Results of 9/11/20 Hearing in George Floyd Criminal Cases

Information about what happened at the 9/11/20 hearing is provided by many media reports.[1] Here is a summary of those reports, again following the court’s Agenda for the hearing.

State’s Motions

Joint Trial. The State’s arguments were presented by Special Assistant Attorney General Neal Katyal, the famous attorney, law professor and commentator from Washington, D.C. He argued that the evidence against all four defendants is similar, that witnesses and family members are “likely to be traumatized by multiple trials” and that the interests of justice necessitate a single trial because separate trials would taint future juries. He also said, “The defendants watched the air go out of Mr. Floyd’s body together. And the defendants caused Mr. Floyd’s death together.”

Thao’s attorney responded to the last point by arguing that the jury pool already has been tainted by comments about the case by Attorney General Ellison and others.

A St. Paul attorney who is not involved in the case, Paul Applebaum, said, “it’s going to be tough for the defense attorneys to get the cases separated, partly because it would be difficult for Chauvin to blame the other officers for the charges of murder and manslaughter against him, but also because of the burden of holding four separate trials.”

Aggravating Factors for Upward Sentencing. Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank argued that Floyd was particularly vulnerable because he was handcuffed and pinned to the ground. Judge Cahill expressed some skepticism of this point by asking whether what happens during an encounter qualifies for this purpose.

In  its Notice of Intent To Offer Other Evidence of 9/10/20, the State said it intended to offer evidence of Chauvin’s eight prior instances of use of excessive force, including use of  neck and upper body restraints.  In four of those, Chauvin allegedly used them “beyond the point when such force was needed under the circumstance,” an indication of his pattern, including his restraint of Floyd.[2]

Defendant’s Motions

 Motions for Change of Venue. Judge Cahill said it was too early to decide on a change of venue for the trial. He noted that Hennepin County District Court has been sending questionnaires to potential jurors to complete at home because of COVID risks and for the sake of expediency and that the court could start polling potential jurors ahead of the scheduled March 8 trial.

But two of the defense attorneys argued that the questionnaires should be completed in person at the courthouse because it carries more weight and meaning. Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank agreed.

In response to defense arguments about adverse public opinion in Hennepin County, the Judge asked one of them, “There really isn’t a country, would you agree, or a state in this country where there hasn’t been a lot of publicity about George Floyd’s death?”

Jury Sequestration. The Judge said “it would be almost cruel to keep them in on weeks at a time. Instead, he suggested they be “semi-sequestered:”  jurors drive to court each day for deputies to escort them from their vehicles to a secure elevator, have their lunches brought in to the jury room and then have them escorted back to their vehicles.

Motion to Disqualify HCAO [Hennepin County Attorney’s Office]. From the bench Judge Cahill said the HCAO’s work “sloppy” because they sent prosecutors to question the medical examiner, making them witnesses in the case. Therefore, he disqualified County Attorney Freeman and three assistants who questioned the Examiner because they are potential witnesses. However, others from the Office were not disqualified.

Afterwards Freeman and the Minnesota Attorney General requested reconsideration of this decision, which Judge Cahill granted. The request stated, “Any suggestion by Judge Cahill that the work of . . . [two Assistant County Attorneys] was sloppy was incorrect. The . . .[HCAO] fully stands by the work, dedication and commitment of two of the state’s best prosecutors. That third party mentioned by Judge Cahill does not need to be a non-attorney. [The two attorneys in question] asked to leave the case on June 3 and Frank [the other attorney in question] is the attorney of record, making . . .[the other two attorneys] valid third-parties and eligible to be called as witnesses by the defense. This HCAO decision is consistent with the relevant Minnesota Supreme Court case.

Rule 404 Evidence Motions. The Judge denied defense’s intent to offer evidence regarding Floyd’s arrest and conviction in Texas as it was irrelevant. He also denied the defense request for evidence regarding Floyd’s 05/06/19 medical incident at the Hennepin County Medical Center although he said it could come up at a later date.

Administrative Matters

Jury Selection. The Judge said that he anticipates jury selection will take two weeks with each prospective juror to take the witness stand for questioning by the attorneys.

COVID-19 Restrictions. The Judge said these restrictions would be in place with overflow rooms for family and press.

Trail Length. The Judge said he anticipates a four-week trial.

Conclusion

Although I was not in the courtroom to observe the Judge, the journalists’ reports suggest that the Judge is leaning towards a consolidated trial of all four defendants in Hennepin County under his supervision.

