Defense attorneys for the ex-Minneapolis police officers charged with killing George Floyd continued to lodge accusations Thursday against prosecutors, alleging that they mishandled sharing evidence with them, provided irrelevant materials and divulged information late.
The issue arose at a contentious motion hearing where Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill weighed whether to postpone the March 8 trial and whether to sanction the prosecution based on the allegations, among other issues.
Cahill issued no rulings Thursday.
"It's ongoing and it's very aggravating," said Thomas Plunkett, who represents former Minneapolis officer J. Alexander Kueng. "It's not what I'm used to dealing with, with attorneys I hold in high regard. Maybe the magnitude of the case is getting to them."
Kueng and his former colleagues Thomas Lane and Tou Thao are each charged with aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter in Floyd's May 25 death. Former officer Derek Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter for pinning his knee on Floyd's neck for more than nine minutes before he died.
Cahill told Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank he believes the prosecution acted in "good faith" in sharing evidence with the defense teams, but he pressed Frank on why his office took nine days to divulge an interview that Hennepin County Chief Medical Examiner Andrew Baker gave to investigators.
Baker told investigators Floyd's death was caused by his health issues and exertion from police restraint that occurred before he was pinned in the street.
"It seems like the first thing you do is … stamp it, send it through the scanner and send it to counsel," Cahill said, adding that the lag time was "essentially not complying with the court's order."
"I don't remember specifically," Frank said, noting that the delay was partly due to the document originating with federal authorities. "We are trying to get stuff out, and we're doing that as quickly as we can."
Defense attorneys Robert Paule, Natalie Paule and Eric Nelson filed separate motions in December alleging that prosecutors mishandled "discovery," the process of sharing evidence with defense attorneys.
The Paules, who represent Thao, asked Cahill to sanction the prosecution and postpone the trial to July 5 because of delays caused by discovery issues. Nelson, who represents Chauvin, asked to delay the trial to an unspecified date for the same reason.
Thao's attorneys said the Baker document was relevant to their motion to dismiss charges against Thao, but it was shared late and rendered useless.
Robert Paule argued Thursday that the prosecution previously took issue with defense claims that drugs were found in Floyd's car and rejected a different motion in Thao's case, only to later search the car in December and find pills that allegedly contained methamphetamine and fentanyl.
"I don't think this is simply a coincidence," Paule said.
Nelson and Lane's attorney, Earl Gray, also voiced concerns Thursday.
"I don't think we're getting stuff in nine days," Nelson said. "I think we're getting [evidence] more in 30 days."
Among their concerns were thousands of pages of evidence shared as a single PDF that could not be searched without converting the file, and important evidence sandwiched in between irrelevant materials.
Cahill previously ordered prosecutors to share all evidence with defense attorneys by Aug. 14, and to divulge any evidence that surfaced afterward within 24 hours.
Frank defended his office and called the allegations "unfounded and just inappropriate."
"We are doing the best we can with a huge amount of discovery," he said.
Frank apologized for the delay in the Baker document but said his office shared all evidence it received from Minneapolis police and other sources, and in the order and format they arrived in.
Special attorney for the state Neal Katyal told Cahill prosecutors were "100 percent ready" to try the case in March, but filed a motion in December to postpone it to June 7 so more people could be vaccinated against COVID-19 to protect trial participants and the public.
Robert Paule alleged that the prosecution's motion to delay the trial was a cover for revisiting its arguments to prohibit the livestreaming of the trial.
Cahill previously ruled that the trial will be livestreamed because the pandemic would severely restrict public access to the trial courtroom, and later denied the prosecution's request for him to rescind the order.
"This is a cloaked attempt to deal with that," Paule said.
Katyal did not address Paule's claims.
Cahill noted that postponing the trial because of COVID-19 would simply put participants in other cases at risk.
"It's a question of who has to take the risk," Cahill said. "Somebody is going to be in courtroom 1856 come March 8."