Federal trial for 3 ex-Minneapolis officers: Judge details COVID concerns, how jury selection will work

Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao were in federal court Tuesday for a pre-trial hearing. (Cedric Hohnstadt Illustration, L.L.C.)

Three former Minneapolis police officers federally charged with violating George Floyd’s civil rights were in court Tuesday for a pre-trial hearing. 

Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao are scheduled to go on trial on Thursday, Jan. 20. They are accused of depriving Floyd of his constitutional rights while acting under government authority during his killing in May 2020. Kueng and Thao are charged with failing to intervene and all three are charged with failing to provide medical care to Floyd, resulting in his death. 

A fourth ex-MPD officer, Derek Chauvin, has already pleaded guilty in the case.

All three defendants attended Tuesday’s hearing with their attorneys at the federal courthouse in St. Paul.

Judge worried about jurors getting COVID 

During the hearing, U.S. District Court Judge Paul Magnuson expressed his concerns about COVID-19 as the trial approaches. He essentially told obth sides to streamline the case and get it over with quickly. 

The judge is worried about COVID and that potential jurors might get sick or infected and have to be dismissed before deliberations. He wants to make sure they can get through the trial with 12 healthy jurors when all is said and done. 

Magnuson also voiced concerns about the breadth of the trial, pointing out federal prosecutors have 48 potential witnesses listed that they may call. They assured him not all will testify. 

How jury selection will work

The jury selection process for federal court is a much different system than state court. 

First, the court is looking to seat a total of 18 jurors: 12 who will deliberate and six alternates. 

The process of selecting the jury will be run by the presiding judge—veteran federal judge Magnuson in this case. 

While in state court there was extensive questioning and screening from the attorneys on both sides, in federal court it’s Judge Magnuson’s show.

Extensive questionnaires have gone out to "hundreds" of prospective jurors all across Minnesota. The judge explained on Tuesday that many have already been removed for cause based on their responses. 

The defense gets 10 peremptory strikes while the state gets six. Magnuson is hoping they will get a jury seated by either Thursday or Friday next week and then begin the trial on Monday, Jan. 24. 

No cameras in courtroom

The other obvious difference between the recent state cases involving police officers—Chauvin and Kim Potter—cameras are not allowed in the federal courtroom and there will be no livestreaming of the trial.