The former Minneapolis police officer charged with murder in the George Floyd case after he was seen on video holding his knee against Floyd’s neck will be tried separate from the three other cops accused in connection with the case, court papers on Tuesday show.
Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter A. Cahill ruled – citing concerns surrounding the novel coronavirus pandemic – that ex-police officer Derek Chauvin will stand trial alone in March while the remaining trio will be tried together over the summer.
Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in Floyd’s death. Jury selection for his trial will begin March 8.
Former officers Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane are each charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder, as well as aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter.
Cahill attributed the order to space limitations created as a result of COVID-19-related guidelines, saying it is “impossible to comply with COVID-19 physical restrictions” given how many lawyers and support personnel that four defendants say would be present.
“The physical limitations of … the largest courtroom in the Hennepin County Government Center, make it impossible to comply with COVID-19 physcial restrictions in a joint trial involving all four defendants,” he said, “given the number of lawyers and support personnel the parties have now advised the Court are expected to be present during trial.”
Last week, prosecutors asked Cahill to postpone the March 8 trial to June 7 to reduce public health risks associated with COVID-19. In his order Tuesday, the judge wrote that while the pandemic situation may be greatly improved by June, “the Court is not so optimistic given news reports detailing problems with the vaccine rollout.”
Cahill cited a request from Chief Judge Toddrick Barnette after last week’s hearing to reconsider having all four defendants tried in March due to space concerns. Barnette wrote that in his view that the courtroom could handle up to three defendants at once.
Floyd, a Black man, died on May 25 after Chauvin, who is White, pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck while he was handcuffed face down on the street. Police were investigating whether Floyd used a counterfeit bill at a nearby store. In a video widely seen on social media, Floyd could be heard pleading with officers for air, saying he couldn’t breathe.
Floyd’s death sparked protests in Minneapolis and around the world with renewed calls for an end to police brutality and racial inequities.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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