The Four George Floyd Criminal Cases Should Remain in Minneapolis

Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill in his Minneapolis chambers is considering whether the four criminal cases over the killing of George Floyd  should remain in Minneapolis for further proceedings and trial or be transferred to another Minnesota state court. This is the key issue in the judge’s deciding the pending motions for change of venue submitted by the four defendants—Derek Chauvin, Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao—and vigorously opposed by the Minnesota Attorney General’s office.[1]

Outside the court a strong argument for the cases remaining in Minneapolis–where Floyd’s killing occurred, where the defendants worked and where the witnesses reside– has been put forth by a former U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota and now a visiting professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law (both based in Minneapolis), Rachel K. Paulose.[2] Here are the highlights of her argument.

“Trial venue is not a minor procedural issue. It matters because the people’s voice matters. The arguments by those charged in Floyd’s death could be raised by any high-profile defendant seeking to evade local oversight in any trial court in the United States. If venue is changed routinely in police brutality cases, there is a grave danger that citizens will lack the power to hold police forces accountable when a rogue officer fails to behave lawfully.”

“Why are the defendants so desperate to run away from the Twin Cities? The defendants claim “an impartial jury cannot be seated for the trial” in Minneapolis because of the saturated media coverage and ensuing protests. This claim is misguided for at least three reasons.”

“First, bystanders filmed Floyd’s death in a video that went viral on a global scale. No city in Minnesota, the United States and perhaps the entire Internet-connected world would be immune from the Floyd defendants’ concerns of a jury pool irretrievably biased by excessive media coverage.”

“Interestingly, [counsel for the four ex-officers concede] . . . the Minnesota Supreme Court has held that a change of venue is not warranted in a case where ‘no evidence had been provided to indicate that any part of Minnesota had been shielded from publicity.’ Faced with case law that requires the opposite of what they seek, the Floyd defendants are left to argue the rules must be bent for them: ‘The legal standard needs to be altered.’”

“Second, while protesting the nonstop media coverage, the attorney for Derek Chauvin, the officer who pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck, objects to the gag order in this case, asserting it “prevents any mitigating or exculpatory information from entering the public conversation.” What is that mitigating information? Apparently, based on further filings, Chauvin and a co-defendant want to raise claims of Floyd’s purported drug use, violence and criminal record. It cannot be that the defendants may have it both ways, arguing that they have suffered from too much (adverse) publicity and inadequate (positive) publicity.”

“Third, and perhaps most significant, the jury demographic pool changes dramatically outside the Twin Cities metro area, in a way that is likely helpful to the defendants and harmful to Floyd. The Census Bureau estimates that Hennepin County, where Floyd died, is 14 percent Black and 74 percent White. Hennepin County is the most diverse county in the state, and it would be nearly impossible to seat an all-White jury in Minneapolis. By contrast, the three rural counties where one of the defendants has suggested in his motion to change venue have Black populations of less than 1 percent to 4 percent.”

“Jury pools that do not share the same community dynamics of Floyd’s home deny the people of Minneapolis their interest in achieving justice in this case. Minneapolis streets burned in response to Floyd’s death. Minneapolis businesses, many minority-owned, suffered the brunt of the unrest that resulted when politicians pulled back from protecting the city. The people of Minneapolis are still dealing with the consequences for law enforcement and their own safety.”

“Sadly, police brutality is not unique to Minneapolis. Nor are the demographic patterns in metropolitan vs. rural areas unique to Minnesota. The risks posed by changing venues in police brutality cases are painfully evident. These cases are hard for prosecutors to win in any event, and a loss carries with it the threat of violent reaction by an angry community that believes justice has been denied. In 1992, Los Angeles exploded in anger after widespread suspicion that a venue change from Los Angeles to Simi Valley, Calif., led to the acquittal of four police officers charged with beating Rodney King. The Bill of Rights applies to “We the People of the United States” and not just to criminal defendants. The framers of the Constitution are unlikely to have foreseen the complexities of our digital age, but they trusted the American people to control every branch of their government, including the judiciary through the Sixth Amendment jury trial guarantee.”

“As a woman of color, I was heartbroken to see the images of Floyd’s dying moments. As a former U.S. attorney and civil servant privileged to work with many honorable law enforcement officers, I am concerned by the prospect of police facing the wrath of angry protesters because of the actions of four men in Minneapolis. It is because I support law enforcement and uphold the Constitution that I am convinced that those who abuse their authority must answer for their actions to their own constituents. The trial must remain in Minneapolis.”

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[1] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Preview of the 9/11/20 Hearing in George Floyd Criminal Cases (Sept. 10, 2020); Results of 9/11/20 Hearing in George Floyd Criminal Cases (Sept. 12, 2020).

[2] Paulose, The Trial of George Floyd’s alleged killers must stay in Minneapolis, Wash. Post (Sept. 21, 2020).

 

Status of Civil Litigation Over George Floyd Killing

On July 15, attorneys for the family of George Floyd (by their trustee Kaarin Nelson Schaffer, a Minnesota attorney and resident of Hennepin County) sued the City of Minneapolis and the four ex-police officers involved in Floyd’s death—Derek Chauvin, Tou Thao, Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng. The 40-page Complaint has three counts. “Count I—42 U.S.C. §1983—Fourth Amendment Violations” is asserted against the four ex-policemen while counts II and III are against the City of Minneapolis: “Count II– 42 U.S.C. §1983—Monell Liability” and “Count III–42 U.S.C. §1983—Canton Liability.” [1]

The only development so far in the case is the August 18 filing of a Stipulation for 60-Day Stay of Litigation between the plaintiff and the City of Minneapolis. Such a stay until October 17 was requested “so that the parties may continue to discuss the possibility of a longer stay which would continue until the criminal proceedings against the individual Defendants are completed.”[2]

The next day, two Minneapolis attorneys—Gregory M. Erickson and Erick G. Kaardal–entered their appearances for defendant Derek Chauvin.

