MINNEAPOLIS -- A Hennepin County District Court judge on Tuesday, July 21, lifted his gag order in the case of four officers charged in the killing of George Floyd.
Judge Peter Cahill imposed the gag order on attorneys and others earlier this month, writing that pretrial publicity would taint the jury pool and could result in an unfair trial.
A coalition of media organizations and attorneys for the defendants opposed the order.
The media coalition, which included MPR News, The New York Times, the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information, the Star Tribune and others, argued that the gag order didn’t specifically define who is covered, and could apply to people who are only tangentially related to the case, such as experts in police tactics or social movements.
Defense lawyers contended their inability to speak publicly prevented them from countering an emerging worldwide narrative about Floyd’s death.
The in-custody death of Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, was captured on video by a bystander, sparking protests throughout the country and civil unrest in the Twin Cities.
Former officer Derek Chauvin, who knelt on Floyd’s neck for several minutes, faces murder and manslaughter charges. Former officers Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao are charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
Defense attorneys made no statements despite the gag order being lifted.
Cahill did not immediately rule on another request brought by the media coalition, to release police body camera footage.
That motion was supported in Tuesday’s hearing by Earl Gray, the attorney representing Lane, who argued that the video footage should be released to help combat what he called media bias.
The video evidence was filed along with a motion by Lane to dismiss charges against him. It is available for viewing — but not recording or distribution — by appointment.
Cahill did ask prosecutors to file a position on audio and video coverage of the actual trial, saying he is concerned about the right to a public trial during a pandemic.
The courtroom on Tuesday accommodated just six reporters; court staff and attorneys were spaced out as well, with plexiglass dividers between them. Meanwhile, dozens of photojournalists were in the lobby downstairs.