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).

Prosecution’s Supplemental Argument for Enhanced Sentences for Defendants in George Floyd Criminal Cases

On October 12, the State of Minnesota submitted additional arguments for enhanced sentences for the four former policemen in the event they are found guilty of murder and/or manslaughter in the killing of George Floyd. [1]

Background for This Submission[2]

On August 28, the State submitted its Notice of Intent To Seek an Upward Sentencing Departure in all four of these criminal cases. It alleged that Floyd was particularly vulnerable and was treated with particular cruelty by Chauvin, that Chauvin abused his position of authority, committed the crime as part of a group of three or more offenders who actively participated in the crime and in the presence of multiple children. (Similar assertions were made in notices in the other three criminal cases.)

This notice in the Chauvin case was submitted in accordance with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Blakely v. Washington, 542 U.S. 2996 (2004), which held that the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial can be violated any time the court imposes a sentence greater than that called for in the guidelines, even when the sentence imposed is below the maximum punishment permitted by the legislature.

This submission by the prosecution was argued at the September 11, 2020, hearing before Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill. 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.

Details of Supplemental Submission

 The supplemental submission answered “yes” to two questions posed by the Court at that hearing.

  1. “Whether the particular vulnerability of the victim justifies an upward sentencing departure when the defendants are responsible for creating the victim’s vulnerability?”

Under Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines 2.D.3.b(1), “When a defendant commits a crime against a victim who was “particularly vulnerable due to . . . reduced physical or mental capacity, and the offender knew or should have known of this vulnerability,” an upward sentencing departure is permissible.”

That standard is met in the current cases because the defendants “handcuffed Floyd’s arms behind his back, pressed him chest-down into the pavement, and rendered him unconscious. As a result, Floyd was “particularly vulnerable” when Defendants committed the crime, and Defendants knew or should have known as much.”

Moreover, the Minnesota Court of Appeals in six cited cases has “upheld the application of this enhancement where the victim became “particularly vulnerable” as a result of a defendant’s actions.”

  1. Whether a defendant’s abuse of a 27-CR-20-12646 Filed in District Court State of Minnesota 10/12/2020 3:09 PM 2 position of authority supports an upward sentencing departure even if there is not a pre-existing relationship of trust between the defendant and the victim?”

The Minnesota Supreme Court and Court of Appeals in cited cases have upheld upward sentencing departure where there are “power imbalances” even when there is no pre-existing relationship between the perpetrator and the victim “so long as the defendant holds either a’a position of trust or [a] position of authority.”

Here, “as police officers in full uniform, Defendants had a ‘defined relationship’ of authority over Floyd, and were ‘in a position to dominate and control’ him. . . . That ‘position of control” ’allowed them to handcuff and restrain Floyd, and therefore to ‘manipulate the circumstances and commit the crime.’”

Reaction to This Submission

Earl Gray, Lane’s defense attorney, said the request for an upward sentencing departure is an attempt to poison the potential pool of jurors. “They first have to get a conviction,” he said. The other defense counsel had no comments or could not be reached.

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[1] Supplemental Brief in Support of Notice of Intent To Seek an Upward Sentencing Departure, State v. Chauvin, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12646 (Hennepin County District Court Oct. 12, 2020); Olson, Prosecutors want stiff sentences for ex-cops charged in George Floyd’s killing, StarTribune (Oct. 13, 2020).

[2] State’s Notice of Intent To Seek an Upward Sentencing Departure, State v. Chauvin, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12646 (Hennepin County District Court Aug. 28, 2020), State’s Notice of Intent To Seek an Upward Sentencing Departure, State v. Lane, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12951 (Hennepin County District Court Aug. 28, 2020); State’s Notice of Intent To Seek an Upward Sentencing Departure, State v. Kueng, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12953(Hennepin County District Court Aug. 28, 2020); State’s Notice of Intent To Seek an Upward Sentencing Departure, State v. Thao, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12949 (Hennepin County District Court Aug. 28, 2020).  See also Preview of the 9/11/20 Hearing in George Floyd Criminal Cases, dwkcommentaries.com (Sept. 10, 2020); Results of 9/11/20 Hearing in George Floyd Criminal Cases, dwkcommentaries.com (Sept. 12, 2020).

 

Chauvin Out of Prison on Bail 

On October 4, Chauvin posted a $1 million bond and was released from Minnesota state prison on charges of murder and manslaughter of George Floyd on May 25th in Minneapolis. The conditions of his release include “that he remain law abiding, that he not have any contact with Floyd’s family, that he not work in law enforcement or security, that he surrender any firearms and licenses to carry, that he remain in Minnesota under court supervision, and that he sign a waiver of extradition upon his release.”  His three co-defendants—Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tao Thou—already had  posted bond (in smaller amounts) and had been released from jail. [1]

As reported in a comment to the earlier post about Chauvin and his wife being charged with Minnesota tax crimes, on September 8, Chauvin appeared remotely from state prison at a hearing on the state tax evasion charges before Judge Sheridan Hawley, Washington County District Court, Stillwater, Minnesota.[2]

The Judge ordered that if Chauvin were to post bail and be released from state prison on his charges of murder and manslaughter of George Floyd, he would not be required to post monetary bail on the tax evasion charges, but he would have to comply with standard conditions, including attending all future court dates and remain law-abiding. The Judge also set the next hearing in this case for October 30.