Background of U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson[3]

Judge Susan Richard Nelson, who is presiding over this civil case, had 23  years of experience as an attorney in Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Minnesota, the last 16 as a skillful attorney in high stakes civil litigation for an eminent Minneapolis law firm. Then in 2000 the judges of the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota appointed her to the position of U.S. Magistrate Judge, who handles various pretrial matters and settlement conferences.

Most relevant for the current civil case over George Floyd from Nelson’s experience as a Magistrate Judge was her supervising settlement discussions over a racial discrimination suit by five high-ranking Black Minneapolis police officers—including current Chief Medaria Arrandondo. In July 2008, “the parties were on the of a $2 million settlement that also included the addition of a new deputy police chief position focused on documenting and responding to reports of discrimination both within the department and in the community. The tentative agreement included data collection about racially based policing and publication of that data; the Police Department’s adherence to terms of a previously proposed federal consent decree; and ongoing court oversight to ensure the settlement agreement’s terms were implemented and followed.”

One of the attorneys for the plaintiffs, Robert Muller, recently said Nelson “artfully encouraged the parties to work towards a potential resolution that included provisions beyond simply monetary relief. Her encouragement prompted the parties to be creative, dig in, and come up with what could have been very meaningful [police] reform.”

However, the Minneapolis City Council failed to approve this settlement. A year later the case was settled, but without the previously agreed upon policy changes.

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[1] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: George Floyd’s Family Sues City of Minneapolis and Four Ex-Officers Involved in His Death (July 16, 2020); George Floyd’s Family’s Complaint Against the Four Ex-Police Officers Over His Death (July 17, 2020); George Floyd Family’s Complaint Against the City of Minneapolis Over His Death: Count II (July 18, 2020); George Floyd Family’s Complaint Against the City of Minneapolis Over His Death: Count III (July 19, 2020).

[2] Stipulation for 60-Day Stay of Litigation, Schaeffer v. Chauvin, Civil No. 20-1577 (Aug. 18, 2020, U.S. Dist. Ct., D. Minn.).

[3] Montemayor, Judge overseeing Floyd family’s federal suit no stranger to high stakes litigation, StarTribune (Sept. 6, 2020); Susan Richard Nelson, Wikipedia.

Defendant Kueng Moves for Dismissal and Change of Venue in George Floyd Case

On August 27, J. Alexander Kueng, a former Minneapolis police officer, submitted a motion to dismiss the criminal complaint against him and to change the venue of the case from Hennepin County to a county with “appropriate facilities and demographics,” such as Stearns County. [1]

Motion To Dismiss [2]

Most of the eight-page dismissal motion was a legal memorandum in support of the motion to dismiss for alleged lack of probable cause for the charges of aiding and abetting second degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Its statement of facts purports to be taken from the criminal complaint.

No Aiding and Abetting Second-Degree Murder. “The restraint used on Floyd by Chauvin was reasonable. As the complaint notes, officers are trained on how to use the neck restraint involved here. Moreover, the restraint has been found to be reasonable when the subject “actively resists,” citing Lombardo v. City of St. Louis, 956 F.2d 1009, 1013 (8th Cir. 2020).

Although the complaint does not say Floyd resisted, its description of his actions “show he resisted. He resisted and fell to the ground when Lane and Kueng tried to pick him up off the sidewalk. . . . Floyd would not voluntarily get into the squad [car]. Multiple officers tried to get him into the squad , and when Floyd continued to resist, Chauvin pulled Floyd onto the ground. Floyd continued to resist by calling out while he was on the ground. Given Floyd’s resistance, the use of neck restraint was reasonable.”

“[T]here is no evidence that Kueng knew Chauvin was going to commit a crime at the time and during the time Chauvin utilized the neck restraint. [Twice Chauvin rejected Lane’s suggestion of rolling Floyd onto his stomach, showing Chauvin did not consider his use of force to be unreasonable.] There is no evidence that Kueng knew Chauvin was going to commit or was committing a third-degree assault” or that “Kueng intended his presence to further a crime.”

No Aiding and Abetting Second-Degree Manslaughter. “Chauvin’s actions were not objective gross negligence. He used a technique that he was trained to use and that the Eighth circuit has found to be reasonable.” Nor was Chauvin’s conduct subjectively reckless. Moreover, the “complaint does not establish that Kueng knew Chauvin was going to negligently commit a crime or that he did so or that “Kueng intended his presence to further the commission of a negligent act.”

Motion To Change Venue [i3]

Kueng also moved for a change of venue from Hennepin County to another county “outside the seven-county metro area, such as Stearns County or another county with appropriate facilities and demographics.”

This motion was based upon “’potentially’ prejudicial material that has been disseminated publicly by the prosecution, creating a reasonable likelihood that a fair trial in the metro area cannot be had.” It also asserts that there have been over 1,700 local articles about these criminal cases.

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[1] Xiong, Former officer in George Floyd case seeks change of venue, dismissal of charges, StarTribune (Aug. 27, 2020).

[2] Notice of Motion and Motion To Dismiss for Lack of Probable Cause, State v. Kueng, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12953 (Hennepin County District Court August 27, 2020). Kueng also submitted a Notice of Additional Evidence regarding (a) Floyd’s May 6, 2019, Minneapolis arrest for sale and possession of large quantities of controlled substances and  his immediate medical intervention at Hennepin County Medical Center; and (b) his August 9, 2007, Texas arrest and subsequent conviction for Aggravated Robbery with a Deadly Weapon. (Notice of Additional Evidence,, State v. Kueng, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12953 (Hennepin County District Court August 27, 2020).

