Bodycam video in Floyd killing to be shown Wednesday — by appointment only

Men in suits with facemasks arrive at the courthouse
Former Minneapolis police officer Thomas Lane (right) arrived at the Public Safety Facility Monday with attorney Earl Gray Monday, June 29, 2020.
Judy Griesedieck for MPR News

For the first time, body camera footage taken at the scene of the police killing of George Floyd will be available for viewing Wednesday — but with several restrictions imposed by the court.

The video comes from cameras worn by two of the four former officers now charged in the case. The footage is available to media outlets and members of the public who made appointments to view it in person. No recordings will be allowed.

A coalition of local and national media organizations, including MPR News, is challenging the restrictions, setting up a fight over public access over evidence in the case that has sparked protests and calls for change across the country.  

The group is asking Hennepin County District Judge Peter A. Cahill to allow members of the media to make recordings of and distribute the public body camera footage.

Here’s what you need to know:

What footage exactly is this? Transcripts of some video from the scene have already been released to the public. 

The footage was taken from the cameras of former officers Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Keung, both of whom have been charged with aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death. 

Although bystander video of the encounter has been widely distributed —  including the video of Derek Chauvin with his knee on Floyd’s neck — this is from the officers’ actual cameras. It may cover much of the same timespan but could offer insight into how officers reacted, different angles of the incident and other details not already captured. 

Why is this footage being released now? In other recent cases involving police, the evidence wasn’t released publicly until the trial ended.

While the actual trial isn’t expected to start for many months, this video became public when defense attorney Earl Gray included the footage as evidence in a motion to dismiss the charges against Lane. Some criminal defense attorneys think that getting the evidence out to the public, via the media, might be a way to kind of circumvent the gag order the judge has issued in the case. 

They can start to build the argument that Lane, specifically, who is a rookie cop, isn’t responsible for Floyd’s death — and that he made multiple suggestions to Derek Chauvin that Floyd should be turned over on his side. This might be a precursor of how at least one of the officers might defend himself at trial, which is scheduled to start in March.

How unusual are these restrictions? 

This is going to be a very high-profile criminal case. Minnesota has traditionally not been a friendly state for public access to court proceedings. Other states allow not only audio recorders, but TV cameras, which Minnesota now only allows under very specific circumstances. 

But the nature of these restrictions are not unprecedented. There were lots of limits on access to information and evidence in the trial of former Minneapolis officer Mohamed Noor, who was convicted of murder in the killing of Justine Ruszczyk Damond. 

What are these news organizations’ arguments against the restrictions, and when will the judge address them? 

Media organizations, not only MPR News and the Star Tribune, but also national organizations like the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, say these restrictions aren’t in the public interest. They want the judge to allow journalists to record and distribute the footage to their audiences. They say that releasing the evidence piecemeal could mislead the public.

This could set expectations for how the court approaches public access to this very important trial. The judge is expected to hear the media coalition’s arguments next Tuesday. 

What else is happening today in the Floyd case Wednesday? 

The attorneys representing the family of George Floyd will announce a lawsuit against the Minneapolis Police Department and its officers. One of the attorneys is Benjamin Crump, who is also representing the families of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. He’ll be joined by co-counsel Antonio Romanucci at 11 a.m. at the federal courthouse in Minneapolis. 

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