Parties’ Latest Reactions to Issues for Trial in George Floyd Criminal Cases

On November 5, the Hennepin County District Court issued five significant orders regarding the joint criminal trial of Derek Chauvin, Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao over the killing of George Floyd. These orders (1) granted the State’s motion for a joint trial of the four defendants; (2) preliminarily denied the defendants’ motions for change of venue; (3) provided for  juror anonymity and sequestration; (4) allowed audio and video coverage of the trial; and (5) narrowed its previous order regarding four members of the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office’s participation in the cases.[1]

On November 16, various motions and briefs were submitted objecting to the recent orders for a joint trial and allowing audio and video coverage of the trial as well as the pending motions for allowance of evidence of prior incidents of the four defendants and of Mr. Floyd. The most significant of these papers, in this blogger’s judgment, was Thomas Lane’s motion for reconsideration of the order for a joint trial of the four defendants, which, therefore, will be discussed first.

Lane’s Motion To Reconsider Joinder for Trial[2]

Lane argued that the order for joinder is premature as it does not consider the prejudice that will be caused by admission of evidence of prior incidents involving the other three defendants, none of which involved Lane.

Most significantly, Lane asserted that his  defense will be antagonistic to Chauvin in that he will be “pointing the finger” at Chauvin and that if Lane had known of Chauvin’s prior incidents, Lane would have acted differently. (Emphasis added.) (This is believed to be the first time that any of the defendants has pointed the finger at Chauvin, the principal actor in the death of Floyd.)

Moreover, said Lane’s attorney, the Court’s opinion regarding aiding and abetting liability was erroneous since it was inconsistent with a 2014 opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court, which, among other things, said such liability requires the defendant to have “advance knowledge that a crime is being committed.” (Emphasis added.)[3]

Finally, according to Lane’s attorney, a recently disclosed FBI report about its July 8th interview of Hennepin County Medical Examiner, Dr. Andrew Baker, contains significant points helpful to Lane and the other defendants.. Here are this blogger’s extracts of that report with emphasis on the points helpful to the defendants.

  • Baker’s office’s press release about its examination of Floyd’s body apparently mentioned ”cardiopulmonary arrest,” which “for a lay person would be the stopping of the heart and lungs. Other factors that contributed to Floyd’s cardiopulmonary arrest included hypertension, the presence of fentanyl and methamphetamine, as well as arteriosclerotic heart disease.”(P. 038777) (Emphasis added.)
  • “The term ‘complicating’ in the case title was a medical term meaning occurring after, during, or as a result of.” (P. 03877)
  • Baker defined the mechanism of death as Floyd’s heart and lungs stopping due to the combined effects of his health problems as well as the exertion involved in Floyd’s interaction with police prior to being on the groun” (Pp. 038777-78.) (Emphasis added.)
  • There was no evidence that Floyd’s airway was literally blocked shut. When viewing the body camera footage, the pressure did not appear to be directly over Floyd’s airway. Floyd would have been unable to speak if pressure was directly over his airway.” (P. 03778.) (Emphasis added.)
  • Officer Chauvin’s positioning on Floyd’s body does not fit anatomically with occluding Floyd’s airway.” (P. 038778.) (Emphasis added.)
  • There was no anatomic evidence of injury to Floyd’s neck but that does not rule out that pressure was applied by Chauvin.” (P. 038778.) (Emphasis added.)
  • The absence of petechiae weighs against strangulation.” (P. 038778.) (Emphasis added.)
  • Baker noted that that Floyd had no injury to . . .[his lower buttocks or upper end of Floyd’s thigh which were being held by Kueng].” (P. 038778) (Emphasis added.)
  • Baker noted that there was no relation to Floyd’s cause of death by Lane’s position [on Floyd’s feet].” (P. 038778.) (Emphasis added.)
  • “The struggle between officers and Floyd weighed into Baker’s opinion because physical exertion increases heart rate, releases adrenaline, and increases respiratory rate as well as cardiac demand. All of these things increased the likelihood of a bad outcome.” (P. 038778.)
  • Baker had no opinion on when Floyd became critical or near death.” (P. 038780.) (Emphasis added.)
  • Baker did not believe that the prone position was any more dangerous than other positions based on an article or journal he had read. “ (P. 038780.) (Emphasis added.)
  • Baker could not provide an answer on a ‘but for’ cause [of death]. (P. 038781.) (Emphasis added.)
  • Absent suspicious circumstances, if Floyd had been found dead in his bed with the level of fentanyl in his blood that was present for this autopsy, it may be classified aa fentanyl fatality due to the level of fentanyl.” (P. 039781.) (Emphasis added.)
  • When a death was labeled a homicide, it was not a legal ruling being made. The label was classified as such for public health reasons.” (P. 0388782.) (Emphasis added.)

