A coalition of media groups says restrictions on access to the federal civil rights trial of three former Minneapolis police officers charged in the death of George Floyd amount to an unconstitutional courtroom closure.
Citing the risks of the pandemic, U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson limited the number of people who can be in his St. Paul courtroom for the proceedings against Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane, accused of deprived Floyd of his rights. while acting under the authority of the government. Jury selection begins Thursday. Magnuson also limited the amount of views on a closed-circuit feed of the proceedings, which will be relayed to overflow rooms where only a limited number of reporters and members of the public can watch.
Under longstanding federal court rules, the proceedings will not be livestreamed or broadcast to the public, unlike last year’s murder trial in state court of Derek Chauvin, the former white officer of Minneapolis which kept Floyd pinned to the sidewalk with his knee on the black man’s neck despite Floyd’s pleas that he couldn’t breathe. The Hennepin County judge in that case made an exception to the state’s normal limits on cameras, citing the need for public access amid the pandemic.
“We do not need to explain to this Court the seriousness of the trial, the impact that Mr. Floyd’s death has had on the Twin Cities and the world, or the continued and intense public concern about the how the criminal justice system treats those accused of killing him,” news agencies, including the Associated Press, said in their letter dated Monday. “As a result, it is imperative to ensure that the trial … is open to the press and the public.”
Four members of the media must be allowed in the courtroom during jury selection; the judge raised the originally planned number of two without explanation on Tuesday. But the media coalition stressed that no members of the public will be allowed in for this phase, not even family members of the defendants or the Floyd family.
During the trial itself, only four journalists and a cartoonist will be admitted, plus a few family members, but no one from the general public. Seating in the additional media and public rooms will be limited to approximately 40 each. Spectators in the overflow rooms will watch through monitors which will only provide limited views. Exhibits will not be made public immediately.
“It is in the interest of everyone involved that media coverage of this trial be fair and accurate and enhance the public’s understanding of the federal justice system, including understanding of how juries reach their verdicts,” they said. write the groups. “The best way to ensure such coverage is to provide the media with unfettered access to the trial and the evidence it involves.”
Magnuson “has tried to meet the interests of the media and the public, but as the letter says, he needs to try harder,” said Jane Kirtley, director of the Silha Center for the Study of Media Ethics and Law at the University of Minnesota. , which is one of 18 groups that signed the letter.
Kirtley said the recent state court trials of Chauvin and former Brooklyn Center officer Kim Potter in the shooting death of Daunte Wright showed that cameras are not disruptive and do not violate lives. privacy of witnesses or jurors.