Tomorrow jury selection is set to commence in the federal trial of Derek Chauvin’s three former fellow Minneapolis police officers before senior Minnesota federal district judge Paul Magnuson in St. Paul. The three officers are Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane, and Tou Thao. They are charged with violating the civil rights of George Floyd in the arrest that resulted in his death.
As everyone knows, Derek Chauvin was convicted of the related state criminal charges in state court last year and pleaded guilty to the federal civil rights charge last month. I covered the December 15 federal plea hearing here and added “10 thoughts on Chauvin’s plea” the following day.
Chauvin’s federal prosecution had little justification beyond politics. The government has identified no separate federal interest in the civil rights case against Chauvin. It didn’t even try. It was simply silent on this point.
The Department of Justice Manual devotes a section to principles of federal prosecution. The subsection on Initiating and Declining Charges — Prosecution in Another Jurisdiction takes up the issue. The factors stated suggest why the government has remained silent on this point.
The issue returns in spades in the case against Chauvin’s fellow officers. The federal case has disrupted the trial of the state case. But for the federal charges, the case would already have been tried to completion. As it is, the trial of the state criminal charges has been postponed and has yet to be rescheduled.
Yesterday the Star Tribune published a long backgrounder purporting to explain “What you need to know about the federal trial of three ex-Minneapolis police officers in George Floyd’s death.” It doesn’t even raise the question of the rationale for the federal case in the context of its disruption of the state prosecution. It circles around it, but doesn’t land on it. That is pathetic.
Judge Magnuson is an elderly gentleman. He will turn 85 on February 9. He was appointed to the bench by President Reagan in 1981. Mary Devine wrote a long-profile of Magnuson for the St. Paul Pioneer Press last month to recognize his 40th year on the bench.
Judge Magnuson’s appointment derived from his association and friendship with former Minnesota Senator Dave Durenberger. Durenberger was elected along with (my friend) Rudy Boschwitz in the 1978 “Minnesota massacre.” This is ancient Minnesota political history. A liberal Republican, Durenberger proved to be a persistent thorn in President Reagan’s side. Out of office he has frequently joined Democrats to support the Democratic cause of the moment in order to make it “bipartisan.”
Judge Magnuson has limited in-court coverage of the trial to four reporters plus a sketch artist and a video feed for accredited media in the Jury Assembly Room on the first floor of the courthouse. I covered the Chauvin plea hearing from that room and I am accredited to cover the trial from it as well but am unsure how much time I can devote to it. Some 40-seats are available on a first-come/first-served basis. Apart from the in-house video feed for the press, there is no live audio or video from the courtroom.
Representatives of the big media interested in covering the case have objected to the restrictions imposed by Judge Magnuson. They characterize the restrictions as an unconstitutional closure of the courtroom. The courthouse will close for everything but the trial. The AP’s Steve Karnowski covers the media objection to Judge Magnuson’s restrictions here.
Judge Magnuson is also concerned that Covid may disrupt the trial. He has instructed federal prosecutors to streamline their case. They aren’t happy about it. They want to put on the full show.
Streets around the courthouse have already been closed. Skyways into the courthouse will be shut off. The court’s January 6 press release announcing the closure of the courthouse for the trial is embedded below.