Parties’ Battle Over Evidence of Defendants’ Prior Incidents[4]

 The State previously had argued for admission of evidence of eight separate incidents involving Chauvin’s actions in the course of his duties as a Minneapolis Police Officer. On November 16 the State submitted a supplemental argument in support of such evidence in light of its obtaining the body worn camera videos for one of those incidents that are relevant to show modus operandi, intent and lack of mistake and rebut any defense of reasonable use of force and that their probative value outweighs any potential unfair prejudice.

Lane’s objection to such evidence was just discussed.

In addition,  Chauvin’s attorney argued that these incidents are inadmissible to show his intent in the Floyd case or his alleged knowledge of the need to move Floyd from the prone position or a common scheme or plan or modus operandi and that evidence of such incidents is cumulative and unfairly prejudicial.

State’s Objection to Evidence of  Floyd’s Prior Incident with Minneapolis Police[5]

All Defendants intend to offer evidence of George Floyd’s May 6, 2019, incident with the Minneapolis Police Department even though the Court at the September 11, 2020, hearing held that such evidence was inadmissible. The State said the Court’s prior decision was correct and that the defendants intend to offer this evidence at trial was for the improper purpose of attacking Floyd’s character and suggesting he had a propensity to commit crimes or should be punished for his prior actions; that the prior incident does not show Floyd’s common scheme or plan in the incident that led to his death; that his state of mind in the prior incident is irrelevant; that the unfair prejudice of evidence of that prior incident far outweighs its probative value and that the defendants’ other arguments for such evidence are unpersuasive.

State’s Objection to Audio and Video Trial Coverage[6]

The State asked the Court for reconsideration of its order for audio and video coverage of the trial. The motion provided no reasons for that motion other than its previous objection to such coverage under Minnesota Rule of Criminal Procedure 4.02(d) and a brief to be filed on or before November 30.

A StarTribune editorial, however, supported this court order. It said, “It is in the best interest of trial participants and the public for this high-profile trial to be as accessible as possible. . . . [Judge] Cahill’s ruling is well-reasoned and fair.”

Reactions

An important reason for the Court’s November 5th order for a joint trial of the four defendants was there was no indication at that stage of the proceedings “that any of the Defendants is likely to be prejudiced by joinder because their defenses are not antagonistic but instead are mutually supportive.” Now, however, Defendant Lane has stated that his  defense will be antagonistic to Chauvin in that Lane will be “pointing the finger” at Chauvin and that if Lane had known of Chauvin’s prior incidents, Lane would have acted differently. This latest statement, therefore, is a serious challenge to the wisdom of a joint trial.

In addition, Lane’s disclosure of the FBI memorandum of its interview of the Hennepin County Medical Examiner, assuming it accurately reflects what the Examiner said, provides boosters for the defense and problems for the prosecution.

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[1] Court’s Orders Regarding Criminal Trial of Defendants in George Floyd Killing, dwkcommentaries.com (Nov. 5, 2020).

[2]  Defendant’s [Lane’s] Objection to the State’s Spreigl Notice and Motion to Reconsider the Court’s Order for Joinder, State v. Lane, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12951 (Nov. 16, 2020); Exhibit A [FBI Memorandum], Lane Objection to Spreigl and Motion to Reconsider Joinder Order,  State v. Lane, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12951 (Nov. 16, 2020).

[3]  This case was Rosemond v. United States, 572 U.S. 64 (2014), which requires close analysis.

[4]  State’s Supplemental Memorandum of Law in Support of Other Evidence, State v. Chauvin, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12646 Nov. 16, 2020); Defendant’s [Chauvin’s] Objection to State’s Proposed Introduction of Spreigl Evidence, State v. Chauvin, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12646 Nov. 16, 2020); Defendant’s [Kueng’s]Objection to the State’s 404(b) Evidence, State v. Kueng, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12953 Nov. 16, 2020); Defendant’s [Thao’s] Memorandum in Opposition to State’s Motion for Spreigl Evidence Against Mr. Thao, State v. Thao, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12949 Nov. 16, 2020); Defendant’s [Lane’s] Objection to the State’s Spreigl Notice and Motion to Reconsider the Court’s Order for Joinder, State v. Lane, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12951 (Nov. 16, 2020); Jany, Seeking to show pattern of excessive force by Chauvin, prosecutors cite incident with 14-year-old boy who couldn’t breathe, StarTribune (Nov. 17, 2020);Bailey, Former Minneapolis police officer charged in George Floyd’s death seeks to bar evidence of past neck and body restraints, Wash. Post (Nov. 17, 2020).