Protestors[3]

That same night about 300 people marched peacefully from the site of Floyd’s killing (East 38th Street and Chicago Avenue) a few blocks north towards downtown and then back. At one point they stopped to chant, “No justice, no peace.”

Later, 34 people who had veered away from the earlier protest were arrested for unlawful assembly near the Fifth Precinct police headquarters at 3101 Nicollet Av. by officers from the state Department of Natural Resources and the State Patrol, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety disclosed Thursday morning.

These law enforcement officers had been activated out of an abundance of caution by Minnesota Governor Tim Walz at the request of Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey. But there were no large or violent protests.

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[1]  Xiong, Chauvin posts $1 million bond and is released pending trial for murder in the killing of George Floyd, StarTribune (Oct. 7, 2020); Bailey, Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin released on bond as he faces trial in George Floyd’s death, Wash. Post (Oct. 4 , 2020); Bogel-Burroughs, Derek Chauvin, Ex-Officer Charged in George Floyd’s Death, Released on Bail, N.Y. Times (Oct. 4, 2020).

[2] Olson, Chauvin appears in court on tax evasion charges, StarTribune (Sept. 9, 2020): Comment: Chauvin Appears in State Court on Tax Evasion Charges (Oct. 4, 2020) to Chauvin and Wife Now Charged with Minnesota Tax Crimes, dwkcommentaries.com (July 22, 2020).

[3] Xiong, Derek Chauvin posts $1 million bond and is released pending trial for murder in the killing of George Floyd, StarTribune (Oct. 8, 2020); Simons, Dozens of protestors arrested during faceoff with law enforcement in Minneapolis, StarTribune (Oct. 8, 2020); Skiuzacek, Walz activates Minnesota National Guard to help keep peace in Twin Cities, 5 Eyewitness News (Oct. 7, 2020).

 

Additional Developments in George Floyd Criminal Cases

Developments in the four criminal cases over the killing of George Floyd through September 18, have been discussed or cited in a previous post.[1] Here are the further developments in the cases over the last two weeks.

Change Venue To Protect Defendants’ Safety [2]

The most significant development has been J. Alexander Kueng’s attorney’s October 1st argument that the case should be moved from Hennepin County to another county in order to protect the defendants’ safety. The following was the asserted factual basis for this supplemental argument:

  • For the September 11th hearing, “no recognizable plan was in place in advance of the hearing to assure the safe and orderly entry of CoDefendants or Co-Counsel into the courthouse.”
  • “ Chauvin, who is in custody, was subjected to a degree of humiliation by being paraded in public dressed in jail cloths and body armor.”
  • “Attorneys and Defendants were harassed upon arrival and departure from the courthouse.”
  • Attorneys “ Paule and Mr. Thao were followed for several blocks by jeering protestors when departing. . . .[Attorneys] Gray, Plunkett, and their respective clients were harassed. Gray and Lane were physically assaulted.”
  • “A privately owned vehicle sustained nearly $2,000.00 worth of damage from the violent rioters.”
  • “A rioter also used video from the event to dox [slang: publishing the private personal information of another person] one of the parties.”
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doxing
  • “Before leaving the courthouse, counsel conferred with court security to get advice on how they should safely leave the area. Court security suggested they wait until after The Floyd family and their attorney had addressed the crowd. This advice did not make sense, and, if followed, caused greater concern for attorney and client safety. Counsel rightfully believed that these speeches would incite the crowd making their departure far more risky and tempt rioters to storm the courthouse.”

Under Minnesota Rules of Criminal Procedure, the defense attorney argued, “a change of venue may be granted in the interests of justice,” and under cited Minnesota Supreme Court cases, “Where there is reason to believe that it will be impossible to obtain a fair and impartial trial in the county selected because of local prejudices, feelings, and opinions, the ends of justice require that a change of venue be granted.”

If the trial were held in Hennepin County, said the defense attorney, “the jury will be influenced by the screaming and yelling of the crowds that could be heard from the first floor during the motions hearing. . . . Witnesses will be intimidated as they have to walk the gauntlet before they testify. Defense witnesses will be reluctant to testify if providing exculpatory evidence will subject them to rioting, assaults and dox attacks.”

“The defendants have to reasonably question whether the chants and crowds will impact the decisions of the judge and jury in their case as the people that will decide their case pass through the rioters during weeks of trial.”

“The defendants and their lawyers cannot safely enter and exit the courthouse. Parties were physically assaulted after a simple motions hearing. During trial, tensions are going to be even higher. The lawyers will be carrying notebooks, computers, law books and other materials to help defend their clients, which will make it more difficult for them to avoid the angry crowds.”

