A Hennepin County District Court judge should remove restrictions imposed on viewing of the police body cam video in the George Floyd murder case.
The video was not only legally filed as evidence in a motion to dismiss charges against one of the defendants, it is part of the public record in the case. It therefore should be available for all the public to see.
Judge Peter Cahill is making viewing the video available only by appointment and in-person at the Hennepin County Courthouse, making it difficult for the average person to access. In this day of electronic records, the video should be put online, as are volumes of court records worldwide.
Media organizations, including the Star Tribune, Minnesota Public Radio News and The New York Times have challenged the judge’s restrictions, referencing the law and the need for openness in one of the biggest criminal cases in the country. The Floyd killing has stoked protests against racial injustice across the globe.
The video was filed as part of a motion by attorney Earl Gray who is representing officer Thomas Lane. Gray asked that charges against Lane be dismissed citing evidence supporting such a case from the video.
Judge Cahill has argued that the more people see evidence and videos in the case, the more difficult it will be to find an impartial jury pool that hasn’t been “tainted” by publicity. Cahill also has issued a “gag order” restricting lawyers, prosecutors and others involved in the case from speaking to the press.
While a fair trial remains an important pillar of our system of justice, it must be balanced against the public’s right to know. The body cam video will be a big part of the Floyd case, and given the nature of other video that’s already been seen around the world, it’s difficult to think any member of the public hasn’t seen or become familiar with the case via the video.
Judges should be stewards of justice and champions of the public’s right know even when it is inconvenient for them.
We urge the judge to remove the restrictions to viewing the video and grant the media petition calling for openness and transparency.