[3] Notice of Motion and Motion To Change Venue, State v. Kueng, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12953 (Hennepin County District Court August 27, 2020).

Defendant Thao’s Dismissal Motion   

Defendant Tou Thao has been charged with the crimes of aiding and abetting the murder and manslaughter of George Floyd, and on July 29, his attorney moved for dismissal of these charges.[1] On August 24, the prosecution responded to this motion.[2]

This post will discuss Thao’s arguments for dismissal, and a subsequent post will look at the prosecution’s counter arguments.

No Probable Cause That Chauvin Committed a Crime[3]

 Under Minn. Stat. sec. 609.06, subd. 1, a police officer is immune when using reasonable force to effect a lawful arrest. Here, “Floyd became agitated and resisted [arrest] in both active and passive manners.” Therefore, Chauvin used “reasonable force” to effect a lawful arrest by administering a non-deadly MPD-approved neck restraint, either a “Conscious Neck Restraint” or an “Unconscious Neck Restraint.”

Therefore, Thao cannot be held criminally liable for aiding and abetting a non-crime.

No Probable Cause That Thao Had the Mens Rea for Aiding and Abetting[4]

The prosecution has failed to show probable cause that “Thao (1) knew Chauvin and others [Lane and Kueng] were going to commit a crime and (2) intended his presence to further the commission of that crime.” On the contrary, Thao saw the other three officers using force authorized by MPD policy.

No Probable Cause That Thao Aided The Others’ Committing a Crime[5]

The prosecution failed even to allege what Thao did that amounted to aiding and abetting his fellow officers in committing a crime. Moreover, “mere presence at the crime scene alone is not sufficient” . . .[for this purpose] because inaction, knowledge or passive acquiescence does not rise to the level of criminal culpability.” (State v. Pendleton, 759 N.W.2d 900 (Minn. Sup. Ct. 2009); State v. Huber, 877 N.W.2d 519, 525 (Minn. Sup. Ct. 2016);  State v. Ostrem, 535 N.W.2d 916, 924 (Minn. Sup. Ct. 1995); State v. Ulvinen, 313 N.W.2d 425 (Minn. Sup. Ct. 1981).)

Here, “Thao spent the time during the arrest of Mr. Floyd focused on keeping the civilian bystanders out of the scene to allow the other three officers to effectuate the legal arrest and to turn Mr. Floyd over to responding medical personnel. Officer Thao did nothing to aid in the commission of a crime.”

Conclusion

On August 24, Thao’s attorney submitted a motion to compel disclosure of (1) the complete Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office file; (2) the reports and autopsies performed by Dr. Michael Baden; (3) the reports and autopsy performed by Dr. Allecia Wilson; and (4) the Office of the Armed Forces Medical examiner entire file.” Thao also moved to “continue the issue of causation of death from the September 11, 2020 Omnibus hearing date to a date to be scheduled.” [6]

The next post we will examine the prosecution’s responses to this motions for dismissal and disclosure. Then we wait to see if Thao will submit a reply to the prosecution’s arguments and the September 11 court hearing on this and other matters.

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[1] Ex-Officer Thao Moves for Dismissal of Criminal Charges for George Floyd Killing, dwkcommentaries.com (July 30, 2020), Notice of Motion and Motion To Dismiss, State v. Thao, Court file No. 27-CR-20-1249 (Hennepin County District Court July 29, 2020); Memorandum in Support of Motion to Dismiss, State v. Thao, Court file No. 27-CR-20-1249 (Hennepin County District Court Aug. 5, 2020).

[2] Xiong, Former officer who held back crowd at George Floyd death should face trial, prosecutors argue, StarTribune (Aug. 24, 2020); Assoc. Press, Prosecutors Depict Ex-Officer as Complicit in Floyd’s Death, N.Y. Times (Aug. 25, 2020); State’s Response Opposing Defendant’s Motion To Dismiss for Lack of Probable Cause, State v. Thao, Court file No. 27-CR-20-1249 (Hennepin County District Court Aug. 24, 2020); Affidavit of Matthew Frank, State v. Thao, Court file No. 27-CR-20-1249 (Hennepin County District Court Aug. 24, 2020); [Prosecution] Motion To Compel Disclosure, State v. Thao, Court file No. 27-CR-20-1249 (Hennepin County District Court Aug. 24, 2020).

[3] Memorandum in Support of Motion to Dismiss (n. 1), at 9-12.

[4] Id. at 5-6.

[5] Id. at 6-9.

[6] [Thao’s] Motion To Compel Disclosure, State v. Thao, Court File No. 27-CR-20-1249 (Hennepin County District Court Aug. 24, 2020).

 

Lane’s Reply to Prosecution’s Opposition to Dismissal of Criminal Complaint 

On July 7, the attorney for defendant Thomas Lane filed a motion to dismiss the criminal complaint against him.[1] On August 10 the prosecution filed its papers opposing that motion.[2] On August 17, Lane’s attorney  submitted his reply to the State’s Response.[3]

As noted ,the first two sets of papers have been covered in prior posts. This post will review Mr. Lane’s reply papers.

Legal Standard for Aiding and Abetting Criminal Liability

Both sides necessarily are agreed that the standard for aiding and abetting criminal liability starts with the Minnesota statute on the subject—Minn. Stat. sec. 609.05 (Liability for Crimes of Another), which is derived from legislation adopted in 1963, 1986 and 1991. Its Subdivision 1 states as follows:

“A person is criminally liable for a crime committed by another if the person intentionally aids, advises, hires, counsels, or conspires with or otherwise procures the other to commit the crime.”

