Minneapolis policeman accused in Floyd killing to stand trial without three other defendants

By Rich McKay

(Reuters) – The former Minneapolis policeman accused of killing a Black man by kneeling on his neck will stand trial alone, without three officers accused of aiding and abetting the alleged murder, a Minnesota judge ruled Tuesday, in part because of COVID-19 concerns.

Judge Peter Cahill said in his ruling that the space limitations in the court house “make it impossible to comply with COVID-19 physical restrictions in a joint trial involving all four defendants,” given the number of lawyers and support personnel expected.

Derek Chauvin, who is white, has been charged with second-degree murder and other lesser charges in the May 25 death of George Floyd, after pinning his neck to the ground for nearly nine minutes. Videos of the incident set off nationwide protests over police brutality and racism in law enforcement.

Chauvin’s criminal defense attorney, Eric L. Nelson, was not immediately available to Reuters for comment.

Prosecutors were surprised by Cahill’s ruling, and Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said in a statement that all four officers should face charges in the same trial.

“We respectfully disagree with the court’s decision,” Ellison said. “We believe that all four defendants should be tried jointly,” he said.

Ellison said that the evidence against all the defendants is similar and that holding more than one trial could, “retraumatize eyewitnesses and family members.”

Chauvin’s trial is scheduled to begin March 8 and the other three officers will be tried in August, court papers say.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

Judge hears arguments in George Floyd case, as protesters chant ‘Black Lives Matter’ outside

By Nick Pfosi

(Reuters) – All four former Minneapolis police officers charged in the death of George Floyd appeared in court on Friday, with the prosecution arguing their trials should be combined and the judge weighing a request to move the cases outside the city.

Derek Chauvin, who faces the most serious accusations, was wearing a gray suit and dark shirt and tie for his first in-person court appearance since he was charged with murder for kneeling on Floyd’s neck for about nine minutes on May 25.

Chauvin, who is white, was not shackled and appeared thinner than in the bystander videos that captured the incident, according to a media pool report. His hair was cut short and he wore a blue surgical mask due to the novel coronavirus.

The death of Floyd, who was Black, sparked worldwide protests against racism and calls for police reforms nationwide that are still ongoing, reignited in recent weeks by incidents in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and Rochester, New York.

About 100 protesters had gathered outside the heavily fortified Family Justice Center, chanting “Black Lives Matter” and “no justice, no peace” as the hearing, which started at 9 a.m. CDT (10 a.m. EDT), got underway inside.

The other three former officers on the scene – J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao – are charged with aiding and abetting Floyd’s murder. Kueng, Lane and Thao all appeared in court wearing dark suits, according to the pool report.

All four men oppose a motion by prosecutors to consolidate their cases into one trial.

Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank said in court the cases should be combined, arguing that separate trials could delay justice for years and would traumatize Floyd’s family, according to KARE 11 reporter Lou Raguse.

Addressing the request by all four defendants to move their trials outside of Minneapolis due to concerns about pretrial publicity, Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill said he believed a questionnaire would need to be sent to potential jurors to see how they have been affected by the publicity around the case, Raguse wrote on Twitter.

(Reporting by Nick Pfosi in Minneapolis and Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

Protester’s arrest leads to crowd forming at Pittsburgh mayor’s home

(Reuters) – Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said he had “serious concerns” over the tactics used in the arrest of a 25-year-old protester on Saturday, after the detention led a crowd of demonstrators showing up at the mayor’s home on Sunday.

Matthew Cartier, 25, was arrested on Saturday at a Black Lives Matter protest. A video cited by CBS News showed armed officers putting Cartier into an unmarked van; police say he interfered with public safety.

Local media footage showed a crowd gathering outside Peduto’s home on Sunday, carrying signs with slogans such as “Defund the Police”.

The crowd of about 150 marched to outside the mayor’s house after rallying in Mellon Park, according to local media reports.

Police said Cartier was arrested because he stepped in front of cars, tried to direct traffic and blocked an intersection used for hospitals and the University of Pittsburgh.

He was charged with failure to disperse, disorderly conduct and obstructing highways and other public passages. Cartier was released on recognizance bond Sunday.

