“The prosecution is 100 percent ready to try this case in March, 100 percent,” said Neal Katyal, an outside special attorney who is helping prosecute the case. “We reluctantly concluded that a June trial date will be substantially safer for the public health.”
Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter A. Cahill acknowledged the health risks but seemed skeptical, citing an already packed court calendar. In a hearing held over Zoom, Cahill pressed prosecutors on why the logistics of the Floyd case were different from any other pending case before the court, which is conducting business virtually because of a coronavirus shutdown.
“I know I am going to be trying a case, come March 8, one way or the other,” Cahill said. Cahill did not say when he would make a decision.
But Robert Paule, an attorney for former officer Tou Thao, one of four slated to stand trial in the case, questioned the motives of prosecutors — suggesting their efforts to delay were linked to their opposition to the judge’s decision to allow audio and visual coverage of the proceedings due to the pandemic.
He and Eric Nelson, an attorney for former officer Derek Chauvin, separately asked the court to delay the trial — with Paule suggesting a start date of July. They said prosecutors had been slow to turn over key evidence and handed over material that was disorganized and riddled with technical issues, claims prosecutors strongly denied.
Floyd died May 25 after being handcuffed and pinned facedown on a South Minneapolis street as police investigated a 911 call about a counterfeit $20 bill that allegedly had been passed at a convenience store.
Chauvin pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes as the 46-year-old Black man repeatedly said he couldn’t breathe and ultimately lost consciousness. Floyd was later pronounced dead at a hospital.
Chauvin, a 19-year veteran of the Minneapolis force, was charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter, while the other officers at the scene — Thao, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas K. Lane — were charged with aiding and abetting murder. All four were fired by the Minneapolis Police Department.
The hearing came as court records revealed investigators with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, which is conducting its own investigation into Floyd’s death, conducted another search last month of the vehicle Floyd was sitting in when officers first confronted him.
The 2001 Mercedes-Benz SUV was impounded after Floyd’s death and was processed for evidence at the agency’s forensics garage in St. Paul in late May before being transferred to a “secure evidence holding lot” in the Twin Cities suburbs, according to court records.
In a Dec. 8 search-warrant application, James Reyerson, a special agent with the BCA, said investigators, after reviewing photographs and videos, “determined that multiple items located within the aforementioned Mercedes-Benz were previously not seized” and were “pertinent” to the investigation.
A BCA spokesman declined to comment on the search, citing the ongoing investigation, and investigators did not fully disclose what evidence was recovered. But a laboratory request filed Dec. 9 by the BCA shows investigators asked for analysis of several items found in the car, including two white pills found in the vehicle’s center console; two packets of Suboxone, an opioid addiction medication; an empty package of “Goodnight Gummies”; and a package of Airheads gum.
Attorneys for the former officers have argued that Floyd did not die as a result of being restrained by police but from a combination of poor health and an overdose of fentanyl — pointing to comments made by Hennepin County Medical Examiner Andrew Baker, who conducted Floyd’s autopsy.
In June, Baker, who is likely to be a key figure in the trial, formally declared Floyd’s death a homicide, listing “cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression” as the cause of death. The report listed heart disease, fentanyl intoxication, recent methamphetamine use and Floyd’s bout with covid-19 as other “significant conditions.”
But defense attorneys have seized on Baker’s statements to the FBI and prosecutors, which have been filed as evidence in the case. In a June interview with prosecutors, Baker noted the high level of fentanyl in Floyd’s system — saying that if Floyd had been “found dead at home alone and no apparent causes,” it would have been “acceptable” to call his death an overdose.
In a July interview with the FBI, a summary of which was made public last month, Baker told agents that Floyd’s heart and lungs had stopped “due to the combined effects of his health problems as well as the exertion and restraint involved in Floyd’s interaction with police before being on the ground.”
The summary of the interview, which was not recorded, said Baker told the FBI other factors had contributed to Floyd’s cardiopulmonary arrest, including existing heart disease and the presence of fentanyl and other intoxicants.
“Baker did not know if Floyd would have lived but for the officer’s actions,” the FBI summary reads. But the medical examiner told agents “the stress from the events that occurred with Minneapolis police officers was more than Floyd could tolerate.”
In court Thursday, Paule called out prosecutors for turning over a copy of Baker’s interview to defense attorneys more than two months after the discovery deadline — suggesting it was deliberate.
“I don’t think this is simply coincidence that these things are being turned over, and if it is inadvertent, it is still having a difficult and prejudicial effect on our ability to litigate this case fairly,” Paule said. “When public figures make statements about transparency and search for justice, they ought to be willing to back that up in court by treating us with professional respect and giving us a right to defend ourselves in a fair manner.”
Matthew Frank, an assistant Minnesota attorney general who is the lead prosecutor in the case, called the accusations “unfounded” and “inappropriate.”
“We are doing the best we can with a huge amount of discovery, and to suggest that we would take the time to haystack or to order things differently because we get some kick out of it, it’s just false,” Frank said.