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).

Journalist’s Report on Viewing Two Bodycam Footages of George Floyd Killing       

A StarTribune journalist, Chao Xiong, reported on his July 15th viewing the initial portions of the bodycam footage of the February 25th encounter with George Floyd by ex-police officers Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng.[1] Here are highlights of that journalist’s report:

  • Lane’s video “showed that Floyd was given no explanation for why he was being questioned before Lane pointed a gun at him, swore at him, physically touched him multiple times and forced him out of his vehicle into the street.”
  • Lane’s video showed that “as the first officer to engage with Floyd on May 25, [Lane] did not inform Floyd that he was being investigated for allegedly using a fake $20 bill at Cup Foods before [Lane] pointed a gun at him, swore at him multiple times while Floyd repeatedly said ‘please’ and asked what was going on, [and Lane] reached his hands into Floyd’s car and touched him several times and forced Floyd out of the vehicle.”
  • About two minutes into Lane’s video, Floyd said, “I didn’t do nothing,” while “holding his left hand visibly up in the air as he sat in the driver’s seat.”
  • Lane’s video shows him yelling ’Put your [expletive] hands up right now!” at Floyd “while aiming a gun in his right hand at Floyd. ‘Let me see your other hand.’”
  • “About 11 minutes into Lane’s video, Lane grabbed Floyd’s leg and helped Chauvin and Kueng flip Floyd from his back onto his stomach in the street.”
  • “Lane’s video showed that he asked twice about rolling Floyd onto his side, but did not appear to express any sense of urgency, fear or persistence in his voice.”
  • “An ambulance arrived about 20 minutes after Lane first arrived at the scene and [a first responder] spoke to a store manager. . . . [Thereafter a] first responder took Floyd’s pulse at his neck and walked away without a sense of urgency. Ambulance staff loaded Floyd into the ambulance. Lane boarded the ambulance as well.
  • “Lane’s video also showed that medics who arrived at the scene did not appear alarmed or rushed in assisting Floyd after taking his pulse, and that about three minutes passed before anyone began performing CPR on Floyd, who had been unresponsive for several minutes by then.”
  • “About three minutes after the ambulance first arrived at the scene, Lane began performing CPR on Floyd at the instruction of a first responder.”

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[1] Xiong, Bodycam video in George Floyd killings show officer pulled gun, swore and touched Floyd multiple times without explanation, StarTribune (July 15, 2020). See also Bailey, George Floyd’s family files wrongful-death lawsuit against city of Minneapolis and former officers, Wash. Post (July 15, 2020) (another journalist’s report on the footage).

 

 

Defense Attorneys Accuse Attorney General Ellison of Contempt of Court in George Floyd Cases  

On July 14 Earl Gray, the attorney for defendant Thomas Lane, and Robert Paule, the attorney for defendant Tou Thau, accused Attorney General Keith Ellison of contempt of court by his issuance of a statement announcing the appointment of four Special Assistant Attorney Generals in the case.[1] That statement, which was the subject of a prior post, merely said the following:

  • “Seasoned attorneys join AG Ellison’s team pro bono in George Floyd case”
  • “Includes former acting U.S. Solicitor General Neal Katyal, Minnesota attorneys Lola Velázquez-Aguilu, Jerry Blackwell, and Steve Schleicher”
  • “Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison today announced that four seasoned attorneys and trial lawyers have joined on a pro bonobasis the prosecution team he leads in the George Floyd case. This team includes attorneys from the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office and the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office.”
  • “’Out of respect for Judge Cahill’s gag order, I will say simply that I’ve put together an exceptional team with experience and expertise across many disciplines. We are united in our responsibility to pursue justice in this case,’ Attorney General Ellison said.”
  • “The attorneys joining the prosecution team, each of whom Attorney General Ellison has appointed a Special Assistant Attorney General, are:
    • “Neal Katyal, partner at the international law firm Hogan Lovells, and former acting Solicitor General and former Principal Deputy Solicitor General of the United States.
    • Lola Velázquez-Aguilu, litigation and investigation counsel for Medtronic, and former prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Minnesota. During her tenure at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, she prosecuted complex multi-defendant, white-collar crimes, including the successful prosecution and trial of several former executives from Starkey Hearing Technologies. Until today, she served as Chairwoman of the Commission on Judicial Selection, to which position she was appointed by Governor Tim Walz.
    • Jerry Blackwell, trial lawyer and founding partner, CEO, and chairman of the Minneapolis law firm Blackwell Burke, P.A. In June 2020, he won a full, first-ever posthumous pardon for Max Mason, who was wrongly convicted of rape in connection with the infamous Duluth lynching of June 1920.
    • Steven L. Schleicher, partner at the Minneapolis law firm Maslon LLP; former prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Minnesota, the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office, the Winona County Attorney’s Office, and U.S. Army Reserve JAG Corps. In 2016, he led the successful prosecution of the person responsible for the kidnapping and murder of Jacob Wetterling.”