“We did it with the tactics and tools necessary to do it safely for not only the individual being arrested, for the public at large and for the protesters their selves,” an official from the Pittsburgh Police told the media.

The American Civil Liberties Union said on Sunday that officers were “in clear violation of their own guidelines.”

“The ACLU of Pennsylvania has never suggested that the snatch-and-stash arrest of a peaceful demonstrator is ever acceptable,” Witold Walczak, legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, said in a statement.

Protests against racism and police brutality have spread across the United States and around the world after the May 25 death of George Floyd, an African-American man, who was killed when an officer knelt on his neck for about nine minutes.

(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

Oregon State Police leaving Portland over lack of prosecutions

By Andrew Hay

(Reuters) – Oregon State Police on Thursday said they were withdrawing protection from Portland’s federal courthouse over frustration at a prosecutor’s decision not to indict many people arrested in protests there.

The state police were deployed to Portland two weeks ago under an agreement between Oregon Governor Kate Brown and Vice President Mike Pence to withdraw federal agents after weeks of clashes with protesters. President Donald Trump threatened to send National Guard troops to Portland, if requested by Oregon authorities, if local law enforcement was unable to protect the federal courthouse.

Oregon State Police are “continually reassessing our resources and the needs of our partner agencies, and at this time we are inclined to move those resources back to counties where prosecution of criminal conduct is still a priority,” spokesman Timothy Fox said in a statement.

The police force is angry at Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt’s decision not to prosecute many people arrested during weeks of protests at the courthouse, Fox said.

Schmidt on Tuesday said he would only press charges against protesters arrested for assault, theft or property damage in Portland protests that began in late May after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Schmidt signaled he would be dropping lesser charges such as rioting and disorderly conduct.

“If we leverage the full force of the criminal justice system on individuals who are peacefully protesting and demanding to be heard, we will cause irreparable harm to them individually and to our society,” Schmidt said in a statement.

(Reporting by Andrew Hay; Additional reporting by Deborah Bloom, Peter Szekely and Aishwarya Nair; Editing by Tom Hogue and)

U.S. companies should consider slavery reparations, Vista Equity CEO says

By Jessica DiNapoli

(Reuters) – The COVID-19 pandemic has hit Black Americans especially hard after decades of social and economic injustices, but it also presents an opportunity for systemic change, said financier Robert Smith, the wealthiest African-American according to Forbes.

In a video interview with Reuters, the CEO of private equity firm Vista Equity Partners said companies that profited from the Transatlantic slave trade should consider making reparations to African-Americans.

“I think that’s going to be a political decision that’s going to have to be made and decided upon. But I think corporations have to also think about, well, what is the right thing to do?” Smith said in a video interview.

Corporations “can bring their expertise and capital to repair the communities that they are directly associated with in the industries in which they cover,” he added. “I think that has to be a very, a very thoughtful approach. But I think action needs to be taken.”

The death of George Floyd in May reignited protests in the United States and globally against racism and police brutality. Floyd, an African-American man, died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes.

“People are saying now, what can I do to make real systemic change and eliminate and eradicate racism in America?” said Smith. “That is an outgrowth of the protest and the realization that this racism is unjust and can’t stand.”

Smith said he was pushing U.S. lawmakers to make more aid available to Black communities. The average small business has two months of working capital, whereas Black businesses have just two weeks, he said.

“How do we restore, repair and regenerate the economic activity in these communities utilizing the force of the U.S. government and business and partnerships?” Smith said.

Smith said he has been focused on getting capital to community development financial institutions and minority depository institutions, that serve Black and economically disadvantaged communities.

Roughly 70% of the African-American community does not have access to a bank branch, he said, leaving many reliant on the financial institutions specifically targeting minorities and economically disadvantaged areas.

Smith, who grew up during the late 1960’s Civil Rights era and now runs a buyout firm that focuses on investing in software companies, said he sees a more broad-based coalition of support for equality for Black people.

“The allies weren’t as widespread,” when he was growing up, Smith said. “Employees of companies are also going to hold the leaders accountable to do something about it. We have a chance for systemic change.”