According to Mr. Lane’s attorney, the “seminal” Minnesota Supreme Court case on this provision is State v. Ulvinen, 313 N.W.2d 425 (1981)(en banc), which reversed a conviction of a mother for aiding and abetting her son’s first degree murder of his wife.

According to the Supreme Court, the son told the police that on the morning of the murder he told his mother, “I’m going to have to choke. . . [his wife] tonight and I’ll have to dispose of her body so that it will never be found.” In response his mother weeped and said, “it will be for the best.” Later that same day, the son told his mother, “Mom, tonight’s got to be the night.” She replied, as she had on other similar occasions, “Oh, you’re just kidding me.  I’m not certain, that it would be the best for the kids.”

The mother was asleep when the son committed the murder and she did not participate in his dismemberment of the body. Afterwards that same night she “came upstairs to intercept the children, should they awake, and prevent them from going into the bathroom. She cooperated with her son by cleaning some items from the bathroom and corroborating David’s story to prevent anyone from finding out about the murder.”

Said the en banc Supreme Court, “ these subsequent actions do not succeed in transforming her behavior prior to the crime to active instigation and encouragement. Minn.Stat. § 609.05, subd. 1 (1980) implies a high level of activity on the part of an aider and abettor in the form of conduct that encourages another to act. Use of terms such as ‘aids,’ ‘advises,’ and ‘conspires’ requires something more of a person than mere inaction to impose liability as a principal.” (Lane’s Reply at 13; emphasis added.)

 In addition, said the Court, the above statute “imposes liability for actions which affect the principal, encouraging him to take a course of action which he might not otherwise have taken. The state has not proved beyond a reasonable doubt that appellant was guilty of anything but passive approval. However morally reprehensible it may be to fail to warn someone of their impending death, our statutes do not make such an omission a criminal offense.” In so concluding, the Court said the mother “did not offer advice on how to kill his wife, nor offer to help him. She did not plan when to accomplish the act or tell her son what to do to avoid being caught. She was told by her son that he intended to kill his wife that night and responded in a way which, while not discouraging him, did not aid, advise, or counsel him to act as he did.”

Lane’s attorney also asserted that the above holding of Ulvinin was followed by at least the following subsequent Minnesota Supreme Court cases: (1) State v, Mahkuk, 367 N.W.2d 675, 683 (Minn. Sup. Ct. 2007)(reversal of conviction for aiding and abetting two murder counts because trial court’s jury instruction did not require the jury to find, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant knew that a crime was going to be committed and intended his presence to encourage or further the crimes); (2) State v. Milton, 821 N.W.2d 789, 804 (Minn. Sup Ct. 2012) (affirmance of conviction of first-degree felony murder and attempted first degree felony murder; defendant failed to show that his substantial rights were affected by the trial court’s plain error in failing to instruct the jury that “intentionally aiding” was required for accomplice liability); (3) State v. Bahtuoh, 840 N.W.2d 804, 812-13 (Minn. Sup Ct. 2013) (affirmance of conviction for accomplice liability for first degree felony murder; the “intentionally aids” requirement has ‘two and necessary principles: . . .that the defendant knew that his alleged accomplices are going to commit a crime’ and . . . that the defendant ‘intended his presence or actions to further the commission of that crime;’”[4] State v. McCallister, 862 N.W.2d 49 (Minn. Sup. Ct. 2015)(affirmance of conviction for aiding and abetting first degree murder and first degree felony murder); (5) State v. Huber, 877 N.W.2d 519, 524 (Minn. Sup. Ct. 2016))(reversal and remand of conviction for intentionally aiding another in committing second degree murder and second degree felony murder on the ground that the instructions on accomplice liability were  plainly erroneous; such an instruction “must explain that to be criminally liable for the crimes of another, the State must prove that the defendant ‘knew his alleged accomplice was going to commit a crime and the defendant intended his presence or actions to further the commission of that crime.’”

Lane’s reply also cites a number of decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, which includes Minnesota., but since it is unlikely that any of them concern the Minnesota statute for accessory liability, it should not be necessary to analyze these cases.

Additional Factual Allegations about George Floyd

Lane’s reply contains nine-plus pages reciting additional “facts” about Mr. Floyd that his attorney recently has discovered. Since these “facts” were not known at the police’s May 25th fatal encounter with Mr. Floyd, it is difficult to see how they relate to the complaint for alleged aiding and abetting and if admissible at trial would go to the jury’s weighing all of the evidence.

Conclusion

The Prosecution’s papers opposing the dismissal motion, for this retired attorney without criminal law experience, seem weak on this key requirement for the aiding and abetting charges against  Lane.

This blogger invites anyone who has a more thorough analysis of the issues on Lane’s dismissal motion to add them in comments to this post.

Now we await the September 11 hearing on this motion and other matters in the four criminal cases over the killing of George Floyd.

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[1] Ex-Officer Lane Moves for Dismissal of Criminal Charges for George Floyd Killing, dwkcommentareis.com July 9,  2020); Notice of Motion and Motion To Dismiss, State v. Lane, Court file No. 27-CR-20-12951 (Hennepin County District Court July 7, 2020); Memorandum Supporting Motion To Dismiss, State v. Lane, Court file No. 27-CR-20-12951 (Hennepin County District Court July 7, 2020).

[2]  State’s Response Opposing Defendant’s Motion To Dismiss for Lack of Probable Cause, State v. Lane, Court file No. 27-CR-20-12951 (Hennepin County District Court Aug. 10, 2020); Affidavit of Matthew Frank, State v. Lane, Court file No. 27-CR-20-12951 (Hennepin County District Court Aug. 10, 2020).