According to Mr. Gray, “Ellison should be jailed along with” his spokesman John Stiles. “There is no reason to announce that these so called ‘super stars’ are joining the prosecution and that they’re doing it for free. It is an obvious statement to the public that these ‘super stars’ lawyers believe that our clients are guilty. Further proof that the news release was done to influence the public is that it was released by John Stiles, who, according to Google, is a chief strategy officer and builds reputations and brands.”

Mr. Paule merely moved the Court for an order holding “Keith Ellison, the Attorney General for Minnesota and lead prosecutor in the above-captioned case, in contempt of court and ordering sanctions as a result of his actions.”

The Court’s Gag Order[2]

The purported basis for these motions is the Court’s Gag Order of July 9, which prohibited attorneys and others working on the matter from publicly talking about  “any information, opinions, strategies, plans or potential evidence . . . either to the media or members of the general public. This includes, but is not limited to, any discovery provided to the parties, and any exhibits in the case.”

Reactions

Joseph Daly, professor emeritus at Mitchell Hamline School of Law, believes it unlikely that the judge will sanction or have Ellison and Stiles arrested. “Judges do not like to sanction lawyers unless their conduct is outrageous.” At most, Daly thought, the judge might  issue a warning or clarify his gag order.

I concur in Daly’s opinion. The Attorney General’s statement, in my judgment, did not concern the AG Office’s “opinions, strategies, plans or potential evidence” or evidentiary “discovery” or “exhibits in the case.” Yes, the statement did contain “information” relating to the case, but it was not information relating to opinions, strategies, plans or potential evidence or evidentiary discovery or exhibits in the case. Moreover, any of the parties in this or any other criminal or civil case has a right to hire new or additional attorneys and to give public notice of such developments.

In short, there is no basis in the Attorney General’s statement for the two defense attorneys’ assertion that it was intended to tell the public that these ‘super stars’ lawyers believe that our clients are guilty.’  It would be just as easy to speculate, without any foundation, that the statement was a sign that the Attorney General is worried about the strength of the criminal charges or the capabilities of the existing team of prosecution attorneys.

These motions are ridiculous and should be denied.

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[1]  Xiong, Defense attorneys in George Floyd’s death accuse AG Ellison of contempt of court, StarTribune (July 14, 2020); Minnesota Attorney General, Seasoned attorneys join AG Ellison’s team pro bono in George Floyd Case (July 13, 2020).

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

 

Gag Order in George Floyd Murder Cases  

On July 9, Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill issued an order prohibiting attorneys and others working on the matter from publicly talking about “any information, opinions, strategies, plans or potential evidence . . . either to the media or members of the general public. This includes, but is not limited to, any discovery provided to the parties, and any exhibits in the case.” However, “access to public records [in the cases] is not restricted by this order.”[1]

The Order applies to “all parties, attorneys, their employees, agents, or independent contractors working on their behalf.”

The Order was prefaced by the following statement, “The court has been made aware that two or more attorneys representing parties in . . .[these] cases granted interviews or talked with the media yesterday, expounding on the merits of the case or commenting on other aspects of the case after a motion to dismiss was filed in [the Lane case]. The court find that continuing pretrial publicity in this case by the attorneys involved will increase the risk of tainting a potential jury pool and will impair all parties’ right to a fair trial.”

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[1] Gag Order, State v. Chauvin, Thao, Lane, Kueng, Dist. Ct. Files 27-CR-20-1646, 12949, 12951. 12953 (July 9, 2020); Xiong, Judge issues gag order in trial of ex-officers charged in George Floyd killing, StarTribune (July 9, 2020); Assoc. Press, Judge imposes gag order on attorneys in George Floyd case, StarTribune (July 9, 2020).

