A coalition of local and national media companies, including the Star Tribune, filed a motion Monday chastising the court for withholding two body-camera videos recorded by police officers the night George Floyd was killed, and called for their immediate release.
Attorney Earl Gray filed two body-worn camera (BWC) videos in court about a week ago as evidence supporting his motion to dismiss the charges against his client, Thomas Lane, making it public data, according to state law.
The court's insistence that the videos be viewed by appointment only in the Hennepin County Government Center downtown violates state laws governing public records, court rules and the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the motion argued.
"The Media Coalition requests that the Court … immediately make the BWC [body-worn camera] footage available for copying by the press and public so that it may be widely viewed not just by those who have the time and wherewithal to visit the courthouse during a global pandemic but by all members of the public concerned about the administration of justice in one of the most important, and most-watched cases, this State — perhaps this country — has ever seen," said the motion written by attorneys Leita Walker and Emmy Parsons.
The media coalition also includes American Public Media, which owns Minnesota Public Radio; the Associated Press; CBS Broadcasting Inc.; Dow Jones & Co., publisher of the Wall Street Journal; Hubbard Broadcasting, which owns KSTP-TV; and the New York Times Co., among others.
Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill, who is presiding over the cases against four former Minneapolis police officers charged in Floyd's death, is making the videos viewable from 9 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. Wednesday.
"Attendees must store their electronic devices while in the room, and no video or audio recording will be allowed," said the court website.
The footage was recorded by Lane and J. Alexander Kueng, rookies whose attorneys have argued that they were deferring to officer Derek Chauvin, a 19-year veteran, as they pressed on Floyd while he lay handcuffed, stomach-down in the street complaining he couldn't breathe.
The videos' release would lend more context and accuracy to transcripts of the videos released last week that contradicted each other, according to the coalition's motion.
"Reporting is hamstrung by the inadequacy of the transcripts …" the motion said. "… The transcripts appear to have obvious errors."
The court has not identified "extraordinary circumstances" to limit the videos' release, and the court is compelled by rules to hold a public hearing before taking such action, the motion said.
"There is no reason to believe that making the BWC footage itself easily accessible to the press and public would materially impact the fairness of trial," the motion said. "… As days of unrest in the Twin Cities showed, it is vitally important that the public have full confidence in the process and outcome of this criminal prosecution."
The coalition asked to argue its case in court next Tuesday.
Gray has also said the public should see the videos so people don't "cherry-pick" information about the case. A bystander recorded and publicly broadcast video of Floyd's death, which did not capture Lane or Kueng, who were obscured behind a squad car.
Lane was holding onto Floyd's feet and Kueng was holding onto his back while Chauvin knelt on his neck for nearly eight minutes as bystanders pleaded with the officers to stop.
Former officer Tou Thao controlled the bystanders and rebuffed their concerns. The killing of Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, set off days of protests across the world.
Chauvin is charged with one count each of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Kueng, Lane and Thao are charged with aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter.
The former officers' trial or trials are set for next March.