A county attorney in Minnesota pushed back last week after a judge disqualified him and three subordinates from working on the George Floyd murder case, in which four fired police officers face criminal charges.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman and the three staffers from his office were “sloppy” in their handling of an interview with the county medical examiner, a likely key witness in the case, county Judge Peter Cahill decided Friday, according to reports.
The staffers were identified as Senior Hennepin County Attorney Amy Sweasy, Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Patrick Lofton and Deputy Hennepin County Attorney Andy LeFevour.
However, other prosecutors from Freeman’s office were permitted to stay on the case, the judge ruled, according to FOX 9 of Minneapolis.
After the judge’s ruling, which followed a lengthy motions hearing, Freeman and Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison – who is overseeing the prosecution of the four fired police officers -- each asked the judge to reconsider, reports said.
“Any suggestion by Judge Cahill that the work of Sweasy and Lofton was sloppy is incorrect,” Freeman’s office said in a statement. “The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office fully stands by the work, dedication and commitment of two of the state’s best prosecutors.”
It wasn’t clear why the statement did not mention LeFevour.
Cahill objected to the fact that the prosecutors had met privately with Dr. Andrew Baker, the Hennepin County medical examiner who conducted the autopsy on the body of Floyd, who died May 25 while in the custody of Minneapolis police for allegedly using counterfeit money in a store.
Baker said in late August that Floyd had a "pretty high" level of fentanyl in his system at the time of his death but stopped short of saying the drug caused Floyd's death.
Freeman insisted the meeting with Baker was done within Minnesota Supreme Court guidelines, adding he was confident that Cahill’s decision barring the prosecutors would ultimately be withdrawn, WCCO-TV of Minneapolis reported.
Prosecutors are seeking a joint trial for all four former officers charged in connection with Floyd’s death but defense attorneys are seeking separate trials for each officer, WCCO reported.
Charged in the case are former officers Derek Chauvin, Thomas Lane, J. Kueng and Tou Thao.
Chauvin, who was seen in a viral video with his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes, is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter. The other three officers are charged with aiding and abetting both second-degree murder and manslaughter.
The four officers were fired in the aftermath of Floyd’s death and were later arrested and charged.
Floyd’s death was the primary event that set off weeks of continuing unrest in cities across the U.S.