[3] Defendant’s Reply to the State’s Response to His Motion To Dismiss, State v. Lane, Court file No. 27-CR-20-12951 (Hennepin County District Court Aug. 17, 2020); Browning & Xiong, Lawyer for former officer charged as accomplice in killing of George Floyd says he ‘did nothing wrong,’ StarTribune (Aug. 18, 2020); Xiong, Audio of investigators questioning officer [Lane] in George Floyd killing released, StarTribune (Aug. 18, 2020); Read, Attorney for Minneapolis police officer says he’ll argue George Floyd died of an overdose and a heart condition, Los Angeles Times (Aug. 20, 2020).

[4] The Prosecution says that Bahtuoh suggests that Ulvinen’s requirement for a “high level of activity” by an alleged accomplice” is no longer the law. In the opinion of this blogger, however, this is a misreading of Bahtuoh, which merely states,”A jury may infer the requisite state of mind [of an accessory] from a variety of facts, including presence at the scene of the crime, a close association with the principal offender before and after the crime, a lack of objection or surprise under the circumstances, and flight from the scene of the crime with the principal offender.” (Prosecution’s Opposition at n.16, p. 25; emphasis added.)

 

Judge Cahill’s Memorandum Opinion Explaining His Order for Release of BodyCam Videos  

On August 11, Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill issued a Memorandum Opinion providing the factual findings and legal conclusions [1] for his August 7th Order granting the motion of the Media Coalition for copies of two of the BWC (body-worn camera) videos of George  Floyd’s arrest and killing.[2]

Preliminarily the Judge said, with citations of decisions by the U.S. and Minnesota Supreme Courts, “Cases that generate intense public interest and media scrutiny highlight the tension between two fundamental rights: the right guaranteed under the federal and state constitutions to criminal defendants to receive a fair trial before an impartial jury, on the one hand, and the right of the public and press to attend public trials, on the other hand.” Moreover, “The open processes of justice serve an important prophylactic purpose, providing an outlet for community concern, hostility, and emotion,” as was true in this very case. (P. 4.)

“The Court is committed to the management of pretrial proceedings and the eventual trial(s) not only to vindicate the public’s and press’ right of access guaranteed by the First Amendment, the common law, and court rules but also Lane and his fellow co-defendants’ Sixth Amendment rights to a fair trial, and this Court’s and the parties’ interests in seeing that justice be done by a fair and objective jury determining the facts based solely on evidence that will be admitted at trial.” (P.8.)

In so doing, the court has conducted “all hearings in these cases in public . . . [with] overflow courtrooms to facilitate the presence of interested members of the public and press.” The court “has also created special websites for each of these cases in which all publicly-available documents that have been filed . . are made available to the public and press by remote access.” (P. 9.)

The court had issued a Gag Order on July 9th in an attempt “to mitigate what some colloquially characterize as efforts ‘to try the case in the press, to seek to avoid or at least to ameliorate the prospects of unduly tainting the prospective jury pool engendered by the intense media interest and reporting on these cases, and to seek to vindicate the Defendants’ rights and the State’s interest in ensuring justice is done in these cases by a fair and impartial jury deciding whether the Defendants or guilty or not guilty on the State’s charges based solely upon the evidence produced during trial, not based upon media reporting, public speculation, and extraneous information, inadmissible at trial, circulating during the months of pretrial preparation.” (Pp. 10-11.) [3]

The Memorandum Opinion then set forth its legal reasoning for its conclusions: (1) the Media Coalition has standing to intervene (pp. 11-13); (2) the media and the public have a right under the common law and court rules to obtain copies of the BWC videos, under cited U.S. and Minnesota Supreme Court decisions and Minnesota Rules of Criminal Procedure and Rules of Public Access to Records of the Judicial Branch. (Pp. 13-19.)

Important for the court, “based on the representations [of all counsel] were the following ” all council expect the [two BWC videos in question] . . . will be admitted into evidence at the trial, that allowing members of the public and the press to obtain copies of those BWC videos does not, at this stage of the proceedings, present a substantial likelihood of interfering with the fair and impartial administration of justice and the defendants; rights to a fair trial.”

The court did not find it necessary to decide whether the media had a first amendment right to obtain copies of the videos. (Pp. 19-22.)

In a footnote, the court noted that “the fractious, highly partisan, and segmented niches served by the modern-day media and journalists . . . should resoundingly dispel the notion that journalists, as a profession, can be depended on ‘to produce complete, accurate accounts of what transpires.” (Fn. 8 at 7-8.)

Conclusion

 This was a well-reasoned and written opinion.

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[1] State v. Lane, Opinion on Order Granting Motion of Media Coalition To Obtain Copies of Publicly-Filed Body-Worn Camera Video Evidence, (Court File No. 27-CR-20-12951, Hennepin County District Court, Aug. 11, 2020); Xiong, Judge says he withheld broad distribution of bodycam videos in George Floyd killing to preserve fair trial, StarTribune (Aug. 12, 2020).

[2] State v. Lane, Order Granting Motion of Media Coalition To Obtain Copies of Publicly-Filed, Body-Worn Camera Video Evidence, (Court File No. 27-CR-20-1295, Hennepin County District Court, Aug. 7, 2020); Court Orders Public Release of Bodycam Footage of George Floyd Arrest and Killing, dwkcommentaries.net (dwkcommentaries.net (Aug. 8. 2020).

[3] See Gag Order in George Floyd Murder Cases, dwkcommentaries.com (July 9, 2020).