 

 

 

 

Ex-Officer Lane Moves for Dismissal of Criminal Charges for George Floyd Killing

On July 7, the attorney for ex-officer Thomas Lane moved to dismiss the charges that he had illegally aided and abetted the May 25th alleged murder and manslaughter of George Floyd. The prosecution’s response is due on August 12 followed by a reply from Lane’s attorney with the hearing on the motion likely to be the one previously scheduled for September 11.[1]

The brief in support of the motion made the following arguments:

  1. “There is not substantial admissible evidence to survive a motion for a directed verdict that Thomas Lane aided and abetted second degree murder or manslaughter.”
  2. “There is no evidence in the voluminous discovery that Officer Lane played an intentional role in aiding the commission of a crime. There is no circumstantial evidence Lane knew that Chauvin was committing a crime. Hence, the legal requirements showing he acted with intent cannot be met.”
  3. “Lane did not intentionally aid, advise, hire, counsel, or conspire with Chauvin or otherwise procure Chauvin to commit second degree murder. Lane did not encourage any alleged criminal actions of Chauvin. He did not know and had no reason to believe that a third degree assault was being committed, nor did he intend for the restraints of his Floyd’s legs to help commit a crime.”
  4. “Lane did not know what Chauvin was thinking while restraining Floyd. Chauvin did not verbally tell Lane anything about his intentions other than waiting for the ambulance to arrive. Lane knew Floyd needed to be restrained and he knew Chauvin was authorized to use reasonable force to restrain.”

Lane’s attorney also submitted transcripts of the body-cam footage for Lane and ex-cop and co-defendant J. Alexander Kueng. Here are extracts from these transcripts:

  • When Lane approached the vehicle containing Floyd and two other individuals, Lane drew his pistol when Floyd did not immediately show his hands. Floyd said, “”I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. God dang man. Man, I got shot. I got shot the same way, Mr. Officer, before.”
  • When Lane ordered him to get out of the car, Floyd said, “Please don‘t shoot me, Mr. Officer. Please, don’t shoot me man. Please. Can you not shoot me, man?”
  • Lane and Kueng then grabbed Floyd’s arms, prompting him to say, ““I’m not going to do nothing… I’m sorry Mr. Officer, I’ll get on my knees, whatever.”
  • Lane then pulled Floyd out of the vehicle and asked the woman in the car (Schwanda Renee Hill), “Why’s he getting all squirelly and not showing us his hands, just being all weird like that?”
  • Hill: “I have no clue, because he’s been shot before.”
  • Lane: “Well I get that, but still when officers say ‘Get out of the car.’ Is he drunk? Is he on something?”
  • Hill: “”No, he got a thing going on, I’m telling you about the police … He have problems all the time when they come, especially when that man put that gun like that.”
  • After Kueng escorted Floyd from his car to a nearby sidewalk and sat him down, Floyd said, ‘Thank you, man. Thank you, Mr. Officer,” as Floyd remained cooperative. He gave Kueng his name and date of birth, adding once again that ‘I got shot last time, same thing, man.’”
  • “Kueng then explained to Floyd that he was being detained for suspicion of passing a fake bill. Floyd said he understood.”
  • Kueng: “And do you know why we pulled you out of the car? Because you was not listening to anything we told you,”
  • Floyd: “Right, but I didn’t know what was going on,”
  • Kueng: “You listen to us, and we will tell you what’s going on, all right?”
  • Floyd: “Yes sir.”
  • “Lane then asked Floyd if he was on something, while Kueng asked about the foam around his mouth. Floyd said he was scared, and that he had been playing basketball earlier.”
  • “The two officers then attempted to place Floyd in the back of [their]squad [car], while he again pleaded with them not to, saying he was claustrophobic.”
  • Lane or Kueng: “You can’t win.”
  • Floyd: “I’m not trying to win . . . I’ll get on the ground, anything.”
  • “After more struggle, Floyd began to collapse on the ground, saying, ‘I’m going to lay on the ground, oh, I’m coming down.’”
  • As Lane and Kueng attempted to put Floyd into the back seat of their squad car, Floyd said, “‘Oh man, God don’t leave me man, please man, please man,’ he pleaded, telling them he was claustrophobic as the officers repeatedly ordered him into the back of the squad.”
  • Lane or Kueng: “Man, you going to die of a heart attack. Just get in the car.”
  • Lane then offered to sit in the squad car with Floyd and turn on the air conditioner. Floyd said, “”I’m not that kind of guy, man, I’m not that kind of guy … and I just had COVID, I don’t want to go back to that.”
  • After Officer Chauvin arrived, he asked Kueng if the suspect was going to jail, and Kueng explained the man was under arrest for forgery.
  • Chauvin asked the other two officers if they had a “restraint,” and the officers (who?) called for “Code 2” for medics after Lane said the man had banged his head against the partition glass in the squad car, resulting in a cut.”
  • Chauvin told Floyd , “You’re under arrest, guy.”
  • Floyd responded, “”All right, all right. Oh my god. I can’t believe this. I can’t believe this … After Chauvin said, “so you’re going to jail,” Floyd said, Mom, I love you … Tell my kids I love them. I’m dead.”
  • Floyd then was placed on the pavement with Lane holding one of his legs while Kueng was holding his back. Floyd kept saying, “Mama, mama, I can’t breathe. I’m through, I’m through. I’m claustrophobic. My stomach hurts. My neck hurts. Everything hurts. I need some water or something, please. Please? I can’t breathe officer.”
  • As Lane asked Chauvin whether Floyd should be rolled on his side, Chauvin and Kueng said not to do so, and one of the officers called to upgrade the medics to Code 3.
  • Floyd’s final words: ““Come on, man. Oh, oh. l cannot breathe. Cannot breathe. Ah! They’ll kill me. They‘ll kill me. I can’t breathe. Can‘t breathe. Oh!” and “Ah! Ah! Please. Please. Please.”
  • After the medics arrived, Lane did chest compressions on Floyd.
  • One of the medics asked the officers, “Was he [Floyd] fighting with you guys for a long time?”
  • Lane: “ I mean a little bit, but not a long time, maybe a minute or two. We were just trying to get him in the squad and he came out the other end, so we were like we’ll just wait.”
  • Medic: “I wonder what he was on.”
  • Lane: “Not sure but he seemed very agitated and paranoid.”
  • Medic: “That’s a shame.”
  • Lane: “Yeah.”

