The judge in the criminal case against four former Minneapolis police officers charged in George Floyd’s death disqualified four local prosecutors on Friday because of “sloppy” work, while a special prosecutor said the defendants had “acted together” and should face trial together.
The hearing before Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill focused on various motions in the criminal case arising from Floyd’s death, which led to protests in the United States and other countries against racism and police brutality.
It was the first time all four defendants – Derek Chauvin, J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao – appeared together since the May 25 death of Floyd, who was Black. Chauvin, who is white, knelt on Floyd’s neck for about nine minutes. He faces the most serious charge of second-degree murder.
While Cahill did not rule on any major motions, he dealt a blow to the prosecution by disqualifying Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman and three other lawyers in his office from participating in the case because of a meeting they had with the medical examiner with no outside attorneys present. The medical examiner is the official who looked into the cause of death.
“It was sloppy not to have someone present. Those four attorneys are off the case,” Cahill said. “They are now witnesses.”
After the hearing, Floyd’s relatives and lawyers pushed back against the assertion made by defense attorneys in court filings that Floyd, who had the powerful opioid pain medication fentanyl in his system, died of an overdose rather than cardiopulmonary arrest, the official cause of death.
“The only overdose that killed George Floyd was an overdose of excessive force and racism by the Minneapolis Police Department,” lawyer Ben Crump said outside the courthouse. “It is a blatant attempt to kill George Floyd a second time.”
Chauvin was wearing a gray suit, dark shirt and tie, and blue surgical mask amid the coronavirus pandemic. He appeared thinner than on the bystander videos that showed the incident.
Neal Katyal, a special attorney for the state, said a joint trial was justified given that the evidence was similar for all four defendants and because separate trials would force relatives to repeatedly relive the trauma of Floyd’s death.
“I have seen a lot in my life, and I can barely watch the videos,” Katyal, a lawyer and the US Justice Department’s former acting solicitor general, said about the bystander videos of Chauvin pinning Floyd to the pavement.