Senator Cotton Continues Criticism of the 1619 Project 

In a July 30th interview by Tucker Carlson of Fox News, U.S. Senator Tom Cotton (Rep., AR) reiterated his attack on The 1619 Project of the New York Times. [1]

The Senator told Carlson, “The 1619 Project is a radical work of historical revisionism aiming to indoctrinate our kids to hate America. To teach them that America was founded not on the natural equality of mankind and the freedom that flows from that as the [Declaration of Independence] . . . says but rather founded on racism. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Cotton added, “The 1619 Project debunked by leading historians of the era like Sean Wilentz, and Gordon Wood, and James McPherson. . . . And some of those are liberals. Even the lead author recently admitted in response to my legislation that The 1619 Project is not a work of history, it’s a work of journalism. I would say it’s a work activism. But your tax dollars should not be going to fund an effort to teach our kids to hate America. ‘The New York Times’ should not teach American history to our kids.”

Conclusion

These comments by the Senator  have prompted objections by one of the referenced historians, Sean Wilentz, which will be examined in a future post while yet another future post will examine  previous criticisms of the Project by Wilentz and four other leading American historians and the response thereto by the Times’ editor of the Project.

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[1] Schwartz, Sen. Cotton: “The 1619 Project” A Radical Work of Historical Revisionism That Aims To Indoctrinate Kids, RealClear Politics (July 30, 2020). Senator Cotton’s previous criticism of The 1619 Project and his proposed legislation to prevent its being used in U.S. public schools  is discussed in a prior post. (Evaluation of the Report of the U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights and Its Endorsement by Secretary Pompeo, dwkcommenbtaries.com (Aug. 3, 2020).)

 

 

 

Secretary Pompeo’s Reactions to U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights’ Report     

On July 16, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo gave an immediate response [1] to the Report of the U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights that was summarized in a prior post.  Now we look at some of the significant points of Pompeo’s response.

Pompeo’s Introduction by Chair Glendon’s 

Chair Mary Ann Glendon said that the importance of the Commission’s work has been highlighted by several recent developments. First, Freedom House recently reported that “political and civil rights worldwide have declined this year for the 14th consecutive year and that half the world’s population – 4 billion people – currently live under autocratic or quasi-authoritarian regimes.”[3] Second, “some powerful countries are now openly challenging the basic premises of the great post-World War II human rights project, and by challenging the premises, they are undermining the already fragile international consensus behind the ideas that no nation should be immune from outside scrutiny of how it treats its own citizens and that every human being is entitled to certain fundamental rights simply by virtue of being human.” Third, “Another set of threats to human freedom and dignity are emerging in technological advances – artificial intelligence, biotechnology, data collection, sophisticated surveillance techniques.” Fourth, “millions of women and men are suffering arbitrary imprisonment, torture, and those women and men are looking to the United States as a beacon of hope and encouragement.”

Pompeo’s Speech

“These . . . unalienable rights . . . are a foundation upon which this country was built. They are central to who we are and to what we care about as Americans.”

“America’s founders didn’t invent the ‘unalienable rights,’ but stated very clearly in the Declaration of Independence that they are held as ‘self-evident’ that human beings were ‘created equal’  and ‘endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights… among [those] are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.’”

The report emphasizes foremost among these rights are property rights and religious liberty. No one can enjoy the pursuit of happiness if you cannot own the fruits of your own labor, and no society – no society can retain its legitimacy or a virtuous character without religious freedom.” (Emphasis added.)

“Our founders knew that faith was also essential to nurture the private virtue of our citizens.”

George Washington, in “his now famous letter from 1790, . . .  to the Jews of Newport,. . .  proudly noted that the United States ‘gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.’” But “our founders also knew the fallen nature of mankind. [As] Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist 10: ‘Men are ambitious, vindictive, rapacious.’ So in their wisdom, they established a system that acknowledged our human failings, checked our worst instincts, and ensured that government wouldn’t trample on these unalienable rights.”

“Limited government structured into our documents protects these rights. As the [Commission] report states, ‘majorities are inclined to impair individual freedom, and public officials are prone to putting their private preferences and partisan ambitions ahead of the public interest.’”

In 1838, Abraham Lincoln, then a 28-year-old lawyer, gave a moving speech to the local young man’s lyceum in Springfield, Illinois, when he said, ‘We find ourselves under the government of a system of political institutions, conducing more essentially to the ends of civil and religious liberty, than any of which the history of former times tells us.’

“This is still true of America today. America is fundamentally good and has much to offer the world, because our founders recognized the existence of God-given, unalienable rights and designed a durable system to protect them.”

“The . . . societal upheavals that are currently roiling our nation . . .directly ties to our ability to put our founding principles at the core of what we do as Americans and as diplomats all across the world.”

[We must admit, however,] “that at our nation’s founding our country fell far short of securing the rights of all. The evil institution of slavery was our nation’s gravest departure from these founding principles. We expelled Native Americans from their ancestral lands. And our foreign policy, too, has not always comported with the idea of sovereignty embedded in the core of our founding.”

“But . . . the nation’s founding principles gave us a standard by which we could see the gravity of our failings and a political framework that gave us the tools to ultimately abolish slavery and enshrine into law equality without regard to race. . . . From Seneca Falls, to Brown vs. Board of Education, to the peaceful marches led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Americans have always laid claims to their promised inheritance of unalienable rights.”

The New York Times’s 1619 Project – so named for the year that the first slaves were transported to America – wants you to believe that our country was founded for human bondage, that America’s institutions continue to reflect the country’s acceptance of slavery at our founding. . . [and] that Marxist ideology [correctly says] America is only the oppressors and the oppressed. [This 1619 Project] is a slander on our great people. Nothing could be further from the truth of our founding and the rights about which this report speaks.”  (Emphasis added.)