[5] State’s Response Opposing Defendants’ Motions To Admit Spreigl Evidence, State v. Chauvin, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12646 Nov. 16, 2020).

[6] State’s Motion for Reconsideration, State v. Chauvin, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12646 Nov. 16, 2020) State asks judge to reconsider permission for audio, video coverage of officers’ trial in George Floyd Killing, StarTribune (Nov. 16, 2020); Editorial, A victory for courtroom access in George Floyd case, StarTribune (Nov. 17, 2020).

Post-Hearing Developments in George Floyd Criminal Cases

As previously discussed, on October 12, the attorney for Defendant Thomas Lane filed a motion to include in trial evidence a video of Mr. Floyd’s incident on May 6, 2019, with three other Minneapolis police officers. This caused the Prosecution that same day to seek an order for a temporary protective order on future filings in the cases that the court denied in a hearing on October 15.[1]

On October 16, the other three defendants—Derek Chauvin, Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng—made similar applications for use of evidence regarding Mr. Floyd’s May 6, 2019 incident with Minneapolis police. Also on the 16th the court denied Kueng’s related motions to file video exhibits for his motion to change venue.[2]

As discussed in a prior post, immediately after the October 15th hearing, Thomas C. Plunkett, the attorney for Defendant J. Alexander Kueng, and Earl Gray, the attorney for Defendant Thomas Lane, were harassed by protesters.

The next day Mr. Plunkett filed a motion for leave to file video evidence of the protesters conduct after the hearing. It said, “once again, protestors engaged in criminal conduct placing at least one attorney and the general public at risk. This conduct was captured on video. The video depicts a protestor committing acts in violation of Minn. Stat. 609.749 Subd. 3 (4) – Harassment, Stalking. A separate video depicts a protestor being arrested and deputies finding a gun in the course of the arrest.” [3]

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[1] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Important Prosecution Filings in George Floyd Criminal Cases (Oct. 14, 2020); Court Denies Prosecution’s Motion for Temporary Protective Order in George Floyd Criminal Cases (Oct. 15, 2020).

[2] Defendant’s Notice of Motion and Motion To Admit Floyd’s May 6, 2019 Incident, State v. Chauvin, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12946 (Hennepin County District Court Oct. 16, 2020); Motion for Leave To Supplement the Spreigl Motion with an Additional Motion with an Additional Video Exhibit, State v.Thao, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12949 (Hennepin County District Court Oct. 16, 2020); Defendant’s Motion and Memorandum of Law to Allow Video Exhibits, State v. Kueng, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12953 (Hennepin County District Court Oct. 16, 2020); Order, State v. Kueng, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12953 (Hennepin County District Court Oct. 16, 2020).

[3] Court Denies Prosecution’s Motion for Temporary Protective Order in George Floyd Criminal Cases, dwkcommentaries.com (Oct. 15, 2020); Motion and Memorandum of Law To Allow Video Exhibits, State v. Kueng, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12953 (Hennepin County District Court Oct. 16, 2020).

Court Denies Prosecution’s Motion for Temporary Protective Order in George Floyd Criminal Cases    

On October 15, as anticipated, the Media Coalition filed  its opposition to the Prosecution’s Motion for a Temporary Protective Order in the George Floyd Criminal Cases. Later that same day, the Court held a hearing on that motion.

Media Coalition’s Opposition[1]

The Media Coalition’s 12-page brief “respectfully requests that the Court, consistent with its obligations under the common law, its own rules of access, the First Amendment—and, indeed, consistent . . . with its own August 7 Order and August 11 Memorandum Opinion—immediately make the motion papers that Defendant Thomas K. Lane filed on October 12, 2020, including all video exhibits, available to the press and public and that it deny the State’s motion requesting their continued sealing. The Coalition further requests that the Court deny the State’s Motion for Order Temporarily Restricting Public Access to Motions and Exhibits.”

Hearing on the Motion[2]

At a 25-minute hearing, Judge Peter Cahill denied the Prosecution’s motion, but added he would not allow audio, video or photographs to be attached to future filings by the parties. He said the video of George Floyd’s 2019 arrest in Minneapolis “shows what basically everybody already knows: Floyd was arrested on a previous occasion.” Moreover, the Judge noted that this arrest video was potentially helpful to the prosecution and that previously he had banned evidence of Floyd’s involvement in an armed robbery in Texas before he had moved to Minneapolis.

