Judge in George Floyd case warns of a change of venue, gag order; first trial set for next year

Selwyn Jones, uncle of George Floyd, speaks with reporters in front of the Hennepin County Public Safety Facility in Minneapolis on June 29, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - A Minneapolis judge on Monday (June 29) warned that he may move the proceedings against four police officers charged in the death of Mr George Floyd to a different venue and issue a gag order in a case that has drawn worldwide attention, local media reported.

During brief hearings for each of the four former Minneapolis police officers, Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill told their attorneys and prosecutors he is concerned that pretrial publicity may impede chances of a fair trial, a local NBC affiliate reported.

"They are more than likely pushing this trial to a different venue if they (public officials) continue to do so," Mr Cahill told lead prosecutor Matthew Frank. "They need to be aware of that."

Mr Frank replied that the attorneys have no control over public officials, KARE 11 reported.

One of the former officers, Derek Chauvin, 44, pinned his knee into Mr Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes on May 25 when he and the three other former policemen were arresting Floyd in a Minneapolis neighbourhood. Mr Floyd was later pronounced dead at a hospital.

The incident, caught on video by bystander, sparked massive protests against racial injustice and calls for police reforms.

Chauvin, who attended Monday's hearing via a video link, faces a second-degree murder charge. The three other officers, J. Alexander Kueng, Tou Thao and Thomas Lane, appeared in person and have been charged with aiding and abetting in the case. None of the four officers entered a plea on Monday.

At the next hearing, on Sept 11, Mr Cahill could decide whether the four officers will be tried together or separately.

The first trial date was set for March 8, 2021.

Mr Cahill is also considering whether cameras will be allowed in the courtroom.

Bail for Chauvin was earlier set at US$1.25 million (S$1.74 million) or $1 million under certain conditions, while for the other three it was set at US$750,000-US$1 million each.

Chauvin and Thao, 34, remain in custody, while Kueng, 26, and Lane, 37, have been released on conditional bond.

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