Journalists push for more openness in Floyd cases

A man stands in front of a microphone surrounded by media.
Robert Paule, attorney for former police officer Tou Thao, is surrounded by journalists as he leaves the Public Facility Building on June 29. A coalition of media organizations is challenging a gag order and restrictions on the release of public information in the case of officers charged in the death of George Floyd.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

A coalition of media organizations will argue in Hennepin County District Court on Tuesday afternoon that the public should get access to information and evidence in the cases of four former Minneapolis police officers charged in the May 25 killing of George Floyd.

The coalition includes MPR News, The New York Times, the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information, the Star Tribune and others. 

The coalition is asking Judge Peter Cahill to lift a gag order that prevents defense attorneys, prosecutors and others from commenting on the cases. Cahill imposed that gag order earlier this month after defense spoke to journalists about the case, arguing that publicity can taint the views of prospective jurors and undermine the officers’ right to a fair trial. 

Former officer Derek Chauvin, who knelt on Floyd’s neck for several minutes, faces murder and manslaughter charges. Former officers Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao are charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

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Attorneys for the media coalition are arguing that the gag order doesn’t specifically define who is covered, and could apply to people who are only tangentially related to the case, such as experts in police tactics or social movements. 

It “restricts not only an incredibly broad array of speech by the parties and their lawyers, but also subjects a staggering number of individuals not involved in these prosecutions to the same restrictions,” according to a court filing from the coalition last week. 

Defense attorneys in the case have also filed motions opposing the gag order. Chauvin’s attorney Eric J. Nelson said in a motion opposing the order that it prevents Chauvin from countering the narrative online and in global accounts that he is a “killer.” 

“The court’s order effectively allows the repeated and unmitigated condemnation of a criminal defendant by nonparty public officials and celebrities,” according to Nelson’s motion.  
Attorneys for the media coalition will also argue that the court needs to release officer body camera footage taken of Floyd’s killing to journalists for recording and possible distribution. The evidence was filed along with a motion by Lane to dismiss charges against him.

The in-custody death of Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, was captured on video by a bystander, sparking protests throughout the country and civil unrest in the Twin Cities. 

“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 [body camera] footage itself easily accessible to the press and public would materially impact the fairness of trial.”  

The hearing is scheduled for 3 p.m. at the Hennepin County Government Center in downtown Minneapolis. The court has also limited the number of journalists allowed to attend the hearing. Courts in Minnesota don’t typically allow audio or video recordings of court hearings.