MINNEAPOLIS — Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin's attorney is objecting to a gag order in the George Floyd case, and his co-defendants have followed suit.
Judge Peter Cahill issued the gag order on Thursday, citing a need to limit pretrial publicity in the interest of a fair trial. Cahill wrote in his order that two or more attorneys talked with the media about a motion to dismiss charges in Thomas Lane's case. Lane and fellow former officers Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng, are all charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and manslaughter.
Chauvin is charged with second-degree and third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter in the case.
In an objection filed on Monday in Hennepin County District Court, Chauvin's attorney Eric Nelson requested that the gag order be vacated.
In his objection, Nelson wrote that while the court may want to protect the defendant's right to an impartial jury, "this is by no means a usual case."
"The present matter is, without qualification, one of the most closely watched cases, not only in Minnesota or the United States, but in the world right now," Nelson wrote.
Nelson pointed out that several high-profile politicans and leaders have spoken out against Chauvin publicly, including Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, who called Floyd's death "murder."
"On the other hand, one would be hard pressed to locate any pretrial publicity referring extensively to Mr. Chauvin’s innocence until proven guilty or that his alleged actions were justifiable in the line of his duties as a Minneapolis Police Officer," Nelson wrote.
Nelson argued that a gag order "may be issued only on motion, and after notice and hearing.” He said Cahill did not follow this procedure.
Nelson also pointed out that it was another attorney in another related case who gave an interview and prompted the gag order.
"There is absolutely no reason that Mr. Chauvin’s case or counsel should be treated the same as those of his codefendants," Nelson wrote. "His counsel has not spoken to the media, he is facing a different set of charges, and his rights were not addressed by the Court when it issued the gag order."
Cahill had warned as early as June 29 that he may issue a gag order in the case if public comments did not cease. He also said that the case may be moved to a different venue.
Also Monday, attorneys for Tou Thao, Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng also filed motions seeking to lift the gag order.
Robert Paule, Thao's attorney, stated in his written motion that "neither party in this particular case made a statement in violation of the Court’s admonition" and also argued "statements to the public and media will not 'present a substantial likelihood of interfering with the fair and impartial administration of justice' as long as the parties follow the Court’s (previous) admonition. The fact that attorneys in other related cases ... spoke publicly ... has not threatened to prejudice Mr. Thao’s constitutional right to a fair and public trial."
The filing also suggested the gag order violated state statute by failing to conduct a public hearing on the matter.
Meanwhile Earl Gray, Thomas Lane's attorney, argued in his motion that nothing he filed or said warrants a gag order. He argued that because the videos he filed as evidence in Lane's case were not public at the time, he attempted to explain the case for dismissal of charges, "as it was grossly unfair to hold back the videos and only allow the reading of the transcripts of the videos."
Gray added, "Indeed any statement this defense counsel made could barely remedy the prejudicial publicity cited in Mr. Eric Nelson’s objection memorandum."
Kueng's attorney Thomas Plunkett wrote in his order that he objects to a gag order.
"The inaccurate media reporting caused by those restrictions imperil any chance at a fair trial," Plunkett wrote.
Plunkett also objected to "Court imposed limitation on access to publicly filed documents." The judge's order states that "access to public records is not restricted," but Plunkett argued in his objection that the gag order delays and limits that access.
"The practical effect of the fallout of the Court’s Gag Order, when combined with past extrajudicial statements from the prosecution, has deprived Mr. Kueng of that 'judicial serenity and calm to which (he) was entitled,'" Plunkett argued.
In his court filing, Plunkett also called for the release of Kueng's and Lane's body camera videos from the Floyd arrest, which have been filed as evidence in court but not released publicly.