Former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin will be tried separately for his role in the death of 46-year-old George Floyd in May of last year.
Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill made the ruling on Monday, citing the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, reports NPR.
Chauvin was notoriously captured on video kneeling on Floyd’s neck for over eight minutes, ultimately killing the Black man. He’s charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng, and Tou Thao—three other MPD officers who held back bystanders and watched as Chauvin knelt on Floyd who was pleading that he couldn’t breathe—are charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter. Chauvin’s trial is set to begin with jury selection on March 8, while the other former officers will face trial together in August.
Cahill previously ruled in November that it was in the best interest of justice that all four cops be tried together, saying this would allow the jury to have “all of the evidence and the complete picture of Floyd’s death.” But the persisting realities of COVID-19 seem to have changed his mind.
“The physical limitations of courtroom C-1856, the largest courtroom in the Hennepin County Government Center, make it impossible to comply with COVID-19 physical restrictions in a joint trial involving all four defendants beginning March 8, 2021 given the number of lawyers and support personnel the parties have now advised the Court are expected to be present during trial,” according to court documents.
Cahill also sought to take a cautious approach when scheduling the trial of the other officers. He cited issues with the availability of the coronavirus vaccine as reason to push back several weeks beyond the original start date in June.
“COVID-19 continues to be a public health emergency,” the court said. “While the State believes the situation will be greatly improved by June due to vaccinations, the Court is not so optimistic given the news reports detailing problems with the vaccine rollout.”
Prosecutors have expressed disappointment at the decision to try Chauvin separately from the other officers.
“The evidence against each defendant is similar and multiple trials may retraumatize eyewitnesses and family members and unnecessarily burden the State and the Court while also running the risk of prejudicing subsequent jury pools,” Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said in a statement.
The separate trials, running from this spring to at least late summer, mean the harrowing story of Floyd’s death will likely characterize much of 2021—as it did 2020 after the video of his killing spurred widespread national protests.