Former Cop in George Floyd Case Seeks Removal of Prosecutor

The fired officer’s lawyer claims the county attorney has stoked public anger against his client and three co-defendants.

Former Minneapolis police officer J. Alexander Kueng, left, arrives with his attorney Thomas Plunkett for a hearing at the Hennepin County Government Center on July 21, 2020. (Renee Jones Schneider/Star Tribune via AP)

MINNEAPOLIS (CN) — An attorney for one of the four former Minneapolis officers involved in the fatal arrest of George Floyd filed a motion asking for the removal of Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman’s office from the prosecution team in his client’s case.

In the motion, filed late Wednesday but made public Thursday afternoon, attorney Thomas Plunkett argued that Freeman and his office have too much incentive to aggressively prosecute his client, former Minneapolis police officer J. Alexander Kueng, and that he demonstrated bias against Kueng by making public statements declaring his guilt.

“Mr. Kueng was employed by the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD), and the HCAO regularly relies on the MPD as investigators and witnesses in the prosecution of their cases. The Court of Appeals has recognized that it is not appropriate for prosecutors to be involved in cases where the defendant is a current or former employee,” Plunkett wrote.

He further argued that Freeman’s statements lamenting Floyd’s death showed that he lacks objectivity in the case against Kueng.

“Mr. Freeman has fomented public anger and now seeks to taint that anger with hatred through the prosecution of Mr. Kueng. He has abdicated his duties as a prosecutor and must be removed from the case,” the 8-page motion states.

Plunkett also cited Freeman’s confirmation of a mid-June leak of information on plea deal negotiations with Derek Chauvin, who has been charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter for Floyd’s death. The prosecutor’s office confirmed to media that Chauvin and his attorneys had been negotiating to plead guilty to murder and federal civil rights charges prior to his arrest, but that the deal had collapsed.

That information is inadmissible as evidence, Plunkett said, and leaking it was a violation of professional ethics.

“The HCAO knew the leaked plea negotiations would be widely reported and have a significant impact on the local community, potential jurors, and the nation,” the attorney wrote. “This leak alone is enough to undermine the public’s confidence in the HCAO and their role in the prosecution team going forward.”

The motion also drew attention to the involvement of Democratic Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison in the case. Freeman’s claim that he had requested help from Ellison’s office after developments in the case warranted it, Plunkett argued, conflicted with the fact that local legislators had asked Governor Tim Walz, also a Democrat, to put Ellison in charge on the basis that their constituents did not trust Freeman with the prosecution.

“Mr. Freeman’s statement about the AG’s role was an attempt to protect his political standing,” Plunkett wrote. “Mr. Freeman’s lack of candor about why the AG was brought in to take over the case raises additional concerns about the HCAO’s office ability to act as a minister of justice in this matter.”

A spokesperson for Freeman’s office declined to comment on the motion.

Plunkett, called for an interview, was also hesitant to expand on the topic.

“I do think the motion speaks for itself,” he said. “I just don’t know what I could add.”

The next hearing in the cases against Kueng, Chauvin and fellow former officers Thomas Lane and Tou Thao is scheduled for Sept. 11 before Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill. Kueng, Lane and Thao are all charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

Freeman and the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office have been a target of criticism from all sides in the wake of Floyd’s death. Picketing at his home began shortly after a video of Floyd’s last moments on May 25 went viral, and a petition seeking a recall election of Freeman began circulating shortly thereafter.

Picketing is familiar to Freeman: he was a target of sharp criticism and more picketing in February after he declined to press charges against police officers in the southwestern suburbs of Edina and Richfield for the fatal shooting of Brian Quinones, a Latino man, last September.

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