According to the New York Times’ summary of these transcripts, Floyd told the police officers more than 20 times that he could not breathe and several times said the officers were killing him.

In addition, Lane’s court filing included a 60-page transcript of his interview by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and that this transcript had Lane responding to the question of whether at any time he felt Floyd was having a medical emergency, with the following: “Yeah, I felt maybe something was going on.” The Times also says Lane’s attorney claims a police photo of the interior of Floyd’s car showed “two crumpled counterfeit $20 bills that were found between the center console and the passenger’s seat.”

Another article in the Washington Post asserts that the “transcripts make clear that Floyd was trying to cooperate with police but was deathly afraid of them, at times telling them that he had had covid-19 and was worried that he was going to die because he couldn’t breathe.”

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[1] Xiong, Former officer Thomas Lane’s attorney seeks dismissal of charges in George Floyd killing, StarTribune (July 8, 2020); Olson. Body camera transcripts: George Floyd repeatedly begged police not to kill him, StarTribune (July 8, 2020); Staff Reports, Read the transcript of Thomas Lane’s body camera footage during George Floyd call, StarTribune (July 8, 2020); Staff Reports, Read the transcript of J. Alexander Kueng’s body camera footage during George Floyd call, StarTribune (July 8, 2020); Memorandum Supporting Motion To Dismiss, State v. Lane, Case No. 27-CR-20-12651 (Henn. Cty. Dist. Ct. July 7, 2020); Oppel, New Transcripts Detail Last Moments for George Floyd, N.Y.Times (July 8, 2020); Bailey, George Floyd warned police he thought he would die because he couldn’t breathe, according to body camera transcripts, Wash. Post (July 8, 2020); Wernau & Barrett, Attorney for Former Officer Asks Court to Dismiss Abetting Charges in George Flynn Killing, W.S.J. (July 8, 2020); George Floyd told officers ‘I can’t breathe’ more than 20 times, transcripts show, Guardian (July 8, 2020).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Third Ex-Cop in George Floyd Case Posts Bond and Leaves Jail 

On July 4, Tou Thau, a former Minneapolis police officer charged with aiding and abetting the murder of George Floyd, posted bond of $750,000 and was released with conditions from the Hennepin County Jail.[1] Earlier two other ex-officers charged with the same crime—Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng—had posted the same amount of bond and had been released from jail.[2]

The fourth defendant in the Floyd killing—Derek Chauvin—has not posted a higher bond–$1 million with conditions and $1,250,000 without conditions and thus remains in custody at the Oak Park Heights prison.

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[1] Xiong, Third fired Minneapolis police officer charged in Floyd death is out of jail, StarTribune (July 4, 2020).

[2] Walsh, Fired Minneapolis police officer, Thomas Lane, one of 4 charged in George Floyd’s death, posts bail and leaves jail, StarTribune (June 11, 2020); Another Minneapolis Policeman in George Floyd Cases Makes Bail, dwkcommentaries.com (June 20, 2020).

 

 

Pretrial Hearing in Criminal Cases Over George Floyd Killing

On June 29, Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill held a pretrial hearing in the George Floyd criminal cases against Derek Chauvin,Tou Thao,Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng.[1]

The judge scheduled another pretrial hearing for September 11 and for the trial tentatively to start on March 8. Although the prosecutors seem to be pushing for a consolidated trial, defense counsel are expected to request separate trials so that should be a future issue for the court to resolve.

