Attorney: Angry crowd justifies a change of venue in Floyd trial

A person holds up middle fingers as two men walk by in a crowd
Former Minneapolis police officer Thomas Lane (left) and J. Alexander Kueng walk through a crowd of people protesting as they leave the Family Justice Center following a motions hearing for the four former police officers charged in the death of George Floyd. Lane, Kueng and Tou Thao are charged with aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter, while former officer Derek Chauvin faces murder and manslaughter charges.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

A defense attorney for one of the former officers charged in George Floyd’s killing is arguing that a volatile scene outside the court building at a previous hearing — in which members of an unruly crowd allegedly assaulted another former officer and his attorney — is one more reason the trial should be moved outside Hennepin County. 

Hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside the Family Justice Center in downtown Minneapolis as the Sept. 11 omnibus hearing for the four ex-officers took place. Activists who spoke at the rally demanded that the judge deny a change of venue motion for the officers. 

After the hearing ended, defense attorneys and their clients, except Chauvin, who is in custody, left through the front door of the building and waded into the crowd of demonstrators. The filing by former officer J. Alexander Keung’s attorney, Thomas Plunkett, on Thursday alleged that the defendants and attorneys were “harassed.” MPR News reporters at the scene saw demonstrators surround, yell at and follow the parties as they left the court building. 

The motion also alleges that former officer Thomas Lane and his attorney Earl Gray were “physically assaulted,” and that someone caused $2,000 worth of damage to the vehicle they departed in. Gray did not immediately respond to a request for comment.   

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Floyd was killed on May 25 after former officer Chauvin kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes. Defense attorneys had previously argued that the four former officers could not receive a fair trial due to the level of publicity in the case and unrest in the Twin Cities following Floyd’s killing. 

Plunkett argues that the jury may be influenced by chanting and yelling of demonstrators outside the court building, and that defense witnesses may be hesitant to testify knowing that they might be subject  to “rioting, assaults and dox attacks.” 

Plunkett also said that defendants and their attorneys will not be able to safely enter or leave the court building because tensions are likely to be even higher during a trial than during a preliminary hearing.   

“The lawyers will be carrying notebooks, computers, law books and other materials to help defend their clients, which will make it more difficult for them to avoid the angry crowds,” according to the filing.

Prosecutors have not yet responded to the defense attorneys’ motions to change venue. Defense attorneys have also asked the judge to dismiss charges against their clients and opposing trying all four former officers at the same trial. 

During the Sept. 11 hearing, Judge Peter Cahill said he was leaning towards making jurors anonymous for the course of the trial partly because a number of people had already contacted the judge to express opinions about the case. Defense attorneys responding to the judge’s questions each reported that they had received threatening phone calls and emails since taking on their clients. 

Cahill also said he was inclined to plan to keep jurors away from the public by having them drive to an undisclosed location and then be escorted by sheriff’s deputies. 

Former officer Derek Chauvin is charged with murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death. Former officers Thomas Lane, Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao are charged with aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter.