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Judge, ‘Not So Optimistic’ About ‘Vaccine Rollout,’ Severs Derek Chauvin’s Trial from Other Former Cops Charged in Death of George Floyd


The trials of former Minneapolis police officers charged in the alleged murder of George Floyd have been separated by the judge due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Derek Chauvin will stand trial as soon as March, while Thomas Lane, Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng will stand trial together in August, Judge Peter Cahill ruled on Monday.

The judge, “not so optimistic” about the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in the United States, said that the largest courtroom available would not be big enough to accommodate all four defendants and their lawyers at a joint trial while also complying with public health requirements.

“COVID-19 continues to be a public emergency. Physical spacing limitations and mask requirements continue. While the State believes the situation will be greatly improved by June due to vaccinations, the Court is not so optimistic given news reports detailing problems with the vaccine rollout,” Cahill wrote. “The physical limitations of courtroom C-1856, the largest courtroom in the Hennepin County Government Center, make it impossible to comply with COVID-19 physical restrictions in a joint trial involving all four defendants beginning March 8, 2021 given the number of lawyers and support personnel the parties have now advised the court are expected to be present during trial.”

Judge Cahill thereby separated the trials, scheduling Chauvin’s trial to begin on March 8 and pushing back the Lane-Thao-Kueng trial to Aug. 23. Prosecutors previously wanted the trials joined.

Then-officer Chauvin who was recorded on May 25 with his knee on Floyd’s neck for several minutes—even as Floyd was handcuffed, prone, saying he could not breathe and falling unconscious—is charged with second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter (a third-degree murder charge was previously dropped). The state’s theory is that Chauvin committed unintentional second-degree murder by committing third-degree assault. The other former officers are charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder, and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter.

[Image via Minnesota Department of Corrections]

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Matt Naham is the Senior A.M. Editor of Law&Crime.