During the 3.5 hour hearing a highly organized, peaceful group of several hundred protesters gathered in front of the heavily fortified Family Justice Center. At first they laid silently on the ground for eight minutes and 46 seconds, which was the initially reported duration of the police pinning of Floyd on the pavement on May 25th (that figure was incorrect; the corrected number is seven minutes and 46 seconds).[3] When they rose, Marvin Gaye’s recorded voice sang, “Mother, mother, there’s too many of you crying” (the first verse from the late singer’s 1970 song “What’s going on”).

The protesters then repeatedly chanted, “Indict, Convict, Send These Killer Cops to Jail. The Whole Damn System Is Guilty As Hell!” Another call was “Say his name!” with the “George Floyd” response. Another: “Who killed him?” and “MPD.” The messages on their signs included the following: “No clemency for killer kkkops” and “Recall Freeman” and a reconfigured MPD badge to say “Murderous City of Lakes Police.”

When Lane and Kueng and their attorneys left the building, they were met by protestors yelling “Murderer!” The crowd then remained until Floyd’s family members left the building, and many of the protestors turned into a dance line, including the Electric Slide.

The protestors apparently are not aware that their protests are ammunition for the defendants’ arguments for transferring the cases to another county, where emotions are not so virulent. The protestors should adopt a different strategy.

After the hearing, Ben Crump, an attorney for the Floyd family, publicly expressed outrage over defense suggestions that Floyd’s use of drugs or earlier run-ins with the police were relevant to the killing of Floyd. “The only overdose was an overdose of excessive force and racism. It is a blatant attempt to kill George Floyd a second time.”

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[1]  Xiong & Olson, Judge disqualifies some in Mike Freeman’s office for ‘sloppy work’ in George Floyd case, StarTribune (Sept. 11, 2020); LIVE UPDATES: Tentative 2-week jury selection, 4-week trial format for George Floyd case, kstp.com (Sept. 11, 2020); Judge In Floyd Case Disqualifies Members of Hennepin co. Attorney’s Office, minnesota.cbslocal.com (Sept. 11, 2020); Olson, Protestors confront former Minneapolis police officers with shouts of ‘murderer,’ StarTribune (Sept. 11, 2020); Protestors Shout At Former MPD Officers As They Exit Pretrial Hearing in George Floyd Case, minnesota.cbslocal.com (Sept. 11, 2020); Collins & Williams, George Floyd killing: Judge disqualifies Freeman from cops’ trial, MPRNews (Sept. 11, 2020); Read Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman’s response to being disqualified from George Floyd case, StarTribune (Sept. 11, 2020); Furber, Arango & Eligon, Police Veteran Charged in George Floyd Killing Had Used Neck Restraints Before, N.Y. Times (Sept. 11, 2020); Bailey, Prosecutors allege former Minneapolis officer used neck restraint in several other cases before George Floyd’s death, Wash. Post (Sept. 11, 2020); George Floyd’s Family Lawyer Pushes Back on Police Claims (video), N.Y.Times (Sept. 11, 2020); Officers charged in George Floyd killing seek to place blame on one another, Guardian (Sept. 11, 2020).

[2] State’s Notice of Intent To Offer Other Evidence, State v. Chauvin, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12646 (Hennepin county District Court Sept. 10, 2020).

[3] Revised Length of Time for Minneapolis Police Restraint of George Floyd. dwkcommentaries.com (June 18, 2020).

 

George Floyd’s Family Sues City of Minneapolis and Four Ex-Officers Involved in His Death      

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.[1]

Here we will review the public announcement of the case by the lead plaintiff’s lawyer, Ben Crump, the names of the other 11 plaintiff’s attorneys and the background of U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson, who will preside over this case.

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.” A subsequent post will dive into the details of these counts.[2]

Attorney Crump’s Statement

“This is a crisis in Black America — a public health crisis. While all of America is dealing with the public health crisis of the coronavirus pandemic, Black America has to deal with another public health pandemic of police brutality. This is a teachable moment for America.”

In addition to the misconduct for the four ex-policmen, the lawsuit alleges that local officials “with deliberate indifference” have failed to correct the police department’s dangerous arrest practices and train officers properly in the use of force.

“This complaint shows what we have said all along, that it was not just the knee of officer Derek Chauvin on George Floyd’s neck. But it was the knee of the entire Minneapolis Police Department on the neck of George Floyd that killed him. The City of Minneapolis has a history of policies, procedures and deliberate indifference that violates the rights of arrestees, particularly Black men, and highlights the need for officer training and discipline.”

