my 9-year-old cousin to the corner store, not even prepared for what I was about to see, not even knowing my life was going to change on this exact day in those exact moments… it did. It changed me.”

“It changed how I viewed life. It made me realize how dangerous it is to be Black in America. We shouldn’t have to walk on eggshells around police officers, the same people that are supposed to protect and serve. We are looked at as thugs, animals, and criminals, all because of the color of our skin.”

“Why are Black people the only ones viewed this way when every race has some type of wrongdoing? None of us are to judge. We are all human.”

“I am 18 now and I still hold the weight and trauma of what I witnessed a year ago. It’s a little easier now, but I’m not who I used to be. A part of my childhood was taken from me. My 9-year-old cousin who witnessed the same thing I did got a part of her childhood taken from her. Having to up and leave because my home was no longer safe, waking up to reporters at my door, closing my eyes at night only to see a man who is brown like me, lifeless on the ground. I couldn’t sleep properly for weeks. I used to shake so bad at night my mom had to rock me to sleep. Hopping from hotel to hotel because we didn’t have a home and looking over our back every day in the process. Having panic and anxiety attacks every time I see a police car, not knowing who to trust because a lot of people are evil with bad intentions. I hold that weight.”

“A lot of people call me a hero even though I don’t see myself as one. I was just in the right place at the right time. Behind this smile, behind these awards, behind the publicity, I’m a girl trying to heal from something I am reminded of every day. Everyone talks about the girl who recorded George Floyd‘s death, but to actually be her is a different story.”

“Not only did this affect me, my family too. We all experienced change. My mom the most. I strive every day to be strong for her because she was strong for me when I couldn’t be strong for myself.”

“ Even though this was a traumatic life-changing experience for me, I’m proud of myself. If it weren’t for my video, the world wouldn’t have known the truth. I own that. My video didn’t save George Floyd, but it put his murderer away and off the streets. You can view George Floyd anyway you choose to view him, despite his past, because don’t we all have one? He was a loved one, someone’s son, someone’s father, someone’s brother, and someone’s friend.”

“We the people won’t take the blame, you won’t keep pointing fingers at us as if it’s our fault, as if we are criminals.”

“ I don’t think people understand how serious death is…that person is never coming back. These officers shouldn’t get to decide if someone gets to live or not. It’s time these officers start getting held accountable. Murdering people and abusing your power while doing it is not doing your job. It shouldn’t have to take people to actually go through something to understand it’s not ok. It’s called having a heart and understanding right from wrong.”

“George Floyd, I can’t express enough how I wish things could have went different, but I want you to know you will always be in my heart. I’ll always remember this day because of you. May your soul rest in peace. May you rest in the most beautiful roses. “

Conclusion [3]

Later that same day, Frazier’s anniversary essay was beautifully read on MSNBC by Caroline Randall Williams, an award-winning poet, young adult novelist and cookbook author. She is the Writer-in-Residence of Medicine, Health and Society at Vanderbilt University and the great granddaughter of Anna Bontemps, the African-American poet, novelist and noted member of the Harlem Renaissance, and the granddaughter of Avon Willima, a Nashville attorney and key leader of that city’s civil rights movement. Another ancestor is her great-great-grandfather: Edmund Pettus, U.S. Senator from Alabama, senior officer of the Confederate States Army and grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, for whom the infamous Edmund Pettus Bridge in Alabama is named. Williams  has said that“the black people I come from were owned and raped by the white people I come from.”

As Michelle Norris, a Washington Post columnist, Minnesota native and graduate of the University of Minnesota, stated, Frazier “was the witness George Floyd needed on May 25, 2020. She was the witness we all needed—the public, the police, a country still grappling with racial codes that are stitched into the fabric of our governing institutions. She is the hero of this story.”

Moreover, said Norris, Frazier’s “bravery is a reminder that we too must not look away, and not just in the most wicked moments of bias but also in the small things that grease the runway toward larger prejudice. We must not look away when we see the softer kind of oppression that masks itself in offhand comments, and jokes, and the denigration and dismissal of ‘those people.’

