Minnesota Attorney General Accused of Violating Gag Order in Floyd Case

Then-Congressman Keith Ellison, now the Minnesota attorney general, listens during a forum on the future of the Democratic Party in December 2016. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

MINNEAPOLIS (CN) — An attorney for one of the former police officers charged in the death of George Floyd called for the jailing of Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison on Tuesday over a press release the attorney says violates a gag order.

Earl Gray, who represents officer Thomas Lane, filed a motion to hold Ellison, a Democrat, and his Deputy Chief of Staff John Stiles in contempt of court for sending an email announcing the addition of four notable local attorneys to the team prosecuting the cases against Lane and fellow former Minneapolis police officers Derek Chauvin, Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng.

“Out of respect for Judge Cahill’s gag order, I will say simply that I’ve put together an exceptional team with experience and expertise across many disciplines. We are united in our responsibility to pursue justice in this case,” Ellison said in the press release emailed out by Stiles.

The gag order – which Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill put in place July 9 after Gray made comments to the Minneapolis Star Tribune about a motion to dismiss the case against his client – prohibits parties and attorneys in the cases from disclosing “any information, opinions, strategies, plans or potential evidence” related to the cases to the media or public.

From left to right: Derek Chauvin, J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao. (Hennepin County Sheriff via AP)

Gray argued in Tuesday’s two-page motion that Stiles’ email violated the order.

“Ellison should be jailed along with Stiles. There is no reason to announce that these so called ‘super stars’ are joining the prosecution and that they’re doing it for free,” he wrote. “It is an obvious statement to the public that these ‘super stars’ believe that our clients are guilty.”

He also pointed out that Stiles, “according to Google, is a chief strategy officer and builds reputations and brands,” claiming that this proved that the news release was meant to influence the public.

Ellison’s office declined to comment Tuesday.

Attorney Eric Paule, who represents Thao, filed a more succinct motion Tuesday calling for sanctions on Ellison alone for alleged violations of the gag order.

The gag order has been contentious since it was issued. Gray and the attorneys representing the other three officers all filed motions Monday challenging the order, arguing it is preventing them from presenting a counternarrative to the national outrage that followed Floyd’s death on May 25.

“If anything, the gag order should apply only to the state and county prosecutors, who have enjoyed a lengthy, unrestricted media honeymoon,” Chauvin’s attorney Eric Nelson wrote in an objection filed Monday. “The court’s gag order outright prevents any mitigating or exculpatory information from entering the public conversation.”

The defense attorneys have also cast doubt on whether there was sufficient cause to issue the order in the first place. Judge Cahill cited comments by “at least two attorneys” to media as prompting the order’s issuance, but Thomas Plunkett, representing Kueng, noted in his objection that most of the comments attributed to him in the Star Tribune were made on record in an earlier court hearing.

No hearing has yet been scheduled to discuss the gag order.

video of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes on Memorial Day sparked civil unrest in Minneapolis, around the country and then across the world.

Chauvin faces charges of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Thao, Lane and Kueng have all been charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

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