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Former officer in George Floyd case seeks change of venue, dismissal of charges

J. Alexander Kueng. (Hennepin County Sheriff's Office/TNS)

An attorney for one of the former Minneapolis police officers charged in the May 25 killing of George Floyd filed motions Thursday to dismiss the charges against his client, but if the trial proceeds, he wants it moved out of the Twin Cities area.

Attorney Thomas Plunkett argued that prosecutors have publicly shared “ ‘potentially’ prejudicial” evidence and that former officer J. Alexander Kueng did not aid or abet a criminal assault that led to Floyd’s death.

Kueng and former officers Thomas Lane and Tou Thao are charged as accomplices to manslaughter and murder in the incident.

Former officer Derek Chauvin, who knelt on Floyd’s neck for nearly eight minutes, is charged with one count each of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

In his motion to dismiss the case against Kueng, Plunkett argued that the restraint Chauvin used was “reasonable” because it met training standards in a case where a suspect was actively resisting arrest. Even if the restraint of Floyd was an assault, Plunkett wrote, there’s no evidence that Kueng knew Chauvin was going to commit a crime.

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“Kueng could not intentionally aid and abet an act that he did not know was criminal,” Plunkett said. “Chauvin was the senior officer and Kueng followed Chauvin’s lead.”

If the case does go to trial March 8 as scheduled, Plunkett wrote in a separate motion, it should be moved out of the seven-county metro area. He proposed Stearns County or another county with the “appropriate facilities and demographics.”

Prosecutors have released evidence that could create a “reasonable likelihood” that a fair trial is impossible in the metro area, Plunkett argued. Plunkett didn’t cite the specific evidence, but noted that more than 1,700 local news articles have been published about the case.

Prosecutors have filed an audio and a video recording of interviews Lane and Thao gave to investigators in court, along with a motion. State law requires release of publicly filed evidence, and both recordings were released. Before that, Lane’s attorney, Earl Gray, filed bodycam footage recorded by Lane and Kueng, resulting in their public release.

Thao’s bodycam video was also released after a filing from his attorney, Robert Paule.

In the motion to dismiss the charges, Plunkett argued that Floyd refused to get into Kueng and Lane’s squad car, that he stiffened up and fell to the ground and that Chauvin used reasonable techniques he had been trained in.

“Kueng had a minimal role in the incident,” the motion said. “Kueng was merely present at Floyd’s back.”

Bodycam video showed that Kueng knelt on Floyd’s back as he lay handcuffed on his stomach in the street. Lane restrained Floyd’s legs off and on.

A judge will hear arguments about the motions and other outstanding motions at a Sept. 11 hearing.

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© 2020 Star Tribune

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.