MINNEAPOLIS – Attorneys for three former Minneapolis officials awaiting trial on George Floyd’s death will stand in court Thursday to discuss pre-trial motions, including a motion to sanction prosecutors, according to media reports Derek Chauvin for a year ago found guilty and allegations that they have not released information about the alleged coercion of a witness.
Thomas Lane, J. Kueng and Tou Thao’s attorneys have stated that the court should require prosecutors to swear oath that they are not responsible for the leak to the media.
In a file filed late Wednesday, Thao’s attorney also alleged that the Hennepin County coroner had been forced to include “neck compression” in his results – and that prosecutors knew about it.
The former officials decided not to appear at the hearing on Thursday. Her trial is scheduled for August 23rd.
Attorney General Keith Ellison, whose office is tracking the officers, has alleged that allegations that his office was involved in a leak were false. His office did not have an immediate comment on the allegations of coercion. A spokeswoman for Dr. Andrew Baker, the medical examiner, said they were unable to comment on the pending case.
Chauvin, who appeared in a widely watched video of putting his knee on Floyd’s neck when the black man said he couldn’t breathe, was convicted of accidental second degree murder, third degree murder and manslaughter in April. He is due to be sentenced on June 25th.
Lane, Kueng and Thao are charged with assisting and facilitating second degree murder and second degree manslaughter. Her trial has been separated from Chauvin’s to meet the COVID-19 courtroom distance restrictions.
Bob Paule, Thao’s attorney, said in a court case on Wednesday that Baker initially said there was no physical evidence that Floyd died of asphyxiation. After seeing Dr. Roger Mitchell – a former Washington, DC medical examiner – changed his findings to include neck compression as a factor, according to Paule.
Paule said that during one of the conversations Mitchell called Baker and told him he would submit an opinion to the Washington Post that is critical of Baker’s findings. When Baker published the final autopsy results on June 1, they included a compression of the neck, Paule wrote, and Mitchell never submitted his piece to the newspaper.
Mitchell, now chairman of the Department of Pathology at Howard University College of Medicine, didn’t immediately respond to a phone message left in the department after hours.
Paule also targeted Mitchell’s criticism of Dr. David Fowler, a key defense witness for Chauvin, who testified that the former officer was not responsible for Floyd’s death. Mitchell sent a letter signed by 431 doctors from across the country to the Maryland Attorney General saying Fowler’s conclusions were so far beyond the limits of accepted forensic practice that all of his previous work could be questioned.
Maryland officials then announced that they would review all death reports in custody during Fowler’s tenure. Paule said Mitchell’s allegations had a terrifying effect on Thao’s ability to find medical experts not afraid to testify on his behalf.
He said prosecutors have not yet presented evidence of Mitchell’s actions to the defense. He moves that the lawsuit against Thao be dismissed.
Paule also said in a February trial that he wanted an order sanctioning the state for “its role – directly or indirectly – in providing highly adverse information related to possible objection agreements from co-defendants.”
The New York Times reported on February 10 that Chauvin was ready to plead guilty of third degree murder last year, but then Attorney General William Barr turned down the agreement. The Associated Press released a similar report the next day, citing two law enforcement officers with direct knowledge of the conversations. Paule alleged the leaks were from the state and asked that anyone who did so be banned from participating in the trial. Tom Plunkett, Kueng’s attorney, repeated what he said.
Ellison previously dismissed Paule’s motion as “completely wrong and a failed attempt to belittle the charges.”
Lane’s attorney, Earl Gray, filed a motion asking Judge Peter Cahill to force the state to disclose all reports of violence in the past 50 years in which one Minneapolis police officer used violence and another officer verbally or physically intervened. Gray said it was necessary to show the jury that no such interference has been undertaken in the past 50 years, which would undermine the state’s expert testimony about the duty of officials to intervene.
Prosecutors have said the application should be denied. They noted that departmental guidelines require officers to intervene if excessive force is used, and say that Gray has failed to show how a lack of intervention could compromise expert testimony.
All four officers were also charged with federal charges of violating Floyd’s civil rights.