The Commission rejects these notions and “reminds us [of] a quote from Frederick Douglas, himself a freed slave, who saw the Constitution as a ‘glorious, liberty document.’”

“If we truly believe . . . that rights are unalienable, inviolate, enduring, indeed, universal, just as the founders did, then defending them ought to be the bedrock of our every diplomatic endeavor.”

“Our dedication to unalienable rights doesn’t mean we have the capacity to tackle all human rights violations everywhere and at all times. Indeed, our pursuit of justice may clash with hard political realities that thwart effective action.”

“Americans have not only unalienable rights, but also positive rights, rights granted by governments, courts, multilateral bodies. Many are worth defending in light of our founding; others aren’t.”

Prioritizing which rights to defend is also hard. [According to a research group, there are] 64 human rights-related agreements, encompassing 1,377 provisions, between the United Nations and the Council of Europe alone. That’s a lot of rights. And the proliferation of rights is part of the reason why this report is so important.” This report “has provided us the [following] essential questions to ask:

  • Are our foreign policy decisions rooted in our founding principles?
  • Are the decisions consistent with our constitutional norms and procedures?
  • Are they rooted in the universal principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights [UDHR]?
  • Does a new rights claim . . .represent a clear consensus across different traditions and across different cultures, as the Universal Declaration did, or is it merely a narrower partisan or ideological interest?”

The great and noble human rights project of the 20th century, [however.] is in crisis. Authoritarian regimes perpetrate gross human rights violations every day, all around the world. Too many human rights advocacy groups have traded proud principles for partisan politics. And we see multilateral human rights bodies failing us. The United Nations Human Rights Council does the bidding of dictators and averts its gaze from the worst human rights offenses of our times. [In addition,] international courts too have largely abandoned unalienable rights. The International Criminal Court is training its sights on Americans and Israelis, not the ayatollahs of the world. And the incurious media rarely examines any of these failings.”(Emphasis added.)

“The vital 20th century human rights project has come unmoored, and it needs a re-grounding. The Commission’s work marks an important contribution to America’s effort to address this human rights crisis, and it’s a good time to do so.”

[As the report says,] “we must cultivate the ‘seedbeds of human rights.’ Free and flourishing societies cannot be nurtured only by the hand of government. They must be nurtured through patriotic educators, present fathers and mothers, humble pastors, next-door neighbors, steady volunteers, honest businesspeople, and so many other faithful, quiet citizens.” (Emphasis added.)

We have the responsibility to educate and advocate. Our diplomatic posts all over the world have human rights officers working to promote American values. We can shine a light on abuses, and as we do when we issue our annual reports, we take stock of the world’s efforts on religious freedom, on human rights, and on human trafficking.” (Emphasis added.)

We too can empower the people of other nations to further their social and economic rights. Our USAID does this essential work, as does our W-GDP program, which helps women flourish as entrepreneurs. Women, sadly, suffer the most human rights abuses. We can help them do better.” (Emphasis added.)

“We can work productively too with other nations. We’ve done that. We’ve worked with 60-plus nations to help the Venezuelan people recover democracy from the Maduro dictatorship.”

We also “ have punitive tools too, such as sanctions that we’ve levied on human rights abusers in Iran and in Cuba, and a recent advisory that we put out about Xinjiang and companies doing business there. We want to make sure that no American business is knowingly benefiting from slave labor.” (Emphasis added.)

“But to do so effectively, we must insist on the rightness and the relevance of America’s founding principles. Surely, if America loses them, she loses her soul and our capacity to do good around the world.”

“I am confident that the American star will shine across the heavens, so long as we keep a proper understanding of unalienable rights at the center of our unending quest to secure freedom for our own people and all of mankind. The report that you worked on will ensure that we have a better chance to accomplish that.”

Glendon-Pompeo Conversation

Immediately after Pompeo’s speech, Chair Glendon and Pompeo had a brief conversation.  One of her questions was: “Why is human rights advocacy is such an important part of our national interest?”

Pompeo responded, “Our capacity to have influence around the world . . . stems from our confidence in ourselves and our deep commitment to the fact that this nation is exceptional, because we rallied around this idea of unalienable rights. [We have developed annual ministerial meetings to gather] religious leaders of all faiths from all around the world. It’s the largest gathering of religious leaders every year to talk about these set of rights and religious freedom. . . . Some two-thirds of the people in the world live in places that are extremely challenged with the absence of religious freedom and religious liberty, the simple chance to exercise their conscientious views on faith.” (Emphasis added.)

Yet Another Pompeo Speech

On July 17th (the very next day after the above speech], Pompeo and his wife were in West Des Moines, Iowa for a speech—”My Faith, My Work, My Country”[3]— at the Family Leader Summit.[4] Here a few things he said.

“We [at the State Department] have a responsibility to keep you all safe. We advocate too for American businesses abroad, and help create jobs in every state in the union. And we represent your principles. We’ve executed a foreign policy that American families in Des Moines, in Dubuque, and in Davenport can believe in. It’s a pro-national security foreign policy focused on America. It’s a pro-religious freedom foreign policy. And it’s a 100 percent pro-life foreign policy.” (Emphasis added.)

Later, he added, “America sets the tone for the rest of the world in this respect, and our administration has defended the rights of unborn like no other administration in history. Abortion quite simply isn’t a human right. It takes a human life. You all – you all know this. The Psalmist says in Psalm 139: ‘You knit me together in my mother’s womb.’ This is when life begins, full stop. So we’ve reinstated the Mexico City Policy, so that not a single dime of American taxpayer money will ever go to a foreign NGO that performs active abortions anywhere in the world. In the fall of last year, . . . Secretary Azar at Health and Human Services and I, we mobilized 20 countries to deliver a joint statement at the UN criticizing pro-abortion language in UN documents. This has not happened before. We said clearly that “there is no international right to an abortion.” (Emphasis added.)

