Judge orders no livestream of trial of 3 former Minneapolis police officers

A judge sits behind a microphone with a face mask on.
Judge Peter Cahill listens to statements during the sentencing hearing of former police officer Derek Chauvin.
MPR News via Court TV file 2021

Updated: 10:55 a.m.

The judge overseeing the state trial of three former Minneapolis police officers for the killing of George Floyd now says he will not allow livestreaming of that trial this summer.

Judge Peter Cahill late Monday issued an order saying that current court rules do not allow live public broadcast of trials in the state, so he won't let cameras stream the proceedings against J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao.

Cahill did allow livestreaming of the trial of their former colleague, Derek Chauvin, last year, and had previously indicated that livestreaming would happen this summer.

And prosecutors and a coalition of media organizations had argued for allowing live televised coverage again, citing the continued intense public and media interest in the case, and the potential resurgence of the coronavirus.

But in the new order outlining rules for the upcoming trial, Cahill writes that the COVID pandemic has waned and court public health restrictions have been relaxed.

"The circumstances the Court confronts with the (trial of Kueng, Lane and Thao) seven weeks hence are materially different from those the Court confronted from November 2020 through April 2021 with the Chauvin trial. The social distancing protocols and facial mask requirements in force during the Chauvin trial are no longer in force," Cahill writes.

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Given that, Cahill writes, the pandemic can't be used to justify going against set policy on livestreaming trials.

Cahill's order also states that he “agrees with the State that the 'Chauvin trial demonstrated the benefits of robust public access to this important case' and that the 'commendable transparency' of the Chauvin trial accomplished by the livestreaming of that trial 'inspired public confidence in the proceedings and helped ensure calm in Minneapolis and across the country.' “

But he writes that “this Court of course has no unfettered mandate to ignore court rules or statutes based solely on the Court’s own personal views of the wisdom of such rules when their import is plain and their applicability clear.”

“It is deeply disappointing that thousands of people interested in this important trial won’t be able to watch it,” said Leita Walker, an attorney for the media coalition, who noted in an email that an advisory committee to the Minnesota Supreme Court is considering whether the state court system should ease its restrictions on cameras. “Our Supreme Court needs to change the rule. They are working on it. I wish they could have worked faster.”

In place of livestreaming, Cahill's order says there will be two media seats in the courtroom as well as a set number of seats for Floyd's family, and the family of each defendant. There will be room for other media and family members in overflow courtrooms, with a closed-circuit video feed.

Cahill's order also says he will sequester jurors during deliberations in the upcoming trial — but not for the entire trial.

Kueng, Lane and Tao were already convicted of violating Floyd's civil rights at a federal jury trial in February and are awaiting sentencing. That trial was not televised due to federal court rules.

Jury selection for their state trial in Minneapolis is scheduled to start June 14, with opening statements set for July 5.