A Minnesota judge on Monday warned that he's likely to move the trials of four former police officers charged in George Floyd's death out of Minneapolis if public officials and attorneys don't stop talking about the case. Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill spoke as the ex-officers, who were fired after Floyd's May 25 death, appeared in court for a second pretrial hearing.
Cahill stopped short of issuing a gag order on attorneys, but he said one is likely if public statements continue. Cahill added that such a situation would also make him likely to grant a change-of-venue motion if one is filed.
"The court is not going to be happy about hearing about the case in three areas: media, evidence and guilt or innocence," Cahill said.
Derek Chauvin, 44, is charged with second-degree murder and other counts, while Thomas Lane, 37, J. Kueng, 26, and Tou Thao, 34, are charged with aiding and abetting Chauvin. Lane and Kueng, who have posted bail, were seen walking into the courtroom, where no cameras were allowed. Thao, who remains in custody along with Chauvin, appeared in person while Chauvin appeared via video from a detention facility.
Floyd died after Chauvin, who is white, pressed his knee against the handcuffed 46-year-old Black man's neck for nearly eight minutes. The officers were responding to a call about a man trying to pass a counterfeit $20 bill at a nearby store.
Floyd's death was universally condemned in Minnesota, with elected officials including Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey calling for the officers to be charged. Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said Floyd's death was "murder." Disturbing video of Floyd's death triggered massive nationwide demonstrations protesting systemic racism and police brutality against Black and brown men and women.
During the hearing Monday, Cahill asked Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank to use his influence to keep public officials silent, warning that if they continued to discuss it publicly, he likely would "have to pull (trials) out of Hennepin County and they need to be aware of that."
Defense attorney Robert Paule, who is representing Thao, said he is "fighting this battle with one hand" because of the pretrial publicity, reports the Star-Tribune.