Smith, the first African-American to sign Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates’ ‘Giving Pledge’, has supported Black people extensively in his philanthropic efforts. Last year, he pledged to pay off the student loan debt of the class of 2019 at the historically Black Morehouse College.

(Reporting by Jessica DiNapoli in New York; Editing by Greg Roumeliotis and David Gregorio)

U.S. Attorney General Barr says the left wants to tear down system

By Nathan Layne

(Reuters) – U.S. Attorney General William Barr mounted a partisan attack on the Democratic Party in an interview that aired Sunday, claiming the left believes in “tearing down the system” and pursues absolute victory as “a substitute for religion.”

Barr also told a Fox News TV host he was worried that an increase in mail-in voting could lead to a contested presidential election in November, sounding in on an issue often raised by U.S. President Donald Trump.

In an interview with conservative pundit Mark Levin, Barr said Democrats had pulled away from classic liberal values and now were akin to the “Rousseauian Revolutionary Party” aimed at destroying the institutions upon which the country was built.

“They’re not interested in compromise, they’re not interested in dialectic exchange of views. They’re interested in total victory,” Barr said of the left. “It’s a secular religion. It’s a substitute for a religion.”

The comments come nearly two weeks after a contentious hearing before the House Judiciary Committee in which Barr denied accusations he was doing Trump’s bidding by intervening in high-profile cases and sending federal agents into cities.

Barr has come under fire from Democratic lawmakers for sending federal officers to disperse protesters in Portland, Oregon, where some demonstrators have attacked a federal courthouse and others have gathered to speak out against racism and police brutality following the May 25 death of George Floyd.

Barr said police have been unfairly maligned and targeted with violent attacks during nationwide protests, and argued greater attention should be paid to a recent surge in violence in some cities that has led to numerous deaths of Black people.

He said he believed systemic racism existed, but that the “best example” was in education, with public schools consistently failing inner-city youth. He pointed to school choice – a policy endorsed by Trump – as one solution to the problem.

“I believe Black lives matter, but I believe all Black lives matter. I also believe that it’s not just a matter of protecting their safety from physical harm, it’s also providing economic opportunity, which this administration has done,” Barr said.

Trump, who trails Democratic challenger Joe Biden in opinion polls, has raised questions about the integrity of the November election and he and his allies have proclaimed without evidence that expanded voting by mail – sought by many due to the coronavirus pandemic – will lead to widespread fraud.

When asked about the push to expand mail-in ballots, Barr said he was “very worried about it.”

He said he was fine with “individual cases” where people that have difficulty making it to the polls apply for and receive a ballot in the mail.

“But the idea that you, without any request from the voter, will mail out your voting list, all these thousands and thousands of ballots, is scary because most of those mailings go to a lot of addresses where the people no longer live,” Barr said. “They could easily create a situation where there’s going to be a contested election.”

(reporting by Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

Homeland Security chief says department is reviewing complaints excessive force used in Portland

By Mark Hosenball

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is reviewing “a number” of complaints that its agents used excessive force against anti-racism protesters in Portland, Oregon, though so far no one has been disciplined, the department’s acting head said on Thursday.

Acting Secretary Chad Wolf testified to the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs about the federal response to long-running protests in Portland, where state and city officials complained that the presence of federal officers inflamed protests.

He did not say how many complaints were being reviewed or provide any specifics of what had been alleged.

Largely peaceful protests have been held across the United States since the May 25 death of George Floyd, a Black man, while in Minneapolis police custody. Protests in cities, including Portland, have at times erupted into arson and violence, and federal officers sent into the Northwestern city have repeatedly clashed with crowds targeting the federal courthouse there.

Wolf denied that federal officers had cracked down on peaceful protesters, saying they had faced repeated overnight violence around a federal courthouse that became the focus of protests. Officers reported 277 injuries, he said.

“In no way are we doing anything on peaceful protests,” Wolf said.

He said that DHS believed there was “some coordination” between participants in Portland protests, who he said included “violent opportunists,” anarchists and members of the far-right Boogaloo movement, and he said Antifa activists had used online messaging to encourage violence. He said federal agencies had “very, very little” intelligence from inside the violent protest movement.

