MINNEAPOLIS – 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, attorneys and family members don't stop speaking out about the case.
Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill stopped short of issuing a gag order against attorneys on both sides, but he said he likely will if public statements continue that make it hard to find an impartial jury. Cahill said that would also make him likely to grant a change-of-venue motion if one is filed, as he anticipates.
“The court is not going to be happy about hearing comments on these three areas: merits, evidence and guilt or innocence,” Cahill said.
It was the second pretrial hearing for the officers, who were fired after Floyd’s May 25 death. 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.
Floyd died after Chauvin, a white police officer, 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 sparked protests around the world.
Thao's attorney, Robert Paule, cited remarks from a variety of public officials saying they thought the officers were guilty, including President Donald Trump, Attorney General Keith Ellison and Mayor Jacob Frey.
Police Chief Medaria Arradondo has called Floyd's death “murder" and said Chauvin knew what he was doing because of his training. Gov. Tim Walz and Frey have also called it murder.
Cahill asked Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank to use his influence to keep public officials silent, warning that if they continue to discuss it publicly, he likely would “have to pull (the trials) out of Hennepin County and they need to be aware of that.” But he also made it clear that he wants defense attorneys and Floyd family members to stay out of the press, too.