A judge presiding over the cases against three former Minneapolis police officers charged in George Floyd's death did not immediately rule on their request to prohibit livestreaming their joint trials next year.
The issue arose during a hearing Thursday that touched on several issues: accusations that the county medical examiner was coerced into changing his findings in Floyd's death, a failed attempt to subpoena Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison to testify about a leak to the media, and a request for police discipline records.
The hearing for J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao grew contentious at times and was punctuated by Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill admonishing prosecutors for their behavior at co-defendant Derek Chauvin's trial this year.
Kueng, Lane and Thao are charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and manslaughter. They waived their right to appear and were not in attendance.
During a discussion about defense claims that Hennepin County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Andrew Baker was pressured by another doctor, Cahill pointed a finger at Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank.
Cahill said prosecutors were "disrespectful" when they limited discussion of Baker's credentials while introducing him as a witness. Attorneys commonly ask a witness about their educational history and work experience before they testify.
"That's how highly I think of Dr. Baker," Cahill said.
The judge's comments, which did not go any further, underscored the prosecution's apparent but unspoken dissatisfaction with Baker. Prosecutors called an outside pathologist to testify before Baker, duplicating his role.
Baker had ruled that Floyd died of "cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint and neck compression" while prosecutors told jurors he died of asphyxia and not a fatal heart event.
Thao's attorneys, Robert and Natalie Paule, filed a motion accusing former Washington, D.C., medical examiner, Dr. Roger Mitchell, of pressuring Baker to add "neck compression." They accused prosecutors of ratifying the "coercion" while not orchestrating it. Chauvin knelt on Floyd's neck for more than nine minutes.
"It would have been very simple to ask Dr. Baker [if he was coerced] were you concerned by this," Frank told Thao's defense.
Frank then told Cahill the judge had seen Baker testify many times and knew him to be forthcoming, prompting Cahill's admonition.
Cahill denied Thao's requests to dismiss the case against him, to rule that Baker had been coerced and to bar several prosecutors from the case, among others. He ordered prosecutors to provide the defense any additional materials related to the issue, and said the defense can cross-examine Baker about the matter at trial.
Earlier, Robert Paule said he had subpoenaed Ellison to testify regarding a leak to the New York Times about Chauvin's failed plea negotiations.
Ellison was not in court, and Frank said he was learning about it for the first time. Cahill quashed the subpoena, clearing the state of misconduct and saying the leak likely came from a federal source.
The hearing began with Kueng's attorney, Thomas Plunkett, and Lane's attorney, Earl Gray, arguing that Cahill should not allow their clients' trials to be livestreamed in order to protect their constitutional rights to a fair trial. Witnesses are afraid to testify for their clients' cases because two expert witnesses who testified for Chauvin's defense were targeted for vandalism and professional review afterward, they argued. Thao's defense joined the motion.
Chauvin's weekslong trial was livestreamed by several media outlets.
"The call to action that comes from a person sitting there watching [the trial] and being angered by it is much different from the effect that would occur" from reading the same testimony in the newspaper, Plunkett said. "This way the public gets a live, raw feed, and I respectfully submit that that is why people acted out."
Prosecutors and an attorney for a media coalition argued in favor of a livestream.
Cahill said he would rule later on whether to allow the livestream.
He said he would first issue a ruling in 10 to 14 days on an unrelated motion filed by the media coalition asking him to unseal the names of jurors who convicted Chauvin of murder and manslaughter.
Chao Xiong • 612-270-4708 Twitter: @ChaoStrib