The US is still a place where a routine traffic stop can end up in a life-or-death situation.
Lawyers for three former Minneapolis police officers awaiting trial in the killing of George Floyd will appear in court to argue pre-trial motions, including a request that prosecutors be sanctioned over alleged leaks to the media that former officer Derek Chauvin had previously planned to plead guilty.
The lawyers representing Thomas Lane, J Kueng and Tou Thao have said they want the court to require prosecutors to submit affidavits under oath that they are not responsible for the leak to the media.
In a filing late on Wednesday, Thao’s lawyer also alleged that the Hennepin County medical examiner was coerced to include “neck compression” in his findings – and that prosecutors knew of it.
The former officers waived their right to appear at Thursday’s hearing. Their trial is set for August 23 and comes weeks after Chauvin was found guilty of first and second-degree murder and manslaughter for Floyd’s killing.
Attorney General Keith Ellison, whose office is prosecuting the officers, has said allegations that his office was involved in a leak are false.
His office had no immediate comment on the allegations of coercion.
A spokeswoman for Dr Andrew Baker, the medical examiner, told the Associated Press they could not comment due to the pending case.
Chauvin, who was seen in a widely viewed bystander video pressing his knee into Floyd’s neck as the Black man said he could not breathe, is set to be sentenced on June 25.
A judge on Wednesday ruled that there were aggravating factors in Floyd’s killing that could lead to a lengthier prison term for Chauvin.
Lane, Kueng and Thao are charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter. Their trial was separated from Chauvin’s to comply with COVID-19 courtroom spacing restrictions.
Allegations over leak, coercion
Bob Paule, Thao’s lawyer, said in a court filing in February that he wants an order sanctioning the state for “its role – directly or indirectly – in the leaking of highly prejudicial information related to potential plea agreements of co-defendants”.
The New York Times reported on February 10 that Chauvin was ready to plead guilty to a third-degree murder charge last year but then-Attorney General William Barr rejected the agreement.
Attorney General Ellison earlier dismissed Paule’s motion as “completely false and an outlandish attempt to disparage the prosecution”.
Paule also said in a court filing on Wednesday that the medical examiner, Baker, initially said there was no physical evidence that Floyd died of asphyxiation.
But after talking twice to Dr Roger Mitchell – a former medical examiner in Washington, DC – he amended his findings to include neck compression as a factor, according to Paule.
Paule said that in one of the conversations, Mitchell called Baker and told him he was going to submit an opinion piece critical of Baker’s findings to the Washington Post.
Mitchell, now chairman of the Department of Pathology at the Howard University College of Medicine, did not immediately respond to a phone message left by the Associated Press at the department after hours.
All four officers have also been indicted on federal charges alleging they violated Floyd’s civil rights.