Court Hearing in Criminal Cases Against the Four Ex-Policemen in George Floyd Killing      

On July 21 Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill held a hearing to hear arguments on several pending motions in the criminal cases against the four ex-police officers involved in the May 25th killing of George Floyd.[1]

First, was the motion by the four ex-policemen to hold Attorney-General Ellison in contempt of court for making a public statement about his hiring, pro bono, four additional attorneys for the prosecution. Before the hearing, an Assistant Attorney General said this motion was a ploy to smear the prosecution, and during the hearing the Judge said the statement was innocuous and did not violate the gag order.

In any event, during the hearing, the judge vacated the gag order. The Judge said that order could have been more narrowly drawn as it “didn’t work” and  “may have exacerbated the issue” by causing parties to “tip toe” around in their public statements while leading the news media to rely on anonymous sourcing.

Second, the Judge heard arguments on the motion by a media coalition to release the video footage of two body camera footage of the police’s restraint of Mr. Floyd, but did not rule on that motion.

During the hearing, the attorney for defendant Thomas Lane, said that Floyd had “swallowed drugs” as Lane approached the car and that the bodycam video actually showed Floyd “stuffing counterfeit bills down his [car] seat before he showed his hands.”

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[1] Montemayor, Hennepin County judge drops gag order in case against four ex-cops charged in Killing of George Floyd, StarTribune (July 21, 2020); Ibrahim, Hennepin County judge lifts gag order in George Floyd criminal case, Twin Cities Pioneer Press (July 21, 2020); Lambert, Judge lifts gag order in criminal case against four former Minneapolis police officers, MINNPOST (July 22, 2020).

 

 

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).