By Nélida Tello
Judge Peter Cahill ruled on Tuesday to separate the trial of Derek Chauvin, known for killing George Floyd last May after kneeling on his neck for over eight minutes, from the three former Minneapolis police officers who aided him.
Cahill decided to split up the trial after receiving an email from Hennepin County Chief Judge Toddrick Barnette, who expressed concern, arguing that it would be impossible to maintain social distancing with more than three defendants in the courtroom.
Chauvin’s trial will commence March 8, as regularly planned, while his co-defendants J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas K. Lane, and Tou Thao will be tried August 23.
Chauvin is charged with second degree murder and second degree manslaughter. The three former officers are being charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder as well as aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter.
The prosecutor, Attorney General Keith Ellison, voiced opposition to the trial separation because it would make convicting the other three former officers more difficult, while the defense attorneys are divided with each counsel vying for the best outcome for their clients. As the former police officers proceed to turn on each other, their attorneys have used this to claim a fair trial is impossible.
Both sides are ultimately working to defend the police as an institution, albeit in different ways.
The lawyers for Kueng, Lane, and Thao are hoping to distance their clients from Chauvin as much as possible, hoping the public will be satisfied with Chauvin’s trial in March and forget about the others by the time August rolls around. Their strategy is to paint them as innocent bystanders rather than complicit actors in the death of Floyd. Their job is ultimately to protect the police and their reputation in the most immediate sense, even if the officers have already been fired, they seek to justify the actions of police.
Ellison is playing the role of the reformist, punishing the officers implicated in Floyd’s death in the hopes of rehabilitating the image of those remaining in the department as well as the system that claims to keep them accountable. Ultimately this system is built to protect the police from discipline, and if it weren’t for the May Uprisings they would likely not be facing charges at all—Ellison hopes that by convicting all four officers he can avoid future unrest that might be sparked by an acquittal.
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