None of the officers entered pleas at the hearing, but Lane’s attorney told the court he would be filing a motion to dismiss the case against his client for alleged insufficiency of evidence. Afterwards Kueng’s attorney filed a document with the court advising that his client intends to plead not guilty, claiming self-defense and use of reasonable and authorized force.

One of the major issues at the hearing was whether public officials’ statements about the cases might call for a change of venue from Minneapolis in Hennepin County to another county. Robert Paule, the attorney for Thao, said he was planning to make such a motion in light of public statements by Police Chief Arradondo and Department of Public Safety Commissioner Harrington, who have called Floyd’s death a “murder,” along with other statements by Gov. Tim Walz and Attorney General Keith Ellison.

Judge Cahill acknowledged these statements, and said people who are aligned with the state’s stance on the case are pushing it toward a change of venue. “It’s in everyone’s best interest” that no public statements about the case be made, the Judge said, noting that they’ve come from family, friends and law enforcement officials. “What they’re doing is endangering the right to a fair trial” for all the parties.

“They need to understand that; at this point they need to be aware of that,” Cahill said, and asked Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank if prosecutors are addressing the matter with public officials. In response, Frank said, “We are just as interested in fair trial and are acutely aware of the issues you talk about. We have asked people not to talk about this case … we’ve done our best to make the court’s concerns known to them and will continue to do so.”

The Judge also admonished two members of Floyd’s family for visibly reacting to his statements at the hearing. Afterwards George Floyd’s uncle, Selwyn Jones, told journalists he was offended by the Judge’s comments.

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[1] Xiong, Former officers to appear in court Monday in George Floyd killing, StarTribune (June 29, 2020); Xiong, In George Floyd case,  judge warns that public officials speaking out could force venue change, StarTribune (June 30, 2020); Neuman, Tentative Trial Date Set For Ex-Minneapolis Officers Accused in George Floyd Death, MPR News (June 29, 2020); Chakraborty, Four ex-cops Linked to George Floyd’s death appear in court, judge sets 2021 trial date, Fox News (June 29, 2020); Bailey & Berman, Ex-Minneapolis officers charged in George Floyd’s killing get tentative trial date in March, Wash. Post (June 29, 2020); Arango, In Court, Derek Chauvin’s Lawyers Say Officials Have Biased the Case, N.Y. Times (June 29, 2020); Wernau & Barrett, Officers charged in George Floyd’s Killing Appear Before Judge, W.S.J. (June 30, 2020); George Floyd judge warns he may move trials if officials keep talking about the case, Guardian (June 29, 2020).

 

 

 

Developments in Criminal Cases Over Death of George Floyd

The four defendants in the criminal cases over the death of George Floyd last week made an unusual request for pretrial and trial audiovisual coverage which the court denied, in part. The issues in the cases were analyzed by criminal law experts. And some personal background information of the four defendants have been publicly discussed. After examining these developments, we will  await the results of the pretrial hearing in the four cases on June 29th.[1]

 Motion for Pretrial and Trial Audiovisual Recording [2]

On June 25 the attorneys for the four criminal defendants made a motion for audiovisual recording of pretrial and trial proceedings in the cases. Thomas Plunkett, the attorney for J. Alexander Kueng, on behalf of all defendants, asserted that such relief was “necessary to provide the Defendants with a fair trial in light of the State’s and other governmental actors multiple inappropriate comments and to assure an open hearing in light of the ongoing pandemic.” Those officials, said Plunkett, included “Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo.”

More specifically, Plunkett said, “this relief is necessary to blunt the effects of the increasing and repeated media attacks from the various officials who have breached their duty to the community. These State comments have crescendoed to an extraordinary volume this week with the Chief pronouncing that ‘[w]hat happened to Mr. Floyd was murder.’ The State’s conduct has made a fair and unbiased trial extremely unlikely and the Defendants seek video and audio coverage to let a cleansing light shine on these proceedings. Doing otherwise allows these public officials to geld the Constitution.”

Attorney General Keith Ellison responded by saying that although he supports a public trial, “Cameras could alter the way the lawyers present evidence. Cameras in the courtroom could subject the participants in the trial to heightened media scrutiny and thereby be distracting to conducting the trial.” The chances of  “creating more sensation than understanding” was “very high,” Ellison said.

