Sunday, April 11, 2021

3 ex-Minneapolis cops charged in George Floyd death ask judge to dismiss case after plea-deal press leak

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The legal teams representing three of the four former Minneapolis police officers charged in George Floyd’s death filed a series of motions this week seeking to have the cases dismissed, accusing prosecutors of leaking information about plea deal negotiations to the press.

The trial against Derek Chauvin, who was seen in moments captured on video pressing his knee to Floyd’s neck, is set to begin on March 8. He is charged with second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

The three other formed officers involved — Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane – are charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter and are currently scheduled to stand trial on Aug. 23.  

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Thao’s attorneys, Robert and Natalie Paule, filed a motion in Hennepin County District Court on Monday accusing Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison of leaking information regarding Chauvin’s plea deal negotiations and asked the judge to dismiss the charges against their client.

The New York Times, citing three unnamed law enforcement officials, reported for the first time last week that a plea deal was in the works for Chauvin just days after Floyd’s death when violent demonstrations gripped the nation. Under the plea agreement, Chauvin would plead guilty to third-degree murder and face up to 10 years in federal prison, but would avoid federal civil rights charges.

The agreement was ultimately rejected by former Attorney General William Barr, The Times reported.

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The leaked information will “irreversibly taint the jury pool and will deny Mr. Thao his constitutional right to a fair trial by impartial jurors,” and Ellison, as well as prosecutors Matthew Frank and Neal Katyal should face, “sanctions against the State for its role – directly or indirectly – in the leaking of highly prejudicial information related to potential plea agreements of codefendants,” the motion said, according to Twin Cities Pioneer Press, which obtained the document after it was made public Tuesday.

The motion asked Judge Peter Cahill to schedule a hearing on the matter within a week.

In a second motion filed in Hennepin County District Court late Tuesday, Kueng’s attorney, Thomas Plunkett, also argued that the article published by the Times included leaked information that could have only come from the prosecution team and that their alleged mishandling of the discovery process, “shows a complete disrespect for this Court and the fundamental notions of due process.”

“The history of this case shows purposeful actions to thwart justice for the officers. One discovery violation is an honest mistake, this wide river of flagrant discovery violations is a purposeful act designed to prevent Mr. Kueng and the Codefendant’s from receiving a fair trial,” Plunkett wrote in the motion. “Leaking prejudicial information mere days before trial is loathsome and underhanded. The State’s conduct has been pervasive, malicious and an affront to the dignity of the Office of the Attorney General.”

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The motion also alleges “prosecutorial misconduct” and cites delays in handing over evidence, Fox 9 Minneapolis reported.

Lane’s attorney, Earl Gray, filed a third motion Wednesday seeking to join the motions filed by the attorneys representing Thao and Kueng, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.

“It’s sad that the defense would stoop to peddling baseless conspiracy theories rather than prepare a serious defense of their client to address the grave crimes with which he is charged,” Ellison said in a written statement responding the motions filed by defense this week. “Unlike the defense, we are confident in our case and look forward to presenting it to a jury.”

The attorneys filed these motions as leaders from Minneapolis and local and state law enforcement agencies have been beefing up security plans, preparing to close streets and making sure businesses and residents are well informed as the trial against Chauvin approaches.

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Mayor Jacob Frey said Wednesday the trial will likely increase trauma for many, especially as the verdict draws near, and that safety will be a top priority “during this very difficult time in our city.”

State Patrol Col. Matt Langer said authorities will be working to protect everyone’s rights to peacefully protest while also ensuring that businesses, government buildings and infrastructure are protected. Law enforcement will use quick reaction teams, bicycle rapid response officers, SWAT officers and other tactics to respond quickly to emergencies. Protests on freeways or unlawful behavior such as throwing objects, using illegal fireworks, setting fires or damaging property will not be tolerated, Langer said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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