State asks to delay George Floyd trial to June, citing COVID-19

Prosecutors in the cases against the four former Minneapolis police officers charged in the death of George Floyd have asked the court to delay the trial to June 7, 2021, citing COVID-19 concerns. The state's motion for continuance is supported by an affidavit from a member of President-elect Joe Biden's Coronavirus Advisory Board.

The state’s motion, signed by Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, cites the now-available COVID-19 vaccine as its reason to delay the trial. The trials are currently scheduled for March 8 in Hennepin County.

"In light of this development, the State believes that moving the start of this trial to June 2021 would reduce the public health risks associated with conducting the trial during the COVID-19 pandemic, and would also reduce the likelihood that the trial will be disrupted by COVID-19 cases among court staff, lawyers, jurors, and witnesses," Ellison wrote.

In addition to the large number of defendants, lawyers and witnesses that would be present for the high-profile trial, the state says waiting for vaccine distribution would reduce the change of large-scale protests becoming superspreader events.

"It is likely to be the subject of large public demonstrations, which may increase the risk of community spread of COVID-19," Ellison wrote.

"In light of these risks, the State believes that a three-month continuance is appropriate," Ellison wrote. "Such a continuance would ‘substantially lower’ the risks of COVID19 transmission at trial."

A member of President-elect Joe Biden’s Coronavirus Advisory Board, Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, submitted an affidavit in support of delaying the trial for public health reasons.

"At the time the trial in this case is scheduled to begin in March 2021, very few members of the general public will have had the opportunity to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. Indeed, it is likely that only health care workers, residents of long-term care facilities, Americans over age 75, and a few essential workers will have been vaccinated," Dr. Emanuel wrote. "Consequently, even with social distancing measures and mask protocols, an in-person trial in March 2021 that attracts a large number of people who are indoors for prolonged periods of time with public speaking is likely to create a substantial risk of COVID-19 transmission. At risk would be court staff, lawyers, witnesses, jurors, media, and members of the public assembled at the courthouse. Given the high incidence of COVID-19 in the community, the trial in this case could even become a superspreader event."

As for a summer trial, Dr. Emanuel wrote:

"By June 2021, a COVID-19 vaccine is likely to have been available to millions of people in the general public. Based on current estimates, it is likely that tens of millions of Americans—if not 100 million Americans—will receive vaccinations in the three months between March 2021 and June 2021. It is therefore expected that the risk of community spread of COVID-19 in June 2021 will be substantially lower than in March 2021. 39. From a public health perspective, large public gatherings—including those conducted with proper social distancing and mask protocols—will be substantially safer in June 2021, after many Americans have had an opportunity to obtain a vaccine, than in March 2021."

Delaying the trial is something the prosecutors and defense appear to agree on. Earlier this month, the defense attorneys for Derek Chauvin and Tou Thao filed motions to delay the trial, which is scheduled to begin on March 8. Both legal teams argue the state has not disclosed evidence in a timely manner, which has impacted their preparation. Thao's attorney suggested the trial be moved to July, but Chauvin's attorney did not specify a date.

Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter. Thao, Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng are charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter.

Floyd died on May 25 while in the custody of Minneapolis police. A bystander video showed Chauvin kneeling on Floyd's neck as he cried out repeatedly that he could not breathe. All four officers were fired the following day.

A virtual hearing has been scheduled for January 7 to decide the matter of delaying the trial.

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