The Hennepin County District Judge, Peter Cahill, immediately denied the motion for such pretrial coverage while reserving decision on the motion for such coverage of the trial. The Judge stated that Minnesota court rules require both the defense and prosecution to agree for such coverage for pretrial proceedings and that the prosecution did not so agree. In addition, said the Judge, such coverage “would risk tainting a potential Hennepin County jury pool.”

Analysis of Issues in These Criminal Cases[3]

A journalist reports, “Veteran defense attorneys say the prosecution’s case against Chauvin is strong, while a series of unique circumstances pose challenges to both prosecutors and defense attorneys.”

Several facets of these cases seem to favor the prosecution. These cases do not involve “split-second” decisions on use of force which often lead a jury to avoid second guessing such decisions. Moreover, “Floyd warned the officers of his own impending death after repeatedly telling them he couldn’t breathe,” and bystanders were making the same warning. Finally the three officers charged with “aiding and abetting” could cause a crack in the alleged “blue wall of silence” protecting officers.

Indeed, at their initial appearances, the attorneys for Lane and Kueng argued that their clients were rookies who relied on Chauvin, a 19-year veteran and their training officer, for guidance at the scene.

A prominent local criminal defense attorney, Joe Friedberg, thought that Lane’s twice suggesting turning Floyd over and later performing CPR on him was strong evidence he had no intent for Floyd to die.

Another local criminal defense attorney, Robert Richman, had a different reaction. He thought that Chauvin “could direct the blame at Lane, who was holding down Floyd’s leg as Floyd lay stomach-down in the street, and Kueng, who was holding onto Floyd’s back. It seems that keeping someone … in a prone position on your stomach and having pressure placed on your back causes respiratory difficulties.” Perhaps “it was the other two officers holding him down that caused the breathing difficulties,” rather than Chauvin kneeling on the side of Floyd’s neck.

Another complication was the existence of two different autopsy reports. “The Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office found that Floyd died when his heart stopped  while he was being restrained, noting that the presence of fentanyl intoxication and recent methamphetamine were “other significant conditions” while the autopsy commissioned by the attorneys for Floyd’s family said he died of asphyxia. These provide bases for defense arguments that Floy had started to die before Chauvin put his knee on the neck.

New Rule for Use of Bodycam Footage[4]

On June 27 Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and Police Chief Medaria Arradondo announced a new rule for officers’ review of their body camera footage. Now the officer “as soon as practical” must write and submit his or her written report of the incident before looking at that footage and before talking with anyone other than the incident commander and the lead investigator. This new rule purportedly will provide a more accurate account of the officer’s recollection of the incident.

The Police Officers’ Backgrounds[5]

The police personnel files for the four officers and published articles reveal the following  details:

  • Derek Chauvin. He attended Park High School in Cottage Grove, Minnesota, but did not graduate. After getting his GED he attended Dakota County Technical College, Inver Hills Community College and Metropolitan State University, all in Minnesota. Previous jobs include working security, and food service including at a McDonald’s. Chauvin also had two periods of active service in the U.S. Army. From September 1996 to February 1997 he was stationed in Rochester, Minnesota with a job in military police. He served again from September 1999 to May 2000 in military police, at Hohenfels, Germany where his job duties as including criminal investigations, traffic enforcement and proactive patrol.

During his 19-year career with the Minneapolis Police Department, Chauvin was involved with several police shootings, includes both commendations and more than 15 conduct complaints. Almost all the complaints were closed without discipline, records show, suggesting the allegations weren’t sustained. The nature of the complaints wasn’t made public. The file includes a 2008 letter of reprimand Chauvin received for the two violations involving “discretion” and a squad car camera. “This case will remain a B violation and can be used as progressive discipline for three years,” the letter notes. Chauvin received a Medal of Commendation in 2008 for disarming a man outside the El Nuevo Rodeo club on E. Lake Street while working security off-duty in his uniform. He was also recommended for a Medal of Valor in 2006 related to the shooting death of Wayne Reyes, a stabbing suspect who fled in his truck with officers in pursuit. When Reyes stopped and climbed out of the truck, police said he swung his sawed-off shotgun toward the six officers, all of whom fired their weapons.

Chauvin his married , but immediately after his arrest for the Floyd death, she filed for divorce with her attorney saying, “She is devastated by Mr. Floyd’s death and her utmost sympathy lies with his family, with his loved ones and with everyone who is grieving this tragedy.”

  • Tou Thao. The 11-year veteran and native Hmong speaker from Coon Rapids, Minnesota first applied to the department as a community service officer following stints in food service and as a security guard. He was among those laid off three days before Christmas in 2009 as the police department faced a $13 million budget shortfall. In a termination letter, a supervisor assured him the action was not related to his job performance. Officials called him back to work almost exactly two years later.

