Prosecutors in Floyd case ask to make court documents temporarily secret

Sketch of a hearing of the case of four ex-cops charged in Floyd's death.
In this courtroom sketch, the four former Minneapolis officers charged in the death of George Floyd appear during a hearing in Minneapolis on Sept. 11. The motion made available Tuesday is asking the judge to order that documents and evidence filed in the case be kept from the public for two business days.
Cedric Hohnstadt via AP file

Prosecutors in the trial of the former police officers charged in the killing of George Floyd have asked the judge to sharply restrict public access to court motions and evidence in pretrial hearings.

The request follows an attempt by one officer’s attorney to introduce body camera footage of Floyd being arrested last year. 

The Office of Attorney General Keith Ellison is asking Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill to restrict public access to all future motions and exhibits for two business days after they’re filed with the court. They say the delay will give prosecutors and defense attorneys the opportunity to object to making the information public.

Prosecutor Matthew Frank argues that pretrial publicity could spread unreliable evidence that could unfairly influence public opinion. 

On Monday, former officer Thomas Lane’s attorney filed a motion introducing evidence including body camera videos showing an incident last year in which Floyd was arrested. The motion wasn’t made public, but MPR News received the motion because it is part of a legal challenge pushing to expand the public’s access to the trial. 

Lane’s attorney Earl Gray argued in the motion that Floyd’s actions in that prior arrest were “markedly similar” to his actions on the day he was killed. 

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“The similarities between the May 6, 2019 incident and the May 25, 2020 incident as to George Floyd and his conduct is unreal, his behavior is almost an exact replica,” Gray wrote in the motion.

The attorney general’s office objected to making the videos public, and a hearing on the issue is expected this week. 

The move to restrict public access to the trial is being challenged by a coalition of media organizations, including MPR News. The coalition previously challenged a gag order for parties in the case and has pushed for the trial to be more accessible to the public.

Floyd died in south Minneapolis on May 25 after Chauvin knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes. All four officers involved in restraining Floyd were fired and criminally charged. 

Prosecutors have also argued that an upward departure from sentencing guidelines is appropriate for the officers because they abused their position of trust in committing a crime against a vulnerable person. 

Former officer Derek Chauvin, who is charged with murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s killing, was released from custody after posting a $1 million bond last week. The judge cited “safety concerns” but didn’t release more information.