While not specifying how much the family will seek in compensation, Crump said, “This is an unprecedented case, and with this lawsuit we seek to set a precedent that makes it financially prohibitive for police to wrongfully kill marginalized people — especially Black people — in the future.” In short, the case is “the tipping point for policing in America.”

Crump said that how the city leaders react to the demands put forth by the Floyd family lawyers will have consequences. “Their political legacy will be defined by how they respond,” he said.

Other attorneys for the Floyd family, Antonio M. Romanaucci and L. Chris Stewart, also spoke . Ms. Stewart said,  “The Floyd family deserves justice for the inhumane way in which officers with the Minneapolis Police Department killed Mr. Floyd. The city has a responsibility to acknowledge the history and practices of excessive force and impunity with its police force, as well as shortfalls in officer training and discipline.”

Plaintiffs’ Lawyers[3]

The following two Minnesota attorneys are on the Complaint for the plaintiff: Jeffrey S. Storms of the law firm of Newmark Storms Dworak LLC and Michelle R. Gilboe of the law firm of Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith LLP. In addition, there are the following ten other attorneys for the plaintiff who are not Minnesota attorneys and, therefore, will have to be permitted to participate in this case (pro hac vice) by the Court:

  • Ben Crump of the Ben Crump Law firm of Washington, D.C.
  • Antonio M. Romanaucci, Bhavani Raveendran and Nicolette A. Ward of the Chicago law firm of Romanucci & Blandin, LLC.
  • William Pintas and Laura Mullins of the Chicago firm of Pintas and Mullins Law Firm;
  • Devon M. Jacob of the Jacob Litigation, Inc. firm of Mechanicsburg, PA;
  • Chris Stewart and Justin Miller of the Stewart Trial Attorneys firm of Atlanta, GA; and
  • Scott Masterson of the Minneapolis firm of Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith, LLP.

Judge Susan Richard Nelson[4]

The case was randomly assigned by the Clerk of Court to the 68 year-old District Judge Susan Richard Nelson, who served as U.S. Magistrate Judge for the District of Minnesota, by appointment of the Court’s judges, June 12, 2000, until she was confirmed as a U.S. District Judge of that court on December 22, 2010, upon recommendation of U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, nomination by President Barack Obama and unanimous confirmation by the U.S. Senate. She obtained her B.A. degree with high honors from Oberlin College and her J.D. degree from the University of Pittsburgh Law School. Her initial professional employment was with a Pittsburgh law firm (1977-80) and a New Haven, Connecticut law firm (1980-1983). In 1984 she moved to Minnesota and joined the Minneapolis law firm of Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi as an associate (1984-88) and then was promoted to partner (1988), where she served until she became a U.S. Magistrate Judge. At the Robins firm, her practice focused on civil trial practice involving complex product liability and mass tort lawsuits.

Conclusion

 After subsequent posts that will examine the details of the three counts of the Complaint, we will await to see what attorneys will be representing the defendants, any potential motions attacking the complaint and the rigors of pretrial discovery (requests for production of documents and responses, written interrogatories and responses, requests for admissions and responses and oral depositions) followed by any possible motions for summary judgment and decisions thereon. Then the case would move to trial. Of course, settlements are always a possibility at any point during this complex (and expensive) process.

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[1] Reuters, George Floyd’s Family Sues Minneapolis and Four Officers Over His Death, N.Y. Times (July 15, 2020); Assoc. Press, Floyd Family Sues Minneapolis Officers Charged in His Death, N.Y. Times (July 15, 2020); Bailey, George Floyd’s family files wrongful-death lawsuit against City of Minneapolis and former officers, Wash. Post (July 15, 2020); Furst & Walsh, George Floyd family sues city of Minneapolis, officers involved citing ‘reckless disregard’ of civil rights, StarTribune (July 15, 2020); Treisman, George Floyd’s Family Files Civil Lawsuit Against Minneapolis And Police, Lawyers Say, MPR News (July 15, 2020); Attorney Ben Crump To File Civil Rights Lawsuit For Floyd’s Family, CBS Minnesota (July 15, 2020) (video of much of Crump’s statement).

[2] Complaint, Schaffer v. Chauvin, Case No, 0.20-cv-01577-SRN-TNL (D. Minn. July 15, 2020). Read the lawsuit filed by family of George Floyd against Minneapolis, four ex-police officers, StarTribune (July 15, 2020).

[3] Complaint at 38-40.

[4] Susan Richard Nelson, Wikipedia; Off the Cuff with Judge Susan Richard Nelson, The Oberlin Review (July 15, 2020).