He also had extensive negative comments about China and Iran and positive words about Israel.

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[1] State Dep’t, Pompeo Speech: Unalienable Rights and the Securing of Freedom (July 16, 2020)[“Pompeo Speech”].  (The above post highlights some points for discussion in a subsequent post.) See also Pompeo, American diplomacy must again ground itself in the nation’s founding principles, Wash. Post (July 16, 2020); Assoc. Press, Pompeo Says US Should Limit Which Human Rights It Defends, N.Y. Times (July 16, 2020)

[2]  Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2020: A Leaderless Struggle for Democracy..

[3] State Dep’t, Pompeo Speech: My Faith, My Work, My Country (July 17, 2020). 

[4] The Family Leader, which is based in Urbandale IA, is an organization that is focused on marriage as “a permanent lifelong commitment between a man and a woman;” on sanctity of life for “protection of life from conception to natural death;” on affirming “ sexual relations within the bond of marriage, and oppose distortions of sexuality or special rights to those practicing distorted sexual behavior.” (The Family Leader, Issues we are focused on.)

 

Media Coalition Asks Court To Release BodyCam Footage of George Floyd Killing

On July 13, the Media Coalition of local and national media companies filed a motion for the immediate release of the bodycam footage of the killing of George Floyd on May 25th.[1]

The motion papers alleged that the court’s insistence that the videos be viewed by appointment only in the Hennepin County Government Center violates state laws governing public records, court rules and the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Therefore, these media companies requested the Court “immediately make the BWC [body-worn camera] footage available for copying by the press and public so that it may be widely viewed not just by those who have the time and wherewithal to visit the courthouse during a global pandemic but by all members of the public concerned about the administration of justice in one of the most important, and most-watched cases, this State — perhaps this country — has ever seen.” [2]

The attorneys for the Coalition also said that “releasing the transcripts without the accompanying footage is the sort of piecemeal disclosure that threatens not only to mislead the public, including potential jurors, but also to destroy the public’s trust in the judicial system.” Moreover, they argued that a written transcript only captures what someone said, not actions. “The transcripts don’t capture non-verbal noises, tone of voice or other elements. In addition, the transcripts of Lane and Keung’s body camera videos differ during crucial moments of the encounter. Allowing journalists to copy the footage, watch it multiple times, transcribe it and compare it to the transcripts and to time stamps from the bystander video will help reporters piece together a more complete story.” [3]

In addition, the motion papers argued, “There is no reason to believe that making the BWC footage itself easily accessible to the press and public would materially impact the fairness of trial .… As days of unrest in the Twin Cities showed, it is vitally important that the public have full confidence in the process and outcome of this criminal prosecution.”

The Media Coalition consists of the StarTribune; American Public Media, which owns Minnesota Public Radio; the Associated Press; CBS Broadcasting Inc.; Dow Jones & Co., publisher of the Wall Street Journal; Hubbard Broadcasting, which owns KSTP-TV; and the New York Times Co., among others.

The Coalition is represented by  attorneys Leita Walker, a partner in the Media and Entertainment Law Group in the Minneapolis office of the Ballard Spahr LLP law firm, and Emmy Parsons, an associate in that Group.

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[1] Xiong, Media coalition calls for immediate release of body camera footage in George Floyd killing, StarTribune (July 13, 2020); Assoc. Press, Media: Body Camera Video in Floyd Case Should Be Made Public, N.Y. Times (July 13, 2020).

[2] See Gag Order in George Floyd Murder Cases, dwkcommentaries.com  (July 9, 2020).

[3] Quotations from the transcripts of the bodycam footage were included in Ex-Officer Lane Moves for Dismissal of Criminal charges in George Floyd Killing, dwkcommentaries.com (July 9, 2020).

 

Minneapolis Police Officers Claiming PTSD         

On July 10, a Minneapolis attorney, Ron Meuser Jr., revealed that at least 150 Minneapolis police officers are claiming that “they are suffering from symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD] or other injuries from the protests after Minnesotathe February 25th police killing of George Floyd.[i]

Some of these protests were violent and included direct actions on police targets, including the attacks and destruction of the police’s 3rd Precinct station, when some officers “wrote what they thought were final texts to family members and loved ones fearing they would be killed . . . . [and] counted their ammunition to make sure they would have a bullet for themselves to avoid being beaten to death.”

Moreover, since Floyd’s May 25th death, “more than 240 [citizens and other] people have been shot, 13 fatally. . .  [in Minneapolis, and on July 9th ], nine people were shot and one was killed in a span of six hours. One of the wounded was a pregnant woman.”

According to Meuser, half of the officers making the disability claims “are no longer on the job because they have exhibited symptoms of PTSD. . . . [and the] other half likely will quit working in coming days as they formalize disability claims.”

In 2013 Minnesota’s workers compensation statute was amended to include PTSD as a ground for such relief, and in 2019 it was amended so that a police officer’s PTSD is presumed to have developed because of police work. The approval of such a claim entitles the officer to 60 percent of his or her salary until retirement or is no longer determined to be disabled. Thus, these claims add another financial burden to a city already suffering from the economic and financial effects of the pandemic.

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[i] McKinney & Navratil, Attorney: MPD officers filing for disability at ‘unprecedented’ levels, StarTribune (July 10, 2020); Bailey, Minneapolis police officers say they are suffering from PTSD after George Floyd protests, Wash. Post (July 10, 2020)l