The House Intelligence Committee this week launched its own investigation into DHS’s intelligence office, including its actions in Portland, and its involvement in other anti-racism protests across the country.

(Reporting by Mark Hosenball in Washington; Editing by Scott Malone and Matthew Lewis)

U.S. House panel investigates DHS office over Portland, other protests

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House Intelligence Committee launched an investigation on Monday into the Department of Homeland Security’s intelligence office, including its actions in Portland, Oregon, and its involvement in other anti-racism protests across the country.

“The reporting regarding the monitoring of peaceful protesters, creating and disseminating intelligence reports about journalists and protesters, and potential exploitation of electronic devices is deeply troubling,” Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, a Democrat, wrote in a letter to top DHS officials.

The United States has seen largely peaceful protests nationwide since the death of George Floyd, a Black man, while in Minneapolis police custody in May. Protests in cities, including Portland, have at times erupted into arson and violence, and federal officers sent into the Northwestern city have repeatedly clashed with crowds targeting the federal courthouse there.

The probe shows that Democrats will use congressional authority to investigate efforts by the Trump administration to demonize protesters and deploy federal personnel in law enforcement operations in several cities despite opposition from local mayors and governors.

In his letter to acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf and acting department intelligence chief Horace Jen, Schiff requested detailed intelligence reporting documents that informed a recommendation by the then-chief of the DHS intelligence operation on July 25 requesting that DHS reports on anarchist-related Portland protesters refer to them as “Violent Antifa Anarchists Inspired.”

The official who wrote the memo, acting DHS intelligence chief Brian Murphy, was subsequently transferred to a different job over the weekend.

In his letter to DHS, Schiff also requested that Jen, Murphy and several other DHS officials, including intelligence officials, give interviews to the committee this month.

Schiff said that if the department did not produce the witnesses and documents he requested, he would consider issuing subpoenas.

The Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Mark Hosenball; Editing by Mary Milliken and Jonathan Oatis)

U.S. Attorney General Barr defends response to protests, Trump-tied cases

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Attorney General William Barr on Tuesday defended himself in front of a Democratic-led House of Representative committee, denying accusations that he abused his power to help President Donald Trump’s associates and boost Trump’s re-election hopes.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler opened the hearing with scathing remarks, telling Barr: “Your tenure is marked by a persistent war against the department’s professional core in an apparent effort to secure favors for the president.”

Barr pushed back, saying, “I feel complete freedom to do what I feel is right.”

Barr rejected a claim by Nadler that an operation to deploy federal agents to U.S. cities, particularly Portland, Oregon, was an effort to boost Trump’s re-election campaign. Barr said he had not taken actions to help Trump’s associates, saying they do not deserve special breaks but also should not be treated more harshly than other defendants.

The hearing marks Barr’s first testimony before the House Judiciary Committee since he took office in February 2019, and comes as the Justice Department faces criticism for sending federal officers to forcibly disperse protesters in Portland, Oregon, and Washington, D.C.

The department’s internal watchdog launched probes last week into federal involvement in both those cases.

The United States has seen weeks of widespread, mostly peaceful protests against racial bias and police violence following George Floyd’s death in the custody of Minneapolis police in May.

Barr has highlighted the arson and violence that have broken out at some protests, blaming them primarily on far-left “antifa” elements and urging federal prosecutors to bring criminal charges whenever possible.

Barr defended the use of federal law enforcement to quell the protests in Portland, where some protesters have thrown objects at the federal courthouse.

“What unfolds nightly around the courthouse cannot reasonably be called a protest; it is, by any objective measure, an assault on the Government of the United States,” Barr said.

In his testimony, he also downplayed accusations about systemic discrimination in policing across the country, saying it would “be an oversimplification to treat the problem as rooted in some deep-seated racism.”

“The threat to Black lives posed by crime on the streets is massively greater than any threat posed by police misconduct,” he said.

HOUSE INQUIRY

The House Judiciary Committee launched a broad inquiry last month into whether the Justice Department had become overly politicized.

