A federal judge on Wednesday denied a request by a coalition of media groups to expand access to the civil rights trial of three former Minneapolis police officers over the death of George Floyd.
U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson said the lawsuit will continue with the restrictions he imposed due to the pandemic, including limits on the number of reporters allowed in downtown St. Paul’s courtroom. Media outlets including the Associated Press on Monday urged the judge to ease the restrictions, saying they constituted an unconstitutional closure of the courtroom.
“The current proliferation of the omicron variant has created an unprecedented situation for our judiciary,” Magnuson said in a letter to Leita Walker, a media coalition lawyer. “We need to ensure that the jurors we have invited into the courthouse are as safe as possible, and science suggests that limiting the number of people in the courtroom is the best way to do this.”
Jury selection is set to begin Thursday in the trial of Tou Tao, J. Alexander Kuang and Thomas Lane on charges of depriving Floyd of his rights by acting under government direction. Only four journalists will be allowed into the courtroom at a time. Other reporters and the general public will be limited to about 40 seats in two crowded courtrooms, where they will watch the broadcast on monitors that provide only a limited view.
Under long-standing federal court rules, the trial will not be broadcast live or broadcast to the public, unlike last year’s state court murder trial of Derek Chauvin, a white former Minneapolis officer who held Floyd to the sidewalk with his knee on his neck. despite the black man’s pleas that he can’t breathe. A Hennepin County judge in this case made an exception to the state’s usual restrictions on cameras, citing the need for public access during a pandemic.
Magnuson also denied the media coalition’s request for access to trial exhibits on the same day. He said he would decide on the release of that physical evidence at the end of the case and consider factors such as the defendants’ right to a fair trial in state court for aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter, which is about to begin. June 13th.
“I appreciate your concerns, but I don’t share them,” Magnuson wrote. “I believe that the media and the public will have the greatest possible access to these proceedings during this time of high Covid transmission.”