Cameras barred from George Floyd case hearings to guarantee fair trial: 'It may create more sensation'

Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill passed the motion 'given that this is a case has already received substantial pre-trial media coverage'


                            Cameras barred from George Floyd case hearings to guarantee fair trial: 'It may create more sensation'
Derek Chauvin, J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao (Hennepin County Sheriff's Office)

A Hennepin County judge has rejected a request to allow cameras to record courtroom proceedings by attorneys representing four former Minneapolis officers charged in the killing of George Floyd on Memorial Day.

Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill noted on Friday that both defense and prosecution "must agree to allow cameras at pre-trial hearings, according to Minnesota court rules" but motioned against it as "this is an exceptional case". In this case, prosecutors objected to the defense's motion. “Given that this is a case that has already received substantial pre-trial media coverage, the Court finds that audio or video coverage of the pre-trial hearings, in this case, would not only violate (Minnesota court rules) but would risk tainting a potential Hennepin County jury pool,” Cahill wrote in his order.

Attorneys for Derek Chauvin, J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao granted permission to record all courtroom proceedings in a motion filed late Thursday, despite objections from the prosecution. “The Defendants argue that this relief is 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,” wrote Thomas Plunkett, Kueng's attorney, who filed the motion on behalf of the defendants.

Meanwhile, cameras access at trial proceedings will be addressed at a later date, per the order.

A protester holds a sign with a photo of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin during demonstrations following the death of George Floyd on May 30, 2020, in Los Angeles, California. (Getty Images)

Attorney General Keith Ellison, who is leading the prosecution, said he supports a public trial but claimed it would be problematic in Floyd's case.

“Cameras could alter the way the lawyers present evidence,” he said in a written statement. “Cameras in the courtroom could subject the participants in the trial to heightened media scrutiny and thereby be distracting to conducting the trial.”

According to Ellison, the chances of “creating more sensation than understanding” was “very high."

Chauvin, Kueng, Lane, and Thao will be appearing in court Monday for the second time on charges ranging from second-degree murder to aiding and abetting murder, according to the Star Tribune.

Plunkett, in his motion, argued that it was necessary to record and broadcast proceedings because the former officers' actions have been publicly criticized by state and local officials, including Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, and Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo.

Furthermore, he said objectivity about the cases has been compromised due to “unethical leaks” of information.

“Specifically, 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,” Plunkett said in his motion. “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.”

Earl Gray, the attorney representing Lane, asserted on Friday that Ellison and Arradondo had overstepped their bounds. “The most unethical statements were made by Ellison saying they’re guilty of murder and the police chief going on national TV and saying that,” Gray said in an interview. “They know better. It seems like everybody wants these guys convicted before trial.”

The death of George Floyd shook the country and subsequently the world, with many demanding the end of police brutality and racial inequality (Getty Images)

Meanwhile, Plunkett argued for broadcasting the proceedings by citing the constitutional right to a fair and public trial, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic has restricted courtroom access by limiting media personnel and the public.

Speaking to The Tribune, Defense attorney Robert Richman said camera access could help defense attorneys present another narrative about Floyd’s death to the public.

“Given the weight of negative publicity that has already sort of shaped public perception, I think that it is important for the defense to start to make their defense known so that they don’t have quite as much of an uphill battle when they start out on the first day of trial,” Richman, who is not involved in the cases, said. “It’s something of a high-risk strategy because typically publicity does not work well for the defense, but in a case like this it’s not clear to me there’s anything to lose.”

That said, Gray noted that whatever happens in the courtroom "is accurate." “We’re not afraid of that. It’s pretrial prejudicial publicity, like the chief’s statement (that concerns us)," he added.

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