Thao and another officer were the subjects of a 2017 police brutality lawsuit. Lamar Ferguson, a black man, alleged that in 2014 the two officers told him they were serving a warrant for his arrest, then beat him, breaking his teeth, while he was handcuffed. The city of Minneapolis paid $25,000 to settle the civil rights case.

  • Thomas Lane. A University of Minnesota graduate in sociology of law, criminology and deviance. He worked with at-risk youth as a juvenile detention guard and probation officer in the Twin Cities before applying as a police recruit at age 35. He also had volunteer work mentoring Somali youth and school kids.
  • Alexander Koenig. At age 26, he is the youngest of the four officers and is of mixed-race and identifies as African-American. In 2010 he and two siblings made several trips to Haiti to help at an orphanage, once after its 2010 earthquake.He was captain of the varsity soccer team at Patrick Henry High School in Minneapolis, where he graduated in 2012. He also played for the Cruz Azul Minnesota soccer club. He attended Monroe College, Minneapolis Community & Technical College and the University of Minnesota, graduating from the last in 2018 with a major in sociology of law, criminology and deviance and becoming conversational in the Russian language. His work history includes a job as security monitor at the University of Minnesota and working in loss prevention at Macy’s. He also worked at Target, and he coached youth baseball and soccer at the Brooklyn Center Community Center.

Kueng had seen a sibling arrested and treated poorly by sheriff’s deputies and had told friends he was joining the police to help protect people close to him from police aggression as the best way to fix a broken system.

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[1] This blog has published posts about the Floyd death and related issues of police reform. See List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: George Floyd Killing; List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: Police Reform.

[2]  Xiong & Montemayor, Judge denies audiovisual coverage of hearings for former officers charged in George Floyd killing, StarTribune (June 26, 2020).

[3] Xiong, In trial over George Floyd’s killing, both defense, prosecution face unique challenges, StarTribune (June 27, 2020).

[4]] Klecker, Minneapolis mayor, police chief announce tighter body-camera rules, StarTribune (June 29, 2020).

[5] Bjorhus & Sawyer, Personnel records shed light on four Minneapolis police officers charged in George Floyd’s death, StarTribune (June 4, 2020); Bjorhus, A deeper look at the four officers fired after George Floyd death, StarTribune (June 1, 2020); Barker, Eligon & Furber, Officers Charged in George Floyd’s Death Not Likely to Present United Front, N.Y.Times (June 4, 2020); Barker, The Black Officer Who Detained George Floyd Had Pledged to Fix the Police, N.Y. Times (June 27, 2020); Wernau, The Other Police Officers Charged in George Floyd Killing, W.S.J. (June 29, 2020).

 

Revised Length of Time for Minneapolis Police Restraint of George Floyd

The criminal complaints against former Minneapolis police officers Derek Chauvin, Thomas Lane, J.A. Kueng and Tou Thao all state that “at 8:19:38 . . . Mr. Floyd went to the ground face down and still handcuffedd. Kueng held Mr. Floyd’s back and Lane held his legs. [Chauvin] placed his left knee in the area of Mr. Floyd’s head and neck.” Those same complaints also state, “At 8:27:24 [Chauvin] removed his knee from Mr. Floyd’s neck.” (Emphases added.) [1]

Those same complaints later state, “[Chauvin] had his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds in total.” (Emphasis added.)

Chuck Laszewski, the Hennepin County Media Coordinator, on June 18, stated that the 8:19:38 and 8:27:24 times for the beginning and ending of the restraint were correct, but that the total time of restraint was 7 minutes and 46 seconds, not 8 minutes and 46 seconds.[2] This is shown by the following table:

Clock Minutes Seconds
08:19:38—08:19:60     0     22
08:20:00—08:20:60     1       0
08:21:00—08:21:60     1       0
08:22:00—08:22:60     1       0
08:23:00—08:23:60     1       0
08:24:00—08:24:60     1       0
08:25:00—08:25:60     1       0
08:26:00—08:26:60     1       0
08:27:00—08:27:24     0     24
TOTAL     7     46

“These kinds of technical matters can be handled in future amendments to the criminal complaint if other reasons make it necessary to amend the complaint between now and any trials,” said Laszewski. He also said “the one-minute error made no difference to charge nor in the continuing legal hearings.”

Even this revised timing of the restraint on Floyd has been questioned. The New York Times reports that other videotapes of this horrible crime “show that . . . [Chaurvin] continued to hold his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck for more than a minute after the ambulance arrrived” and that Chauvin’s knee was on Mr. Floyd’s neck “for at least eight minutes and 15 seconds.”[3]

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[1] What Happened to George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020, dwkcommentareis.com (June 5, 2020); The Criminal Complaints Against the Other Three Policemen Involved in George Floyd’s Death, dwkcommentaries.com (June 14, 2020).

