The judge presiding over the cases against four former Minneapolis police officers charged in the killing of George Floyd issued a gag order Thursday.
This means that the judge is prohibiting attorneys and others related to the cases from publicly divulging “opinions, strategies, plans or potential evidence.”
Gag order issued pertaining to the case of George Floyd
Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill issued the unusual order a day after two defense attorneys, Earl Gray and Thomas Plunkett, spoke to the Star Tribune in response to Gray’s motion to dismiss the charges against his client, Thomas Lane.
“The court finds that continuing pretrial publicity in this case by the attorneys involved will increase the risk of tainting a potential jury pool and will impair all parties’ right to a fair trial,” Cahill wrote. He said it covers “all parties, attorneys, their employees, agents or independent contractors working on their behalf.”
Cahill prohibited them from disclosing information or materials related to the case personally or through third parties to the media or general public. He noted that public documents are available on a state website and exhibits can be viewed at the courthouse.
At the former officers’ second court hearing in late June the judge admonished attorneys, public officials, attorneys for Floyd’s family and others for talking about the case, warning that publicity could taint potential jurors and force the trial or trials to move out of Hennepin County.
Spurring the order
Among the comments spurring the gag order in the case of George Floyd were those by Earl Gray, attorney for former officer Thomas Lane, in interviews with ABC affiliate KSTP and the Star Tribune newspaper.
Gray said charges against Lane should be dismissed because he didn’t know a killing was being committed.
“It’s not a case where he’s standing by watching another cop pounding on somebody’s head,” the newspaper quoted Gray as saying.
Gray also said that Lane, who had been on the job only four days, had called an ambulance, jumped into it and helped with cardio-pulmonary resuscitation on the way to a hospital, where Floyd was pronounced dead May 25.
What does the order entail?
The gag order bars disclosing — directly or through third parties — “any information, opinions, strategies, plans or potential evidence that relate to any of the above-captioned cases, either to the media or members of the general public,” the judge wrote.
Judge presiding over the George Floyd case has issued a formal gag order today. Comes after he had warned attorneys for the four former police officers, public officials and others to stop talking publicly about the case
— Holly Bailey (@hollybdc) July 9, 2020
On Tuesday, Gray filed court papers seeking to dismiss charges against Lane of aiding and abetting a murder.
Lane, Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng face the same charges of aiding and abetting Derek Chauvin, the white officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck for nearly eight minutes until the unarmed African American became unresponsive.
Chauvin faces second and third-degree murder charges. They had arrested Floyd on suspicion of passing a counterfeit $20 bill. The four former officers each face up to 40 years behind bars. Trial is set to begin March 8, 2021.
Bystander video of Floyd’s death stunned and horrified Americans, igniting protests and riots in cities across the country and sparking a national debate on racism and police violence.
Gag orders and their ramifications
A 1966 U.S. Supreme Court decision granted judges broad discretion to issue gag orders to limit influence on potential jurors, said Joseph Daly, professor emeritus at Mitchell Hamline School of Law.
“They don’t want the case tried in the newspaper or on TV,” Daly said. “The problem is the U.S. Supreme Court … has not laid out a single clear test for when gag orders violate the First Amendment” right to free speech and a free press.
The judge’s order applies to both defense attorneys and the prosecution, which is being led by Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison’s office with assistance from the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office.
Daly surmised that the order’s reference to the lawyers’ “agents” includes Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington, Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo and Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey. Friedberg said it would also include Gov. Tim Walz. The court declined to specify who was covered by the order.
At a June court hearing, defense attorneys accused those public officials and Ellison with prejudicing the case through their public remarks. Arradondo, Harrington and Walz have called Floyd’s death a “murder,” a legal term implying a conviction. Ellison has said he is confident a jury will convict the former officers.
AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk