Judge Bars Most Media, General Public From Trial of Ex-Cops Charged in George Floyd Death

U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson recently restricted public and media access to the upcoming federal civil rights trial of three former Minneapolis police officers who are charged with violating the civil rights of George Floyd in his 2020 death.

The decision has drawn criticism and a request from a coalition of media outlets to change the restrictions, citing concern that the restrictions to the trial could violate the First Amendment, according to the Associated Press, which is part of the group.

Two media members will be allowed in the courtroom for jury selection, which begins Thursday for the upcoming trial of Tou Thao, J. Kueng and Thomas Lane. The media group objected in a letter sent Monday to the fact that no members of Floyd's or the defendants' families will be allowed in the room for this, the AP reported.

"We do not need to explain to this Court the gravity of the trial, the impact Mr. Floyd's death had on the Twin Cities and the world, or the public's ongoing and intense concern for how the criminal justice system deals with those accused of killing him," the letter states, according to the AP. "As a result, ensuring the trial…is open to the press and public is imperative."

Paul Magnuson Minnesota Officers Federal Trial
U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson has reportedly restricted media and public access to the upcoming trial, a move that has drawn criticism from a coalition of media groups. In the courtroom sketch above, Magnuson presides over a pretrial hearing for three former Minneapolis officers charged in the death of George Floyd, in federal court on January 11, in St. Paul, Minnesota. Cedric Hohnstadt via AP

During the trial, four media members, a sketch artist and some family members will be allowed in the courtroom, according to the letter written by the attorney representing the coalition Leita Walker, the Star Tribune reported. No members of the general public will be allowed in the courtroom for the trial.

Footage of the trial will be streamed to two rooms that can each hold about 40 people, one for the media and one for other family members and the public. However, the footage sent to those rooms will not cover the entire trial, according to the Star Tribune.

The letter states that the feeds to the outside rooms will be from cameras focused on the lectern where lawyers will speak, the witness stand, Magnuson's bench and the evidence presented in the trial.

The restrictions announced for the federal trial are in stark contrast to the trial of former officer Derek Chauvin, who was convicted for killing Floyd in the summer of 2020.

During the mid-pandemic trial of Chauvin held last year, the judge cited public interest and the pandemic as a special exception to state rules limiting the use of cameras in the courtroom, allowing for the trial to be live-streamed, an outcome that was pushed for by a similar media coalition, according to the Star Tribune.

The Star Tribune also reported that Walker requested in the letter that Magnuson and the court "take immediate steps to rectify the situation," and allow more media and public access, even if it means moving the trial to a larger courtroom to accommodate pandemic safety regulations.

A representative for Magnuson's office declined to comment on the request from the media coalition.

The media outlets also include CNN, CBS, The New York Times, NPR, The Washington Post and the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information, among several others.