Prosecutors may revisit audio-visual coverage of cops’ trial

Published 6:12 pm Tuesday, July 28, 2020

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MINNEAPOLIS — Prosecutors said Tuesday they may revisit the issue of audio-visual coverage of the trials of four former Minneapolis police officers charged in the death of George Floyd.

The Minnesota Attorney General’s office did not offer a reason Monday when it opposed allowing cameras in the courtroom for the former officers’ trials. But in a filing Tuesday, Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank said while the prosecution supports a public trial, prosecutors can concerned that live audio and visual coverage in the courtroom “may create more problems than they will solve.”

Audio-visual coverage could alter the way attorneys present evidence, subject participants to heightened media scrutiny — distracting from the trial — and may intimidate some witnesses, Frank wrote, reiterating points made last month by Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison.

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“Testifying in public is challenging enough; live audio and visual testimony could potentially deprive the State of the testimony of certain witnesses,” Frank wrote. But he said the issue perhaps can be revisited as trial approaches.

Derek Chauvin and three other former officers are scheduled to go on trial in March. Under Minnesota court rules, a judge can allow the recording and reproduction of criminal proceedings if both sides consent. Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill has yet to rule on the matter, but the state’s position — unless changed — makes it unlikely that he will allow cameras at trial.

Last month, Cahill ruled that cameras would not be allowed during pretrial proceedings, after prosecutors objected.

Floyd, who was Black, died May 25 after Chauvin, who is white, pressed his knee against the handcuffed man’s neck for nearly 8 minutes. Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. J. Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao are charged with aiding and abetting both second-degree murder and manslaughter. All four officers were fired after Floyd’s death.

Defense attorneys have said they would be open to audio and visual coverage of the trials, saying the recordings are necessary to guarantee the officers get a fair trial — especially during a pandemic when public access to the courtroom is restricted.