=============================

[1] Witnessing, dwkcommentaries.com (April 25, 2021); Derek Chauvin Trial: Week Seven (CONVICTION), dwkcommentaries.com (April 21, 2021).

[2] Frazier, 1 year anniversary, FACEBOOK (May 25, 2021); Del Rio, Darnella Frazier, the teenager who recorded George Floyd’s murder, speaks out, N.Y. Times (May 25, 2021); Knowles, Teen speaks out a year after filming George Floyd’s death, saying her video’’put his murderer away,’ Wash. Post (May 25, 2021).

[3] Caroline Randall Williams reads Darnella Frazier’s statement on the anniversary of George Floyd ‘s murder, MSNBC (May 25, 2021); Caroline Randall Williams;

Caroline Randall Williams, Wikipedia.

 

 

Developments in State’s Prosecution of Ex-Officers for Aiding and abetting the Killing of George Floyd   

As noted in a prior post, on May 12, attorneys for Tou Thao filed a motion for sanctions for alleged prosecutorial misconduct, and on May 20, the State submitted a blistering opposition to that motion. Also on May 20, the Minnesota Court of Appeals heard arguments in the State’s appeal of the trial court’s denial of its motion to add a charge of aiding and abetting third-degree murder against the other three ex-officers.

Thao’s  Motion [1]

The basis for this motion was the State’s allegedly (a) having Dr. Roger Mitchell, a former Chief Medical Examiner for Washington, D.C., pressure Dr. Andrew Baker, the Hennepin County Medical Examiner, to change his preliminary findings of “no physical findings [supporting] a diagnosis of traumatic asphyxia or strangulation” to the final findings of “neck compression;” and (b) after Chauvin’s chief medical expert (Dr. Fowler) testified that in his opinion the cause of death was undetermined, Dr. Mitchell wrote to Maryland officials to investigate Dr. Fowler’s qualifications and such an investigation was commenced by the Maryland Attorney General.

On that basis the motion requested an order (a) dismissing the criminal charges against Thao; (b) barring seven attorneys (Including Attorney General Ellison and Neal Katyal) from participating in any trial against Thao; (c) asserting complaints about these attorneys to their professional responsibility authorities; and (d) requiring the State to report Dr. Mitchell to the appropriate medical boards.

On the same day of the motion, the State submitted a short letter to the Court from Minnesota Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank saying that this motion asserted, “Bizarre allegations . . . [that] are false and wrong.”

A more detailed and fierce response from the State was filed on May 20. It asserted that this “motion is another bad-faith attempt by Defendant Thao to debase the State, disqualify members of the prosecution team, and divert attention from his role in the death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020. . . .These preposterous accusations are simply false, and . . .Thao does not even offer a shred of evidence to support this baseless conspiracy theory. If anything, the very facts . . . Thao offers [the sworn testimony of Dr. Baker]disprove the accusations he makes.”

“The State also cannot, and did not, control or influence the response to Dr. Fowler’s public testimony from the medical community at large . . . . [Over 400] medical professionals found Dr. Fowler’s testimony to be so contrary to accepted medical standards that they publicly expressed concern about the credibility of Dr. Fowler’s work. . . .[This] is evidence against, not for, the wild accusations of defense counsel.”

Thao’s attorney “has launched a frivolous motion practice campaign to unfairly prejudice the prosecution in the public domain, replete with gratuitous and unfounded personal attacks on the prosecution. To make false accusations of coercion against the State n an attempt to tarnish professional reputation, taint the jury pool, and advance Defendant’s interest in the public eye is beyond the pale.”

Therefore, argued the State, “the court should summarily deny ]this motion} . . .and remind defense counsel of his obligation to refrain from frivolous motion practice.”

Appellate Argument Over Aiding and Abetting Third-Degree Murder [2]

On May 20, the Minnesota Court of Appeals heard arguments in a pending appeal by the State over whether or not the three co-defendants (Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao) could be charged with aiding and abetting third-degree murder of George Floyd.

