Only one member of George Floyd’s family will be allowed to attend his high-profile murder trial in a Minneapolis courtroom because of Covid-19 pandemic restrictions, a judge ruled on Monday.
The same restriction applies to the family of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis Police officer charged with second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in Floyd’s death. For each family, a different family member can rotate through that in-court position with appropriate credentials, Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill wrote in the ruling.
Floyd family attorneys Benjamin Crump and Antonio Romanucci said the family was disappointed by the ruling.
“This has been a deeply painful and emotional year for every member of the Floyd family, many of whom intended to be in the courtroom to witness this trial,” they said in a statement. “While they understand the judge’s reasons to limit attendance in the courtroom, the family is understandably disappointed by this ruling.
“The family is looking forward to the start of the trial as a critical milestone on the path to justice and a step toward closure in this dark chapter of their lives.”
The ruling comes in the lead-up to one of the most anticipated criminal trials in years, set to begin March 8 with jury selection. The trial will be broadcast live for those not able to attend.
Chauvin, who has pleaded not guilty to the charges, is accused of kneeling on Floyd’s head and neck for nearly eight minutes on May 25, 2020, as Floyd gasped for air and told Chauvin and three other officers that he couldn’t breathe. Video of Floyd’s final moments sparked riots in Minneapolis as well as worldwide protests against police misconduct and anti-Black racism under the phrase Black Lives Matter.
An earlier charge of third-degree murder against Chauvin was dropped by Judge Cahill, who ruled it did not apply to this situation. Prosecutors asked an appeals court on Monday to reinstate the charge, and a ruling is expected soon before the trial begins.
Monday’s ruling on courtroom attendance is just one of many ways that the pandemic has changed the court dynamics.
Most importantly, Judge Cahill decided last month to hold Chauvin’s trial separately from the three other former officers, saying the “physical limitations” of the courtroom made it impossible to have four defendants together safely given pandemic restrictions.
Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao have pleaded not guilty to charges of aiding and abetting 2nd-degree murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter. They are expected to stand trial this summer.
In addition, everyone who attends the Chauvin trial will be required to distance from others and wear a mask, although witnesses and attorneys may remove their masks during testimony and other court statements, the ruling states.