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Trial for 3 ex-cops charged in George Floyd’s death postponed until March 2022

Head shots of former officers charged in George Floyd death
Former Minneapolis Police Officers Derek Chauvin (left), J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao all face federal civil rights charges in the death of George Floyd.
(Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office)

The trial of three former Minneapolis police officers charged with aiding and abetting in the death of George Floyd will be pushed back to March 2022, a judge ruled Thursday.

Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao were scheduled to face trial Aug. 23 on charges that they aided and abetted both murder and manslaughter. The former officers’ co-defendant, Derek Chauvin, has already been convicted of murder and manslaughter. All four men also face federal charges that allege they violated Floyd’s civil rights during his arrest May 25, 2020.

Judge Peter Cahill said he pushed back the state trial for Lane, Kueng and Thao so that the federal case could go forward first. He also said he felt the need to put some distance between the three officers’ trial and Chauvin’s because of all the publicity around the case.

News of the postponement came during a hearing Thursday on pretrial motions. Defense attorneys for all three former officers agreed to the later date. But state Assistant Atty. Gen. Matthew Frank did not support the delay. It wasn’t made clear at Thursday’s hearing who sought the change.

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Cahill also weighed a request that prosecutors be sanctioned over media reports that Chauvin had planned to plead guilty last year, and allegations that they haven’t disclosed information about the alleged coercion of a witness.

Attorneys for Lane, Kueng and Thao have said they want the court to require prosecuting attorneys to submit affidavits under oath that they weren’t responsible for the leak to the media about Chauvin’s expected guilty plea. (The former officer pleaded innocent at his trial.) In a filing late Wednesday, Thao’s attorney also alleged that the Hennepin County medical examiner was coerced to include “neck compression” in his findings — and that prosecutors knew of it.

The former officers waived their right to appear at Thursday’s hearing.

Atty. Gen. Keith Ellison, whose office is prosecuting the officers, has said allegations that his office was involved in a leak are false. His office had no immediate comment on the allegations of coercion. A spokeswoman for Dr. Andrew Baker, the medical examiner, said they could not comment because the case was pending.

Chauvin was convicted in April of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter in the death of Floyd, whom Chauvin had kept pinned to the ground by the neck for nearly 10 minutes. He’s set to be sentenced June 25.

Lane, Kueng and Thao are charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter. Their trial was separated from Chauvin’s to comply with COVID-19 courtroom spacing restrictions.

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Bob Paule, Thao’s attorney, said in a court filing Wednesday that Baker initially said there was no physical evidence that Floyd died of asphyxiation. But after talking twice to Dr. Roger Mitchell, a former medical examiner in Washington, he amended his findings to include neck compression as a factor, according to Paule.

Paule said that in one of the conversations, Mitchell called Baker and told him he was going to submit an opinion piece critical of Baker’s findings to the Washington Post. When Baker released final autopsy findings June 1, they included neck compression, Paule wrote, and Mitchell never submitted his piece to the newspaper.

Paule also said in a court filing in February that he wants an order sanctioning the state for “its role — directly or indirectly — in the leaking of highly prejudicial information related to potential plea agreements of co-defendants.”

The New York Times reported Feb. 10 that Chauvin was ready to plead guilty to a third-degree murder charge last year but that then-U.S. Atty. Gen. William Barr rejected the agreement. The Associated Press published a similar report the next day, citing two law-enforcement officials with direct knowledge of the talks. Paule alleged that the leaks came from the state, and asked that anyone who did so be barred from participating in the trial. Tom Plunkett, Kueng’s attorney, echoed his statements.

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Ellison earlier dismissed Paule’s motion as “completely false and an outlandish attempt to disparage the prosecution.”


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