Neal Katyal for the State argued that this appellate court already had decided that a charge of third-degree murder was viable against Derek Chauvin, for which he was convicted in April, and that appellate decision “should settle the [issue for the other three defendants].

For the three co-defendants attorney Deborah Ellis argued that it was legally impossible for them to be charged with aiding and abetting third-degree murder because that is an unintentional act and relies on a defendant’s reckless state of mine, but aiding and abetting must be intentional. This, she argued, required the principal actor and the accomplice to be of the same mindset.

One of the three appellate judges, Judge Renee Worke, said this was a “novel” argument while Attorney Katyal said this argument was just wrong. A defendant and aids a crime of recklessness if he intentionally assist in the reckless act, knowing it is reckless. Moreover, the State could just charge the three co-defendants as principal actors.

===========================================

 

[1] See Developments in State Criminal Cases for George Floyd Killing, dwkcommentaries.com (May 13, 2021); State’s Response to Defendant Thao’s Motion for Sanctions Regarding Alleged Witness Coercion, State v. Thao, Hennepin County District Court, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12949 (May 20, 2021); Olson, Prosecutors deny defense claim that medical examiner’s opinion in George Floyd’s death was coerced, StarTribune (May 20, 2021).

[2] Forlit (AP), Appeals court hears case of 3 ex-cops charged in Floyd death, StarTribune (May 20, 2021).

Developments in State Criminal Cases for George Floyd Killing

 There have been four recent developments in the state criminal cases over the killing of George Floyd: (a) the state trial court’s delaying the criminal trial of the other three defendants (Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao); (b) conducting a hearing on Lane’s motion for discovery of certain use-of-force reports by the Minneapolis Police Department; (c) conducting a hearing on motions for sanctions for alleged leak of alleged Chauvin offer to plead guilty; and (d) Thao’s motion for sanctions for alleged illegal pressure on Hennepin County Medical Examiner.

Delay of Trial [1]

At the May 13 pretrial hearing in the three cases, Judge Peter Cahill announced that the trial would be delayed from August 25, 2021 to March 7, 2022. The Judge gave three reasons for this postponement: (a) provide time for the Judge to deal with pending issues in the cases; (b) provide time for the recently filed federal criminal case against all four ex-officers to proceed since it carries higher potential penalties; [2] and (c) provide time for the publicity about the trial and conviction of Derek Chauvin to diminish.

The three defendants favored the postponement. The State did not .

Nekima Levy Armstrong, a lawyer and prominent civil rights activist in Minneapolis, did not approve of this postponement. She said, “I think we they should have just moved forward. I don’t think it helps our community in a positive way to have to wait about another year.”

Lane’s Motion for Discovery [3]

Previously Lane had requested the State to disclose all use-of-force reports for the last 30 years in which a Minneapolis police officer intervened verbally or physically against another officer’s use of force and the State objected. Lane’s attorney believes there are no such reports and thus discredit the aiding and abetting charges against Lane (and the other two ex-officers )for not intervening to stop Chauvin’s restraint of George Floyd.

Matthew Frank for the State argued that the request was overly broad and should be denied. ts brief stated, that Lane had “not established how the intentions and actions of individual police officers in past years in other incidents would be admissible to impeach testimony about the objectively reasonable officer standard. His failure to address the factual or legal standards necessary to this motion highlight that this is not a serious discovery motion, but simply an attempt to usurp the Court’s time and resources so counsel for Defendant Lane can obtain a public forum to argue his theory of the case. His motion should be summarily denied.”

The Judge said he would take the motion under advisement and later issue an order on the motion.