Subsequent Developments [3]

Immediately after the hearing, Jonathan Mason, an activist with 10K Foundation, interrupted attorney Earl Gray’s interview by a reporter, to protest alleged behavior by Chauvin and to accuse the attorney of “protecting a killer.” (This Foundation’s website says, “We are helping communities preserve their freedom, justice and access to the American dream.”)

Later that same afternoon, a group of about eight protesters walked around the skyway level of the Government Center. Some were yelling, “[Expletive] Derek Chauvin.” One of them, Thomas W. Moseley, a 29-year-old from Blaine, yelled. “Kill Derek Chauvin,” and he was handcuffed, searched and taken away after deputies found a black handgun and several knives on him; he was charged with possession of a dangerous weapon, a felony.

Similar heated protests directed at the defendants and their attorneys (and damage of an attorney’s vehicle). occurred after the September 11th hearing. Thereafter these protestors’ actions were cited by one of the defendants as an additional reason (protecting the safety of the defendants and their attorneys) for transferring the case out of Hennepin County. [4]

These incidents provided additional grounds for defendants’ motions to change the venue of the cases—move them from Hennepin County District Court to another state court in a different county.

Therefore, this blog must reiterate that persons who are interested in justice for George Floyd and want the murder and manslaughter trial(s) to be held in Hennepin County, where the killing occurred, must change their tactics. Such protests merely provide evidence to the defendants’ motions to have the cases transferred to another county court in the state.

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[1] Important Prosecution’s Filings in George Floyd Criminal Cases dwkcommentaries.com (Oct. 14, 2020); Media Coalition’s Opposition to State’s Motion to Restrict Access to Defendant Lane’s October 12 Filings and State’s Motion for a “Temporary” Protective Order (Oct. 15, 2020).

[2] Olson, Judge denies prosecution’s request to seal all filings in Floyd case for at least 48 hours, StarTribune (Oct. 15, 2020).

[3] Olson, n.2; Xiong, Defense Attorney in George floyd case renews call to move ex-cops’ trial after armed protester’s arrest, StarTribune (Oct. 16, 2020).

[4] See these posts and comment to dwkcommentaries.com: Results of 9/11/20 Hearing in George Floyd Criminal Cases (Sept. 12, 2020); Additional Developments in George Floyd Criminal Cases (Oct. 4, 2020); Comment: Woman Charged for Damaging Car of Defendant’s Lawyer in George Floyd Criminal Cases (Oct. 13, 2020).

Developments in George Floyd Criminal Cases

As previously discussed, the September 11 hearing in the four George Floyd criminal cases had many arguments and disclosures by the parties and judge’s decisions. [1]  Here is a summary of filings in the cases since that hearing.

State’s Response to Chauvin Dismissal Motion [2]

On September 18 the State responded to Derek Chauvin’s motion to dismiss the criminal complaint for alleged lack of probable cause. The State’s 42-page brief had a detailed statement of facts regarding the May 25th police encounter with Mr. Floyd and discussion of the relevant law. Here is its summary of the State’s position:

  • “There is probable cause for each charged offense in the complaint. On May 25, 2020, Chauvin, Kueng, and Lane pinned Floyd to the ground face-down after he was suspected of using a counterfeit $20 bill to purchase a pack of cigarettes. Chauvin pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck and held Floyd’s handcuffed left hand behind his back. Kueng knelt on Floyd’s back and likewise pinned Floyd’s handcuffed arms behind his back. Lane restrained Floyd’s legs with his hands and knees. And Thao—who saw what the other officers were doing and heard Floyd’s cries for help—encouraged the others to continue pinning Floyd down, pushed back a group of concerned bystanders, and prevented them from intervening.”
  • “In the first five minutes Floyd was on the ground, he told the officers at least twenty times that he could not breathe. He told them nearly ten times that he was dying. And then he fell silent. He stopped moving. He stopped breathing. And the officers could not find a pulse. As Floyd lost consciousness, a crowd of bystanders pleaded with the officers. They told the officers they were killing Floyd. They screamed that Floyd had stopped moving. They alerted the officers that Floyd had stopped breathing. And they begged the officers to take Floyd’s pulse. Nonetheless, the officers continued to pin him to the ground—with Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck, Kueng on Floyd’s back, Lane on Floyd’s legs, and Thao standing watch to prevent the bystanders on the sidewalk from approaching the other officers and Floyd.”
  • “All told, the officers held Floyd in that position for approximately nine minutes—about five times longer than the national anthem, and four times longer than President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. During that time, Chauvin continued to kneel on Floyd’s neck for about four minutes after Lane told the other officers that Floyd was “passing out,” and for two and a half minutes after Kueng said Floyd did not have a pulse. Indeed, he continued to press his knee into Floyd’s neck for a full minute after emergency medical personnel arrived on the scene, and even while emergency personnel tried to check Floyd’s pulse.”

