Minnesota Judge Refuses to Boot Prosecutor From George Floyd Case

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. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

MINNEAPOLIS (CN) — A Minnesota judge denied a motion Friday afternoon to exclude Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman’s from the prosecution of one of the four officers charged in the death of George Floyd.

In the one-page denial, which came quickly on the heels of the motion’s Wednesday afternoon filing, Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill found that Thomas Plunkett, attorney for fired Minneapolis police officer J. Alexander Kueng, had not established a conflict of interest or legal authority for the removal of the county attorney’s office as a prosecutor.

Plunkett argued in the motion that Freeman was compromised by his own prior public statements about Floyd’s death and by his position as a county attorney prosecuting a local officer.

“When police are not charged for high-profile killings, the process appears to the public and the victims to be biased in favor of the police-suspects. On the other hand, local prosecutors who zealously pursue charges against police in high-profile cases face accusations that they are over-prosecuting police for political gain,” he wrote. “Mr. Freeman is unique as he fits snuggly in both the white washer category and overzealous scapegoated category.”

He also alleged that Freeman’s office had leaked then confirmed information about plea deal negotiations for former officer Derek Chauvin, who has been charged with murder in Floyd’s death. Kueng and two others have been charged with aiding and abetting.

“The HCAO leaked information about inadmissible evidence,” the motion states. “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. This leak alone is enough to undermine the public’s confidence in the HCAO and their role in the prosecution team going forward.”

Combined with Freeman’s public statements about the case, Plunkett argued, those were grounds for removal. But Cahill disagreed.

Plunkett declined to comment on the order, and Freeman’s office did not respond to a request for one.

While the attorney of record prosecuting Kueng is Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank, Freeman’s office has remained involved in the case in the months since Attorney General Keith Ellison joined the prosecution. Democratic Governor Tim Walz appointed Ellison, also a Democrat, to the case early in June as a special prosecutor.

The move, which also saw upgraded charges against Chauvin and the introduction of charges against Kueng and fellow officers Thomas Lane and Tou Thao, garnered praise from some of the many activists protesting Floyd’s death as well as from Floyd’s family.

Black Lives Matter activists and supporters in Minneapolis have a longstanding wariness of Freeman and the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office. The office declined to bring charges against police in several other high-profile deaths of people of color, including the shooting of Brian Quinones by police in the suburbs of Edina and Richfield last September and that of Jamar Clark in 2015.

Kueng, Lane and Thao face charges of aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter. Chauvin, who was filmed kneeling on Floyd’s neck for just short of nine minutes, has been charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter.

The next hearing in the case is scheduled for Sept. 11, and trials, should they occur, are expected to begin next spring.

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