MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. (CN) — One of the four former Minneapolis police officers charged for the death of George Floyd has filed a motion to dismiss the charges against him and asked that his case be heard outside of the Twin Cities metro.
Thomas Plunkett, who represents J. Alexander Kueng, filed a motion to dismiss on Thursday alongside one for a change of venue outside the seven-county metro area. Kueng was one of two rookie officers who first arrested Floyd and helped senior officer Derek Chauvin hold Floyd down just before his death on May 25.
Kueng is the last of the three former officers charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and manslaughter in connection with Floyd’s death to file a motion to dismiss. Attorneys for Kueng’s fellow rookie Thomas Lane and senior officer Tou Thao, who held a crowd of bystanders away from Chauvin while he knelt on Floyd’s neck for several minutes, both filed motions to dismiss in July. No such motion has yet been filed for Chauvin.
In the motion to dismiss, Plunkett argued that as a junior officer, Kueng had no reason to question Chauvin’s judgment in restraining Floyd.
“There is no evidence that Kueng knew Chauvin was going to commit a crime at the time,” he wrote. “When asked by Lane if they should roll Floyd onto his stomach to avoid excited delirium, Chauvin said they should not, twice…. Chauvin, based on his assessment at the time, believed he was using reasonable force against a suspect, who was high and had resisted arrest. Kueng could not intentionally aid and abet an act that he did not know was criminal.”
He also pointed to toxicology reports that found that Floyd had fentanyl in his system and had recently consumed methamphetamine, arguing that drug use and ongoing health issues, not Chauvin’s decision to kneel on Floyd’s neck for over nine minutes, had caused his death.
In the change-of-venue motion, Plunkett argued that continuous press coverage and prejudicial statements by state officials had reduced the likelihood of a fair trial in the metro area.
“There are in excess of 1700 local articles focusing on this prosecution. Many of the articles stem from comments from the State of Minnesota and is [sic] several State actors. The State’s actions have stripped Mr. Kueng’s rights to a fair trial,” Plunkett wrote.
He suggested a move to Stearns County District Court in St. Cloud, a city of 68,000 people about 70 miles north of the Twin Cities.
Plunkett declined to comment further on his motions. Both are scheduled to be discussed at an omnibus hearing on Sept. 11, alongside motions to dismiss charges against all three other officers and a wide variety of procedural and discovery motions. Trials for all four officers, beginning with Chauvin, are tentatively scheduled to start in March.
The possibility of a change of venue in the cases against Kueng, Chauvin and fellow officers Tou Thao and Thomas Lane has been floated before. Judge Peter Cahill warned at the officers’ first hearing in late June that ongoing discussion of the case by related parties could result in a tainted jury pool, and mulled the possibility of a gag order or change of venue if the parties and others including Floyd’s family continued speaking publicly on the cases.
That gag order came and went a few weeks later, with Cahill acknowledging that it had not succeeded in quelling discussion of the cases. The officers’ attorneys found common cause with a coalition of media outlets in their opposition to the order, for which prosecutors mounted only what Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank called a “tepid” defense.
Concerns about press coverage’s potential to taint a jury also arose in discussions on whether and how to publicly release body camera footage of Floyd’s arrest, which Cahill ultimately opted to release publicly after requests to do so from the media coalition and attorneys for the officers and a partial leak by British tabloid The Daily Mail.
Footage taken from Lane, Kueng and Thao’s cameras was made public after a period where Lane and Kueng’s footage was made available only for by-appointment, in-person, socially-distant viewing on court computers, a measure that the media coalition argued was overly restrictive of the press and could prejudice a jury by providing an incomplete picture of the arrest.