Prosecutors denounced and denied Thursday a claim of witness coercion made by a fired Minneapolis police officer expected to stand trial next year in George Floyd’s murder.
Tou Thao’s allegations are “specious” and “just the latest iteration of his desperate smear campaign against the state,” prosecutor Matthew Frank wrote in the sharp 15-page response on behalf of Attorney General Keith Ellison’s office.
In a filing two weeks ago, Thao’s attorneys Robert and Natalie Paule claimed that the Hennepin County chief medical examiner Andrew Baker was coerced into altering his autopsy results and that prosecutors knew.
In response, Paule said, “I stand behind every word in my motion. I’ll do my talking in court.”
The lawyers said former Washington, D.C., medical examiner, Dr. Roger Mitchell, coerced Baker into including “neck compression” as part of Floyd’s cause of death. The lawyers said the state then did nothing and allowed Baker to testify in the trial of Derek Chauvin, who was convicted of murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death in April.
Thao, along with former officers J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane, is charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death. They are set for trial March 7 in Hennepin County District Court. Thao is the officer who was keeping the increasingly upset onlookers away as the others held Floyd on the ground.
Frank outright denied Thao’s allegations and accused the defense lawyers of bad faith. “To make false accusations of coercion against the state in an attempt to tarnish professional reputations, taint the jury pool, and advance defendants’ interests in the public eye is beyond the pale,” he wrote.
Frank encouraged Judge Peter Cahill to “remind defense counsel of his obligation to refrain from frivolous motion practice.”
In the defense motion, Thao’s lawyers asked Cahill to dismiss the charges against him and find that Mitchell coerced Baker. The lawyers also wanted Ellison and six other attorneys who met with Mitchell to be barred from working on the case.
Frank noted that this was Thao’s fourth attempt seeking sanctions against members of the prosecution team, an effort that he called a smear campaign.
“This motion is part of an ongoing pattern by defendant Thao of submitting requests for relief without any valid legal basis, in order to manipulate the narrative and influence public opinion,” Frank wrote.
The facts Thao laid out in his motion disprove his accusations, Frank wrote. As Thao’s motion said, Baker testified in Chauvin’s trial that no one had pressured him or influenced to say sanything other than the truth, the response said.
“Baker’s own sworn testimony makes clear that he was not coerced,” Frank wrote. “He did not change his findings in this case, and there is no factual basis to claim otherwise.”
In closing, Frank noted that Thao has plenty of time to investigate and prepare for his trial. “Instead, however, he has launched a frivolous motion practice campaign to unfairly prejudice this prosecution in the public domain, replete with gratuitous and unfounded personal attacks on the prosecution,” Frank wrote.
Frank then made a personal attack on the defense, calling the motions “unbecoming of any attorney, let alone one with decades of experience. A criminal defense attorney’s obligation to zealously advocate on behalf of his client does not give him carte blanche to harass prosecutors with frivolous filings, to repeatedly attempt to taint the jury pool, or to baselessly accuse the prosecution and other professionals of committing misconduct.”
Thao and the other three officers also have been indicted by a federal grand jury for deprivation of Floyd’s civil rights. That trial has yet to be scheduled.
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