A Minnesota man is accused of intimidating the judge and interfering with the judicial process in the manslaughter trial of former police officer Kim Potter. The activist was arrested and charged with harassing the court official, and now his past relationship with the judge could have an effect on his new case.
A group of protesters assembled outside of an apartment building thought to be the residence of Hennepin County Judge Regina Chu on Nov. 6. They gathered to express their objections to Potter’s trial not being televised or streamed live. Local activist Cortez Rice participated in the action to persuade the judge to reconsider letting cameras in the courtroom.
Potter is a white female former police officer in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center who is charged with first- and second-degree manslaughter in the shooting death of Black motorist Daunte Wright in April. The former officer claims she mistook her handgun for a taser and fatally shot Wright during a traffic stop.
In August Chu ruled that the media would not be allowed to record, broadcast, or livestream the trial because Potter and her legal team did not want the cameras inside of the court. Under Minnesota law, either the defendant or the prosecutors can withhold consent for a trial to be broadcast. Chu further believed the additional people would elevate COVID-19 risks.
She did, however, afford the press (and others from the public) an opportunity to view the trial from a designated overflow room.
Chu ruled at the time that while concerned citizens and media have a right to access public trials, Potter’s right to ban TV cameras trumped the public interest value of any telecast.
By October a coalition of media outlets had filed a motion asking the judge to reconsider. One precedent the group could point to was this year’s murder trial of Derek Chauvin in the same county, where the judge in the case ruled that the proceedings could be telecast despite the objections of lawyers representing the former Minneapolis police officer.
Rice as well chose to press the case for televising the Potter trial, and the route he took was demonstration.
At some point in the Nov. 6 protest, Rice streamed himself not only going into the building but making his way up to the 12th floor to an apartment where he believed the judge lived.
As he approaches a door that he believes is Chu’s apartment, he shouts to others, “I think this is her crib right here.” After leaving what he thought was her doorstep, he went to the lobby with the other protestors, informing them, “That’s her window on the 12th floor.”
A criminal complaint was filed in Hennepin County citing Rice’s alleged harassment.
The document stated, “The Defendant live-streamed on YouTube while doing so.”
The complaint quotes Rice, who says he was also a friend of George Floyd, in the video as saying, “We on her heels… We want cameras. The people deserve to know.”
Later in the video, according to the complaint, he shouts, “We demand transparency. We’d hate you to get kicked out of your apartment.”
A version of the now-deleted video cited in the filing can be seen here.
In the complaint, Chu expresses that “she believed she was the target of the Defendant and the other protesters” and “further stated that it was her belief the intention was to intimidate her and to interfere with the judicial process.”
Rice was been arrested. He was picked up in Waukesha County, Wisconsin, transferred on Tuesday, Dec. 7, to the state of Minnesota, and is now in the custody of the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office. He is charged with a felony count of harassment involving retaliation against a judicial officer, according to WCCO TV.
Originally, a judge named Bill Kochin considered the prosecution’s suggestion of setting his bond at $50,000 without conditions and the $30,000 with conditions on charges related to Chu. After appearing in a Hennepin County court, his bond was set at $20,000 and a court hearing was set for Dec. 20. That was later rescinded and bond was denied once more after information about Rice’s previous legal troubles emerged.
Three days after the protest, Judge Chu reversed herself and agreed to allow cameras in the courtroom.
Chu’s history with Rice extends before the Nov. 6 protest. The 32-year-old Black man appeared in her courtroom in October to answer charges of probation violation for a 2017 weapons conviction. The Star Tribune reports that Chu continued his probation rather than send him to prison that day.
Judge Gary Bastian has ruled that because Rice traveled to Wisconsin he violated for the third time his probation, complicating his current charge. Because of this, he denied the Black Lives Matter activist bond on this new charge.
Rice’s attorney Jordan Kushner states that his client was attending a funeral. He attempted to contact his probation agent but was unable to, opting to go without permission. Kushner also rejects the claim that Rice harassed Judge Chu, saying Rice’s action First Amendment-protected free speech.
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