Judge upholds decision to livestream trial of officers charged with killing George Floyd

Derek Chauvin, Tou Thao. J Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane. The four former Minneapolis police officers are charged in the death of George Floyd. (FOX 9)

A judge in Minnesota is upholding his decision to livestream the trial against the four former Minneapolis police officers charged in the death of George Floyd.  

In a ruling issued Friday, Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill cited the immense global interest in the case and limited courthouse space amid the "unique and unprecedented situation" brought by the coronavirus pandemic, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported. The trial is scheduled for March 2021.

Cahill dismissed concerns by state prosecutors, who argued in a motion filed Nov. 25 that recording audio and visuals of the trial would violate court rules and scare away potential witnesses. Attorney General Keith Ellison’s office, which is leading the prosecution, asked that Cahill rescind his previous ruling issued on Nov. 4 or consider narrowing the scope of outside access.

In a motion filed Dec. 14, a coalition of media organizations, including Fox/UTV Holdings, LLC, which owns the station Fox 9 Minneapolis-St. Paul, requested camera access to the courtroom, arguing that televising the high-profile trial would increase transparency and better guarantee Sixth and First Amendment protections, especially during pandemic-era social distancing requirements.  

On Friday, Cahill declined to modify his original ruling, writing that although he had granted more extensive video coverage than allowed in court rules, he is permitted to modify the rules "in any case to prevent manifest injustice."

He also contemplated how many overflow courtrooms would be needed across the county to accommodate the public, given the trial could potentially draw crowds of thousands, especially if there isn’t an option to watch virtually.

"Two? Three? Twenty? Should the Fourth Judicial District pause all courtroom activity for the months of March and April 2021 to allow every courtroom in the Hennepin County Government Center to be used as courtrooms for this trial?" Cahill wrote, according to the Tribune, which first obtained the order. "At what point does this become televising the trial, but just to a select and limited group?"

Viral cellphone footage recorded by a bystander showing Floyd, a handcuffed Black man, gasping for air while Officer Derek Chauvin, who is White, pressed his knee into his neck for nearly nine minutes before his May 25 death in custody, sparked a national reckoning on racial injustice, igniting widespread demonstrations, civil unrest and calls for police reform.

Chauvin faces second-degree unintentional murder and manslaughter charges – while three other former officers, J. Alexander Kueng, Tou Thao and Thomas Lane, are charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and manslaughter. All four officers were fired.

Last month, Cahill also ruled that all four officers will be tried in the same proceeding, as well as rejected a request from defense attorneys to have the trial moved to another area of the state.

Defense attorneys had argued that pretrial publicity had made it impossible for the four men to get a fair trial. They had also cited a Sept. 11 hearing in which the men and their attorneys were confronted by angry protesters outside the courthouse, saying it showed that holding the proceeding in the same area where Floyd died would be unsafe for participants.

Ellison issued a statement at the time supporting the court’s decision to keep the trial in Minneapolis. He argued that the ruling marked "another significant step forward in the pursuit of justice for George Floyd and for our community."

"I'm satisfied by the court’s decisions today," the attorney general wrote in a statement published Nov. 5. "The murder of George Floyd occurred in Minneapolis and it is right that the defendants should be tried in Minneapolis. It is also true that they acted in concert with each other and the evidence against them is similar, so it is right to try them in one trial."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.