Covid Delays DOJ’s Civil-Rights Trial against Ex-Cops in George Floyd Case

(Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

I have a column on our site this morning about what I believe are the flaws in the Justice Department’s case against the remaining three defendants, all ex-cops from Minneapolis, who are currently standing trial on criminal allegations of having deprived George Floyd of his civil rights. The fourth ex-cop implicated in Floyd’s death on Memorial Day 2020 is Derek Chauvin, who pled guilty in the federal case in December. The preceding spring, a state jury in Minnesota convicted him on murder and manslaughter charges.

It now looks like the federal case will be delayed mid trial for at least a few days.

Reports out of federal court in St. Paul, where Judge Paul Magnuson is presiding, are that one of the defendants has tested positive for Covid. The judge did not identify which defendant, but I am advised that Thomas Lane was not present in court today. The other two defendants, Tao Thao and J. Alexander Kueng, were present. The trial, which began in earnest with opening statements last Monday (January 24), is now apparently adjourned until next Monday (February 7).

The lawyers have estimated that the case will take about a month to try. Mainly because of the havoc Covid could wreak on a trial, Judge Magnuson empaneled six alternate jurors (the maximum under federal rules), in addition to the dozen jurors who are hearing the case.

Federal courts have held that defendants have a constitutional right to be physically present at all phases of their trial. Consequently, in a joint trial of multiple defendants, the proceedings are often delayed if any defendant (or, for that matter, any defendant’s counsel) is unable to be present because of illness or some other contingency.

My column today is the last in a three-part series outlining significant issues in the case. The first dealt with the question of how race factors into federal civil-rights prosecutions. The second addressed Chauvin, focusing on the very favorable plea deal he got from the Justice Department and the question of whether he is likely to testify in the trial.