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Minn. judge lifts gag order in Floyd case

MINNEAPOLIS — A Minnesota judge on Tuesday lifted a gag order in the criminal case against four former officers charged in death of George Floyd, but said he would take a news media coalition’s request to make body camera footage more widely available under advisement.

Even though the gag order was vacated, Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill said he still expects all attorneys in the case to follow the rules on disclosure of information. In announcing his ruling, Cahill said he agreed with defense attorneys’ arguments that a gag order would be unfair to their clients and limit their ability to defend themselves against negative publicity.

Cahill also ruled Tuesday that he would not hold the lead prosecutor in the case, Attorney General Keith Ellison, in contempt of court as two defense attorneys requested, saying a statement Ellison made when he announced that additional attorneys would be assisting the prosecution was innocuous and did not violate the gag order.

Floyd,  a Black man who was handcuffed, died May 25 after Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck for nearly eight minutes as Floyd said he couldn’t breathe. Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter. Three other officers who were at the scene, Tou Thao, Thomas Lane and J. Kueng, are charged with aiding and abetting both second-degree murder and manslaughter. All four officers were fired.

Police body camera videos were filed with the court this month by 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 — prompting Cahill to issue an order barring attorneys and parties from discussing the case.

Defense attorneys for all four of the former officers asked that the gag order be lifted. The Associated Press is among news organizations that objected to the gag order.

Cahill made the videos available for in-person, by-appointment viewing only. Media attorney Leita Walker objected to that format, saying it violated the common law, rules of public access to records and the First Amendment, and was essentially equivalent to keeping the videos under seal.

Records of all courts are presumed to be open for public inspection with limited exceptions. Prosecutors said a court may impose restrictions if that access will interfere with the fair and impartial administration of justice, and that reasonable alternatives aren’t adequate.