[2] Walsh, 7 minutes, 46 seconds: Error in George Floyd killing timeline won’t affect charges, county says, StarTribune (June 18, 2020).

[3] Bogel-Burroughs, 8 Minutes, 46  Seconds Became a Symbol in George Floyd’s Death, The Exact Time Is Less Clear, N.Y. times (June 18, 2020).

 

Judge Peter Cahill Appointed To Handle Criminal Cases Over Death of George Floyd     

On June 12, Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill was appointed to handle the four criminal cases against Minneapolis police officers over the death of George Floyd.[1]

Cahill was appointed to the bench in 2007 by Governor Tim Pawlenty (Rep.) and elected to continue in that position in 2008 and 2014. Known for being decisive and direct, Cahill has handled other significant criminal cases.

In 2019, he presided over the jury trial of Kenneth Lilly for shooting a school bus driver on a snowy winter day. After the jury’s guilty verdict, Cahill sentenced Lilly to seven years in prison, saying the judge accepted that the defendant was “not a monster,” but did not believe the defendant’s assertions that he feared for his life when his car was hit by the slow-moving bus and that he did not know a child was on the bus. Lilly was represented by Thomas Plunkett, who argued for a lower sentence because Lilly had Asperger’s syndrome and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder from two attempted robberies. Plunkett now represents one of the four Minneapolis policemen (J. Alexander Kueng) in the Floyd case.[2]

Last year Cahill also presided over the case of Thomas Incantalupo, a former ice skating coach with a local skating club. As the trial for nine counts of sexual assaults with a young girl skater was set to commence in June 2019, the defendant accepted a deal for pleading guilty to two counts in exchange for a prison sentence between 12 and 30 years. Thereafter Cahill sentenced him to 24 years in prison after saying that there was “overwhelming evidence” against the defendant, that the defendant’s apologies “ring hollow” and that the defendant’s actions were “not cheating on your wife. This is a crime against a child.” That defendant was represented by attorney Earl Gray, now the attorney for policeman Thomas Lane in the Floyd case.[3]

Plunkett and Gray and the other two attorneys in the George Floyd case now have 10 days from June 12 to move to replace Cahill, but without having any say on who might be the                replacement and without having the right to move to replace the successor judge.

Before becoming a judge, Cahill was an attorney in the Hennepin County Public Defenders Office, 1984-1987, an attorney in private practice in the Twin Cities, 1987-1997 and in the Hennepin County Attorney’s office, 1997-2007, when Amy Klobuchar was the County Attorney (1999-2007).  His J.D. degree was awarded, magna cum laude, in 1984 by the University of Minnesota Law School.

Cahill will replace his fellow judges Jeannice Reding and Paul Scoggin, who presided respectively at the initial hearings in the Chauvin case and the other case involving the other three policemen.[4] Cahill’s appointment was made by Hennepin County District Judge Toddrick Barnette, who will become the first African-American Chief Judge of the court on July 1, 2020.[5]

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[1] Olson, Judge Peter Cahill to oversee cases of four officers charged in Floyd killing. StarTribune (June 12, 2020); The judge assigned in Floyd’s murder trial is a former assistant to Amy Klobuchar, N.Y. Times (June 12, 2020).

[2] Walsh & Jany, Suspected gunman arrested after school bus driver shot in apparent road-rage incident near downtown Minneapolis, StarTribune (Feb. 7, 2019); Charges filed against man who shot bus driver, (Video), StarTribune (Feb. 7, 2019); Walsh, Charges: Man claims self-defense for shooting Minneapolis school bus driver with girl aboard, StarTribune (Feb. 8, 2019); Xiong, Shooter who wounded school bus driver sentenced to 7 years in prison, StarTribune (Sept. 15, 2019).

[3]  Stahl, Ice-skating coach charged with sexually assaulting 14-year-old student, StarTribune (Jan. 11, 2018); Walsh, Twin Cities skating coach admits sexually abusing girl he instructed, StarTribune (June 19, 2019); Xiong, Minneapolis-area figure skating coach gets decades in prison for girl’s sex abuse, StarTribune (Sept. 27, 2019).

[4] Initial Hearings in Criminal Cases for Killing George Floyd, dwkcommentaries.com (June 10, 2020).

[5] Xiong. First chief judge of color elected in Hennepin County, StarTribune (May 5, 2020).