Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill has lifted a gag order in the criminal case against the four former officers charged in the death of George Floyd. He also said he would take under advisement a news media coalition’s request to make body camera footage more widely available.
Cahill agreed with defense attorneys’ arguments that a gag order would be unfair to their clients and limit their ability to defend against negative publicity.
According to Associated Press, Cahill said the gag order wasn’t working, adding that certain unnamed parties were attempting to “tiptoe around the order,” and some media outlets spoke to anonymous sources. The judge said attorneys would still be subject to Minnesota court rules relating to pretrial publicity and professional conduct.
The Judge ruled that he would not hold the lead prosecutor in the case, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, in contempt of court as requested by two defense attorneys. Cahill determined that Ellison did not violate the gag order during an announcement regarding the additional attorneys assisting the prosecution.
The gag order was prompted by the submission of police body camera videos filed with the court earlier this month by former officer Thomas Lane’s attorney, Earl Gray, as part of a request to have Lane’s case dismissed. Gray said he wanted the videos to be made public. Cahill issued the gag order and made the videos available for in-person, by-appointment viewing only.
Leita Walker, an attorney for the news media coalition which includes The Associated Press, and Gray both argued for wider dissemination of the body camera footage. Walker said making the footage widely available would not further harm the court’s effort to impanel a jury because the public already has access to bystander video, transcripts of the footage and reporting by the press who watched the videos.
Gray alleged the body camera footage shows Floyd stuffed counterfeit bills in his car seat and put drugs in his mouth. Two AP writers who viewed the body camera footage at the courthouse last week did not see Floyd put drugs in his mouth, as Gray described.
The issue of whether audio and visual coverage of the trial will be allowed was also discussed at the hearing. The defendants’ attorneys made no objection. Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank said prosecutors will weigh in on that issue by day’s end Monday.