MINNEAPOLIS -- A federal judge on Wednesday rejected a request by a coalition of media groups for greater access to the civil rights trial of three former Minneapolis police officers in George Floyd’s death.
U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson said the trial will go forward with the restrictions he imposed due to the pandemic, including limits on the number of reporters allowed inside the courtroom. Media organizations, including The Associated Press, urged the judge Monday to ease the restrictions, saying they amount to an unconstitutional courtroom closure.
“The current spread of the omicron variant has created an unprecedented situation for our court system,” Magnuson said in a letter to Leita Walker, attorney for the media coalition. “We must keep the jurors we have invited to the courthouse as safe as possible, and science dictates that restricting the number of the people in the courtroom is the best way to do that.”
Jury selection is set to begin Thursday in the trial of Tou Thao, J. Kueng and Thomas Lane on charges that they deprived Floyd of his rights while acting under government authority. Only four reporters will be allowed in the courtroom at a time. Other reporters, and the general public, will be limited to about 40 seats apiece in two overflow courtrooms where they will watch a closed-circuit feed on monitors that will provide only limited views.
Under longstanding federal court rules, the proceedings will not be livestreamed or broadcast to the public, in contrast to last year's murder trial in state court of Derek Chauvin, the white former Minneapolis officer who kept Floyd pinned to the pavement with his knee on his neck despite the Black man's pleas that he couldn't breathe. The judge in that case made an exception to the state's normal limits on cameras, citing the need for public access during the pandemic.
Magnuson also rejected the media coalition's request for same-day access to trial exhibits. He said he'll decide on releasing those exhibits at the end of the case, and will consider factors such as the defendants' right to a fair trial in state court on charges of aiding and abetting both murder and manslaughter, which is set to begin June 13.
“I appreciate your concerns but I do not share them,” Magnuson wrote. “I believe that the media and the public will have as much access to these proceedings as is possible in this time of high Covid transmission.”
Find AP’s full coverage of the death of George Floyd at: https://apnews.com/hub/death-of-george-floyd