Three Co-Defendants Motion for Sanctions [4]

The three co-defendants (Lane, Kueng and Thao) have alleged that the prosecution leaked to the New York Times an alleged offer by Chauvin to plead guilty to third -degree murder only three days after the killing of Mr. Floyd.[5]

At the May 13th  hearing, this subject was raised when the three co-defendants asked for the prosecutors to testify under oath or submit affidavits that they did not leak this information, and Judge Cahill revealed that shortly after publication of the Times article he had asked the prosecutors to do just that, but only one such affidavit was provided (by Matthew Frank) while Attorney General Ellison submitted a letter (not under oath) that the prosecution team was not the source.

Judge Cahill tentatively scheduled an August hearing on this matter, and one of the co-defendants’ attorneys said he would subpoena prosecutors who had not submitted affidavits as well as the New York Times reporter for the article (Tim Arango) even though Judge Cahill expressed concern about a subpoena to the journalist in light of his First Amendment protections. (Indeed, the New York Times subsequently stated that it “will vigorously defend against any effort to target our reporters and their sources.”

Thao’s Motion for Sanctions [6]

On March 12 attorneys for Tou Thao filed a motion for sanctions for alleged prosecutorial misconduct in allegedly (a) having Dr. Roger Mitchell, a former Chief Medical Examiner for Washington, D.C., pressure Dr. Andrew Baker, the Hennepin County Medical Examiner, to change his preliminary findings of “no physical findings [supporting] a diagnosis of traumatic asphyxia or strangulation” to the final findings of “neck compression;” and (b) after Chauvin’s chief medical expert (Dr. Fowler) testified that in his opinion the cause of death was undetermined, Dr. Mitchell wrote to Maryland officials to investigate Dr. Fowler’s qualifications and such an investigation was commenced by the Maryland Attorney General.

The motion then requested an order (a) dismissing the criminal charges against Thao; (b) barring seven attorneys (Including Attorney General Ellison and Neal Katyal) from participating in any trial against Thao; (c) asserting complaints about these attorneys to their professional responsibility authorities; and (d) requiring the State to report Dr. Mitchell to the appropriate medical boards.

The same day (May 12) Minnesota Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank sent a letter to the Judge, saying that this motion asserted, “Bizarre allegations . . . [that] are false and wrong” and that the State requested one week to file a response to the motion.

Conclusion

The issues keep coming.

==============================

[1] Xiong, State trial postponed to March 2022 for ex-officers charged with aiding and abetting murder in George Floyd death, StarTribune (May 13, 2021); Furber, Judge Delays Trial for Other Officers Charged in Killing of George Floyd, N.Y. Times (May 13, 2021); Bailey, Trial for 3 former officers charged in George Floyd’s murder delayed until March, Wash. Post (May 13, 2021); Karnowski & Forliti (AP), Trial for 3 ex-cops charged in Floyd’s death pushed to March, Wash. Post (May 13, 2021); Winter, Judge Delays trial in George Floyd Case, W.S.J. (May 13, 2021).

[2] See Federal Criminal Charges Against Ex-Minneapolis Policemen Over George Floyd Killing, dwkcommentaries.com (May 7, 2021).

[3] See n.1 supra. See also State’s Response to Defendant Lane’s February 10, 2021 Discovery Motion, State v. Lane, Hennepin County District Court, Case No. 27-CR-20-12951 (May 11, 2021).

[4] See n. 1 supra.

[5] See n. 1 supra; Did Derek Chauvin Agree to Plead Guilty to Third-Degree Murder for Killing George Floyd, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 11, 2021).

[6] See n. 1 supra. See also  Motion for Sanctions for Prosecutorial Misconduct Stemming from Witness Coercion, State v. Thao, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12949, Hennepin County District Court May 12, 2021), https://www.mncourts.gov/mncourtsgov/media/High-Profile-Cases/27-CR-20-12949-TT/NOMM05122021.pdf; Letter, Matthew Frank (Assistant Attorney General) to Judge Cahill, State v. Thao, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12949, Hennepin County District Court May 12, 2021).. https://www.mncourts.gov/mncourtsgov/media/High-Profile-Cases/27-CR-20-12949-TT/Correspondence05122021.pdf.