The inquiry came after Barr intervened in several high-profile criminal cases involving people close to Trump. In February, he moved to scale back the Justice Department’s sentencing recommendation for Trump’s longtime friend Roger Stone, prompting four career prosecutors to withdraw.

In May, Barr sought to drop the criminal charge against former national security adviser Michael Flynn, setting the stage for an ongoing legal battle with the federal judge who was due to sentence Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.

Barr, in his testimony, insisted that Trump “has not attempted to interfere in these decisions.”

In June, Barr ousted the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan, Geoffrey Berman, while that office was investigating Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani.

Berman later told the committee: “I do not know what the attorney general’s motives were, but the irregular and unexplained actions by the attorney general raised serious concerns for me.”

In July, the Bureau of Prisons, which reports to Barr, ordered Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen out of home confinement and back to prison after he hesitated to sign a sweeping gag order that would have prevented him from releasing a book about the president.

A federal judge ordered Cohen released last week, saying there was evidence the Bureau of Prisons had retaliated against him.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Scott Malone, Peter Cooney, Bernadette Baum and Jonathan Oatis)

Portland mayor is tear-gassed in another night of unrest in U.S. city

By Deborah Bloom

PORTLAND, Ore. (Reuters) – The mayor of the U.S. city of Portland, Ted Wheeler, was stung by tear gas early on Thursday morning after he joined demonstrators protesting against racial injustice and police brutality.

Security forces have frequently tear-gassed and clubbed demonstrators during weeks of unrest and Wheeler, visiting the protest site outside the federal courthouse in downtown Portland, urged federal agents to be withdrawn from the city.

“They’re not wanted here,” he said.

But Wheeler, who is also the city’s police commissioner, was jeered at by demonstrators who called on him to resign and chanted “Shame on You.” Some said he should have done more to protect Portland’s citizens.

The deployment of federal agents in Portland on July 4 is a flash point in a national debate over civil liberties that has roiled the United States since the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25.

Demonstrators and local officials see the move as a political ploy by U.S. President Donald Trump, a Republican, to drum up a “law and order” campaign as he faces an uphill re-election battle.

Wheeler, a Democrat, has called the intervention an abuse of federal power and said it was escalating the violence. Wednesday saw bigger and bigger crowds of supporters joining the demonstrations.

After a few demonstrators had set trash bags on the fire outside the courthouse, federal agents inside the Justice Center fired tear gas, flash bangs and pepper balls into the area.

Wheeler stood at the front of the line, in a surgical mask and goggles, and began to cough, a Reuters reporter said. He experienced two rounds of heavy tear gas. His eyes and nose were running, his face was red and his eyes were bloodshot.

USE OF FORCE

He was whisked away by his security team to the city’s municipal services building.

Prior to the incident, Wheeler faced an angry crowd of more than 1,000 demonstrators packed outside the courthouse.

The mayor’s office had said Wheeler would attend the demonstration that night to talk to protesters and attempt to de-escalate tensions that have played out between demonstrators and law enforcement over the past 54 nights.

Demonstrators screamed expletives at him and a few chucked water bottles at him.

The mayor has been criticized by demonstrators for the local police’s unchecked use of force against demonstrators, which has included tear gassing, trampling, and pummeling protesters.

Speaking to the crowd, Wheeler decried the presence of federal law enforcement officers, who were caught last week snatching protesters from the street into unmarked cars.

“They’re not wanted here. They’re not properly trained to be here. And we’re asking them right this minute – we’re demanding that they leave. We’re demanding that the federal government stop occupying our city,” he said.

One demonstrator asked him if he was willing to abolish the police, to which he replied ‘no’, and was loudly booed by many.

Asked about his experience of getting tear-gassed, Wheeler told Reuters: “You can’t really comply with any orders that are being issued because, frankly, you’re not paying attention to what’s around you, you’re focusing on your eyes. You’re focusing on trying to breathe.”

Asked if he might rethink the use of tear gas by local police officers, Wheeler said: “It makes me think long and hard on whether or not this is a viable tool.”

(Reporting by Deborah Bloom, Editing by Angus MacSwan, Jon Boyle, William Maclean)