MINNEAPOLIS – The Minnesota judge overseeing the case against four former Minneapolis police officers charged in the death of George Floyd said Thursday that he would take under advisement a prosecution request to delay the trial by three months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Prosecutors are asking that the trial, currently scheduled to begin March 8, be postponed to June 7 to reduce public health risks. Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill said the government’s argument has some coherence but that trials aren’t stopping.
“We’re going to be trying cases. It’s a question of who has to take the risk,” he said. He did not say when he would make a decision.
Neal Katyal, an attorney for the prosecution, said a delay would reduce chances that the trial would be disrupted by possible COVID-19 infections among court staff, attorneys, jurors or witnesses. Another three months would also allow time for more people to get vaccinated, possibly expanding the jury pool, he said.
Floyd, a Black man who was handcuffed, died May 25 after Derek Chauvin, who is white, pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck as Floyd said he couldn’t breathe. Chauvin faces trial on counts of second-degree murder and manslaughter, while Tou Thao, J. Kueng and Thomas Lane face aiding and abetting counts.
All four men, who were fired, will be tried together.
Attorneys for Thao, Lane and Kueng objected to the government’s argument, though attorneys for Chauvin and Thao have made their own requests for postponement, saying prosecutors violated rules on disclosing evidence. Prosecutors say they haven’t violated the rules.
Floyd’s death renewed calls for an end to police brutality and racial inequities, sparking protests in Minneapolis and beyond. Prosecutors cite the potential for additional protests surrounding the trial as another reason for a delay, saying such large gatherings could also contribute to spreading the virus.
A combination of limited courthouse space due to the pandemic and the global interest in this case led Cahill to make trial accommodations — including allowing the trail to be livestreamed, over the objection of prosecutors.
Thursday’s hearing was held over Zoom and was open to the public, with strict rules that spectators keep their video screens off, stay muted and not record or take any images of the proceeding. A handful of people ignored those rules — despite a stern warning from Cahill that they would be removed from the call for inappropriate courtroom behaviour.
Some people posted obscene images or danced around, at least one person was shirtless, and one person posted an image of a swastika before they were all removed and the hearing could begin.
The four former police officers were not required to be at this hearing and did not appear with their attorneys.
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