“Probable cause is manifest. The facts here “would lead a person of ordinary care and prudence to hold an honest and strong suspicion” that Chauvin committed second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. State v. Ortiz, 626 N.W.2d 445, 449 (Minn. App. 2001). The evidence is more than sufficient to establish probable cause for each offense. This Court should therefore deny Chauvin’s motion to dismiss.”

State’s Motion for Reconsideration of  Disqualification of Hennepin County Attorneys [3]

On September 14, the State asserted that “there is no rule which requires the inclusion of a non-attorney witness when [an attorney is] speaking to an experienced and routine government witness, and ABA guidance specifically contemplates a prosecutor meeting with such a witness one-on-one, and undoubtedly four-on-one, without triggering ethical or practical concerns. . . . [T]he meeting [of] these four[HCAO] prosecutors was not any sort of “sloppy” act or unethical shortcutting. Rather, it was a reasoned decision made by conscientious public servants.”

Moreover, “the State does not plan for any of these attorneys to be a trial advocate in this case, and defense counsel has not actually identified a credible scenario under which any of them would be disqualified from serving as such, e.g. by becoming a “necessary witness” at trial, which is the defense’s burden. With that in mind, it is unwarranted to further restrict the State still more: by prohibiting the State from even consulting with these experienced prosecutors (and thus preventing Mr. Freeman and Mr. LeFevour from supervising these matters). Such a broad removal of Mr. Freeman, Mr. LeFevour, Ms. Sweasy, and Mr. Lofton unduly prejudices the State.” In addition, two of the four attorneys have “recused themselves from the case and have had no further involvement in the case.”

In addition to its citation of relevant rules and cases, the State submitted an affidavit of William J. Wernz, who is described by the Minnesota State Bar Association as the author of Minnesota Legal Ethics: A Treatise and as “one of the nation’s foremost authorities on legal ethics.”  After reviewing the relevant materials, Mr. Wernz stated under oath, “in my opinion the interviews of the Hennepin County Medical Examiner by the HCAO did not furnish any basis for conclusion that they violated Rule 3.7, nor that any of them who acted as advocate at trial would violate Rule 3.7 by so doing.”

State’s Additional Discovery Disclosures [4]

On September 16, the State disclosed that it had provided defense counsel with the body worn camera video of Mr. Floyd’s May 6, 2019 incident with the Minneapolis police. On the same date, the State disclosed its having provided other materials.

Kueng’s Request for Preemptory Challenges [5]

On September 15, Defendant J. Alexander Kueng requested that if the four cases are consolidated for trial, each of the defendants should be granted 10 preemptory challenges (but at least five such challenges) of potential jurors.

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[1] See the following posts and comments in dwk commentaries: Agenda for the 9/11/20 Hearing in the George Floyd Criminal Cases (Sept. 2, 2020); Preview of 9/11/20 Hearing in George Floyd Criminal Cases (Sept. 10, 2020); Comment: Rule 404 Evidence Motions: More Details  (Sept. 10, 2020); More Details on 9/11/20 Hearing in George Floyd Criminal Cases (Sept. 11, 2020);Results of 9/11/20 Hearing in George Floyd Criminal Cases (Sept. 12, 2020).

[2] Chauvin Moves To Dismiss Criminal Complaint, dwkcommentaries (Aug. 28, 2020); State’s Response Opposing Defendant’s Motion To Dismiss for Lack of Probable Cause, State v. Chauvin, Civil Case No. 27-CR-20-12646 (Sept.18, 2020); State’s Exhibits for Opposition to Chauvin’s Dismissal Motion ,State v. Chauvin, Civil Case No. 27-CR-20-12646 (Sept.18, 2020).

[3] State’s Notice of Motion and Motion for Reconsideration of Order Prohibiting Participation of Michael O. Freeman and Others, State v. Chauvin, Civil Case No. 27-CR-20-12646 (Sept.14, 2020); Affidavit of William J. Wernz, State v. Chauvin, Civil Case No. 27-CR-20-12646 (Sept.14, 2020).

[4] Letter, Matthew Frank to Judge Cahill, State v. Chauvin, Civil Case No. 27-CR-20-12646 (Sept.16, 2020); Supplemental Prosecution Disclosures Pursuant to Rule 9.01, Subd. 1, State v. Chauvin, Civil Case No. 27-CR-20-12646 (Sept. 16, 2020).

[5] Defendant’s Position on Peremptory Challenges, State v. Kueng, File No. 27-CR-20-12953 (Sept. 15, 2020).