News outlets push for greater access to bodycam video in Floyd killing

Ex-Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin appears in on closed-circuit television.
In this courtroom sketch, former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin appears in on closed-circuit television from a maximum security prison in Oak Park Heights, Minn., on June 29 during a hearing before Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill in Minneapolis. Prosecutor Matthew Frank, second from right, and defense attorney Eric Nelson, right, face the judge.
Cedric Hohnstadt via AP file

A coalition of media organizations are challenging rules that limit access to footage from an officer’s body camera at the scene of the killing of George Floyd. 

The court is permitting only in-person and by appointment viewing of footage from former officer Thomas Lane’s body-worn camera footage. Lane’s body camera footage was filed as part of a motion last week asking the court to dismiss the charges against him. 

The media coalition includes MPR News, as well as local TV stations, the Star Tribune, national media organizations like the New York Times and the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information. They’re asking Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill to allow members of the media to make recordings of and distribute the public body camera footage.

“Video of Floyd’s death has been circulating around the world for nearly seven weeks and is readily viewable on any number of websites,” according to the media coalition’s motion. “There is no reason to believe that making the BWC (body-worn camera) footage itself easily accessible to the press and public would materially impact the fairness of trial.” 

Transcripts of some videos have been released by the courts, but the media coalition’s filing notes that there are discrepancies between some of the transcripts. The media coalition argued that transcripts offer just a partial picture of what happened, which could mislead the public. 

“Anything short of public distribution of the BWC footage will greatly diminish the breadth, quality, and usefulness of the news reporting on one of the most important issues of our time— allegations of systemic police brutality against unarmed Black men and women,” according to the filing.  

The coalition’s motion to release Lane’s body camera footage and allow recordings will be heard at 3 p.m. on July 21. 

Former officer Derek Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in Floyd’s killing. Lane and two other former officers are charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. 

Attorneys for all four officers have asked Cahill to lift a gag order preventing the officers, their attorneys and prosecutors from communicating to journalists or members of the public about the case. 

Meanwhile, the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office on Monday announced new additions to the team prosecuting the four former officers.

The lawyers are: Neal Katyal, a former acting U.S. solicitor general; Lola Velázquez-Aguilu, litigation and investigation counsel for Medtronic; Jerry Blackwell, who won a posthumous pardon for Max Mason, a black man who was wrongly convicted of rape in connection with the Duluth lynchings of 1920; and Steve Schleicher, a Minneapolis lawyer and former prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney's Office Minnesota district who led the prosecution of the man responsible for the kidnapping and murder of Jacob Wetterling.

Attorney General Keith Ellison didn't say more about why the four lawyers were added to the team, citing the gag order.

A trial date has been set for next March.

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