“As demonstrated by the September 11th hearing, the Court simply cannot control the rioters and protesters who have taken to the streets of Minneapolis. This Court must grant a change of venue to a county where the defendants can obtain a fair trial free from the riots and crowds that will occur if he is tried in Hennepin County.”

Presumably the other three defendants will support this argument and the State will attempt to counter it, presumably be identifying security measures that will be imposed.

Prior Acts of Chauvin, Kueng and Thao [3]

Another significant development was the State’s notice of intent to offer evidence of eight other instances of Chauvin’s alleged use of force to prove his intent, knowledge;  common scheme or plan and modus operandi; one instance of Kueng’s use of force to prove knowledge and intent; and nine instance of Thao’s conduct to prove expediency, dishonesty and refusal to respond to training.

The State also said it intends prior to trial to file a separate memorandum in support of the admission of this evidence and that it “may offer evidence of other acts, instances of specific conduct, and prior convictions” of the defendants.”

The defendants have not yet responded to this notice, except in their additional arguments against joinder of the cases for trial, as discussed below.

Additional Arguments Against Joinder of Cases for Trial [4]

As previously discussed, the court at the September 11 hearing heard arguments for and against the State’s motion to join all four cases for one trial. Now two of the defendants have submitted additional opposing briefs.

Chauvin’s attorney argued that the State’s intent to offer evidence of eight prior acts of Chauvin and of prior acts of two of the other defendants (Kueng and Thao) demonstrates that “a majority of the evidence will not be admissible against all defendants” and, therefore, contradicting the State’s argument for joinder. In addition, Chauvin would be prejudiced by the other defendants attempts to blame Chauvin.

Kueng’s attorney argues that the State’s intent to use evidence of prior bad acts by Chauvin and Thao would prejudice Kueng because such evidence could be used against Kueng and he could use the evidence in a manner in which the State would be prohibited.

Thomas Lane Case  [5]

Lane’s attorney noticed his intent to offer evidence of Lane’s good character in a January 2020 encounter with a homeless Black individual in a wheelchair.

Alexander Kueng Case [6]

In addition to his previously mentioned additional argument for change of venue, Kueng has filed an appeal to the Minnesota Court of Appeals from the district court’s denial of his request for public funding of fees for services other than counsel.

 Press Articles about Defendants [7]

There also have been press articles about the defendants.

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[1] See Developments in George Floyd Criminal Cases, dwkcommentaries.com (Sept. 19, 2020).

[2] Supplemental Memorandum Notice of Motion and Motion To Change Venue, State v. Kueng, Court File No.: 27-CR-20-12933 (Hennepin County Dist. Ct. Oct. 1, 2020); Olson, Crowd swarms former Minneapolis police officers with shouts of ‘Murderer!’, StarTribune (Sept. 11, 2020); Forliti, Lawyer: Unruly crowd warrants venue change in Floyd case, StarTribune (Oct. 1, 2020); Xiong, Protesters assaulted former officer charged in George Floyd’s killing and defense attorney, court filing alleges, StarTribune (Oct. 2, 2020). 

[3] State’s Amended Notice of Intent To Offer Other Evidence, State v. Chauvin, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12646 (Hennepin County Dist. Ct. Sept. 25, 2020).

[4] Defendant’s [Kueng’s] Memorandum—Effect of the State’s Spreigl Notice of Joinder, State v. Kueng, Court File No.: 27-CR-20-12953 (Hennepin County District Court Sept.25, 2020); [Chauvin’s} Memorandum of Law Regarding the Effect of the State’s Spreigl Notice of Its Joinder Motion, State v. Chauvin, Court File No.: 27-CR-20-12646 (Hennepin County District Court Sept.25, 2020).

[5] Defendant Thomas Lane Notice of Intent To Offer Character Evidence, State v.Lane, Court File No.: 27-CR-20-12951 (Hennepin County District Court Sept. 30, 2020).

[6] Appellate Notice of Case Filing, State v. Kueng, Court File No.: 27-CR-20-12953 (Hennepin County District Court Sept. 22, 2020 27-CR-20-12953 (Hennepin County District Court Sept. 22, 2020); Appellate Notice of Court Filing, State V. Kueng, File #27-CR-20-12953 (Minn. Ct. App. Sept. 22, 2020); Request for Trial Court Record-Appellate Court, State v. Kueng, File A20-1225 (Minn. Ct. App. (Sept. 24, 2020); Appellate Exhibit List, State v. Kueg, Court File No.: 27-CR-20-12953 (Hennepin County District Court Sept.25, 2020).

[7] Chanen, Trouble signs showed up early in the career of fired Minneapolis police officer Tou Thau. StarTribune (Sept. 26, 2020); Xiong, [Kueng’s] Former officer’s failure to stop the deadly restraint of George Floyd leaves friends perplexed, StarTribune, StarTribune (Sept. 13, 2020).

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).