MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A former Minneapolis police officer who held his knee to the neck of George Floyd for several minutes will be tried separately from three other former officers accused in his death, according to scheduling orders filed Tuesday.
Derek Chauvin will stand trial alone in March due to the coronavirus pandemic while the other three former officers will be tried together in the summer, according to the orders filed in Hennepin County District Court.
Judge Peter Cahill cited the limitations of physical space during the coronavirus pandemic for his order to split the defendants’ trials. It is “impossible to comply with COVID-19 physical restrictions” given how many lawyers and support personnel that four defendants say would be present, Cahill wrote.
Prosecutors disagreed with the judge’s decision to split the trials. A defense attorney for former officer Thomas Lane said he believed a separate trial would be better for his client, while the other defense attorneys either declined to comment or did not return messages.
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 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 elsewhere and renewed calls for an end to police brutality and racial inequities.
Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in Floyd’s death. 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.
Defense attorneys had argued last year that the officers should be tried separately, since each officer might seek to diminish their own role in Floyd’s arrest and death by pointing fingers at the other officers. Prosecutors had argued against dividing the trial, saying the evidence against all four is similar, the officers acted together and the public and witnesses should be spared the trauma of multiple trials.
Thao, Kueng and Lane are now scheduled to stand trial together beginning Aug. 23.