A Minnesota judge overturned a gagging warrant on four former officials accused of George Floyd's death on Tuesday, but said he would refer to the demand from a news media coalition to make body camera footage more widely available .
When announcing his decision, Hennepin District Judge Peter Cahill said he agreed with the defense lawyers' arguments that a gag order was unfair to their clients and would limit their ability to defend themselves against negative publicity.
Cahill also said the toggle command was not working, adding that certain parties were trying to "tiptoe around the command" and some media spoke to anonymous sources. The judge said lawyers would continue to be subject to the Minnesota Court's rules regarding pre-judicial advertising and professional conduct.
Also on Tuesday, Cahill ruled that he would not disregard the court in the case, Attorney General Keith Ellison, as two defense lawyers requested. Cahill found that a statement Ellison made when he announced that additional lawyers would support the indictment was harmless and did not violate the gag order.
Floyd, a black man with handcuffs, died on May 25 after Derek Chauvin, a white policeman, pressed his knee against Floyd's neck for almost eight minutes when Floyd said he could not breathe. Chauvin is charged with second degree murder, third degree murder, and manslaughter. Three other officers, Tou Thao, Thomas Lane and J. Kueng, who were on site, are accused of supporting and promoting second-degree murder and homicide. All four officers were released.
Videos of police cameras were brought to court this month by Lane's lawyer Earl Gray, as part of an application to dismiss Lane's case. Gray said he wanted the videos to be released – which prompted Cahill to issue the gag order, which prevents lawyers and parties from discussing the case.
Cahill only made the videos available for personal viewing by appointment.
Leita Walker, a lawyer in the media coalition to which The Associated Press belongs, and Gray both pleaded on Tuesday for a wider distribution of body camera footage. Walker said the distribution of the footage would not interfere with the court's efforts to impress a jury, given that the public already has access to viewer videos, transcripts of the footage, and press coverage that watched the videos.
"This case has international interest. Expect every media member to fly to Minneapolis and make an appointment … during the quarantine is actually a seal, ”Walker told the judge.
After the hearing, Walker said to reporters, “The media coalition believes there are many things and the public is entitled to a complete picture. The media can only tell a full story if they can see everything and talk to both sides. "
Gray argued in court that the news media had been unfair to his client and that body camera shots would remove some misrepresentations. He said the body camera shows Floyd stuffing fake bills into his car seat and putting drugs in his mouth. Regarding the drugs, Gray said, "That's probably why he died."
Two AP writers who watched body camera footage in the courthouse last week didn't see Floyd taking drugs, Gray described.
Deputy Attorney General Matthew Frank advocated that the publication of body camera footage could have a negative impact on the imposition of an impartial jury.
The question of whether audiovisual reporting on the process was allowed was also discussed at the hearing. The accused's lawyers raised no objection. Frank said the prosecutor's office would address this issue until the end of the day on Monday.
Mohamed Ibrahim is a corps member of the Associated Press / Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a non-profit, national service program where journalists report on hidden problems in local newsrooms.