Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman will remain connected to the prosecution of four former Minneapolis police officers charged in connection with the killing of George Floyd, a judge ruled Friday.
Without hearing further arguments from either side, Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill swiftly dismissed a motion filed just a day earlier by the attorney for J. Alexander Kueng. Kueng’s attorney, Thomas C. Plunkett, argued Freeman’s prior public statements and his close ties to law enforcement created an unfair conflict of interest in the case.
Yet in a one-page ruling filed Friday, Cahill found that Plunkett failed to establish that a conflict of interest exists with Freeman’s involvement. Plunkett also did not “provide legal authority for the removal of a prosecutor … even if the allegations of improper conduct are true,” Cahill wrote.
Plunkett declined to comment on Cahill’s decision on Friday.
Freeman has been silent publicly on the case since Attorney General Keith Ellison formally took over the prosecution on May 31. But Plunkett argued this week that Freeman’s past statements amounted to a public pronouncement of guilt against his client — citing Freeman calling Floyd’s death “senseless” and expressing sympathy for Floyd’s family.
“Mr. Freeman’s comments leave no doubt that justice is not his objective in the Kueng prosecution,” Plunkett wrote. “Mr. Freeman has fomented public anger and now seeks to taint that anger with hatred through the prosecution of Mr. Kueng.”
Kueng is awaiting trial on charges of aiding and abetting second-degree murder and manslaughter alongside former officers Thomas Lane and Tou Thao. Fellow fired officer Derek Chauvin has meanwhile been charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter and third-degree murder for Floyd’s May 25 death in south Minneapolis.
Plunkett also alleged that Freeman’s office violated legal ethical standards by leaking to the news media that Chauvin had been negotiating a plea bargain that fell apart early in the case. He called the leak “particularly egregious and patently unethical.”
All three officers charged with aiding and abetting Chauvin are free on bond, while Chauvin remains in custody at the state prison in Oak Park Heights. They are scheduled for a Sept. 11 pretrial motion hearing, in which a recently filed motion to dismiss charges against Lane will be among the items discussed. That motion argued that there was no probable cause to support the charges against Lane.
A tentative March 8 trial has been scheduled. Previously, Cahill imposed — and later lifted — a gag order over concerns that pretrial statements would taint a prospective jury pool in Hennepin County. During court hearings in the case, Cahill has sought input from attorneys on how to limit prejudicial pretrial publicity in a case that has garnered international attention. Defense attorneys have suggested that they would seek a change of venue in the case.