Chauvin trial judge: Rep. Maxine Waters' comments may give defense grounds to appeal

Chelsey Cox, USA TODAY
·5 min read

The judge presiding over the murder trial of former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin said "disrespectful" statements made by Rep. Maxine Waters Saturday may give the defense grounds to appeal and overturn the trial. Attorneys for the prosecution and the defense delivered closing arguments on Monday.

Waters, D-Calif., joined protests in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota on April 17, where she told the press "we are looking for a guilty verdict" in Chauvin's trial.

"If nothing (happens), then we know ... we've got to not only stay in the streets, that we've got to fight for justice. That I am very hopeful, and I hope that we're going to get a verdict that is a guilty, guilty, guilty. And if we don't, we cannot go away," Waters said, according to video by WCCO-TV.

Chauvin is accused of killing George Floyd, a Black man who died after Chauvin knelt on his neck for nine minutes in May 2020.

After closing arguments, Judge Peter Cahill rejected a defense request for a mistrial based in part on Waters' remarks.

Cahill said protesters influenced by Waters could get more confrontational if there is no guilty verdict.

“Congresswoman Waters may have given you something on appeal that may result in this whole trial being overturned,” Cahill told Chauvin's attorney.

“I wish elected officials would stop talking about this case, especially in a manner that is disrespectful to the rule of law and to the judicial branch,” the judge later said.

Chauvin trial live updates: Prosecutors encourage jurors to 'believe their eyes'; defense emphasizes 'totality of the circumstances'

Waters encouraged demonstrators to "get more active," "more confrontational" and "to make sure that they know that we mean business" if Chauvin is acquitted.

The protests followed the shooting death of 20-year-old Daunte Wright in Brooklyn Center, a Minneapolis suburb, by former police Officer Kim Potter last week during a traffic stop. She later resigned from the Brooklyn Center Police Department.

Chauvin's trial was still ongoing.

Prosecutor Matthew Frank told Cahill that Waters' statements shouldn't allowed to become part of the court record.

"I don't know if this particular representative made a specified threat of violence. I don't know what the context of the statement is," Frank said. "I just don't think we can muddy the record with vague allegations as to things that have happened without very specific evidence that's being offered through the court."

Cahill allowed the defense to supplement the record with news articles about Waters' statements.

"I'm aware the Congresswoman Waters was talking specifically about this trial and about the unacceptability of anything less than a murder conviction and talk about being confrontational," Cahill said. "I think if (representatives) want to give their opinions, they should do so in a manner that is consistent with their oath to the Constitution to respect the co-equal branch of government."

"Their failure to do so, I think, is abhorrent, but I don't think it has prejudiced us with additional material that would prejudice this jury," he continued. "A congresswoman's opinion really doesn't matter a whole lot."

Pelosi defends Waters

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi defended Waters during an interview with CNN's Annie Grayer Monday. When asked if Waters needs to apologize for her comments, the speaker responded, "No, she doesn't."

"Maxine talked about confrontation in the manner of the civil rights movement. I myself think we should take our lead from the George Floyd family," Pelosi said, according to CNN. "They've handled this with great dignity and no ambiguity or lack of misinterpretation by the other side. No, no, I don't think she should apologize."

'Please stop this violence': Security tightens in Minneapolis and nationwide ahead of jury deliberations in Derek Chauvin trial

Some Republicans rushed to condemn Waters' comments. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy tweeted Sunday about plans to take action against the congresswoman.

"Maxine Waters is inciting violence in Minneapolis — just as she has incited it in the past. If Speaker Pelosi doesn’t act against this dangerous rhetoric, I will bring action this week," McCarthy wrote.

After the Jan. 6 Capitol riots, McCarthy said former President Donald Trump "bears responsibility" for the violence but later took a much softer tone.

"I don't believe he provoked it, if you listen to what he said at the rally," McCarthy said of the rally Trump held prior to the attack.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell called Waters' comments "beyond the pale" Monday on the House floor.

"It's hard to imagine anything more inappropriate," McConnell said, according to CNN's Lauren Fox. "Policymakers should focus on actually making policy."

More: Biden administration contacting cities, states over possible unrest when Derek Chauvin jury reaches verdict

On Saturday, Waters told online magazine The Grio that she is nonviolent.

“[When] I talk about confronting the justice system, confronting the policing that’s going on, I’m talking about speaking up," Waters said about her "confrontational" remarks. "I’m talking about legislation. I’m talking about elected officials doing what needs to be done to control their budgets and to pass legislation."

"I am not worried that they’re going to continue to distort what I say. This is who they are and this is how they act. And I’m not going to be bullied by them,” she continued.

Waters has faced criticism in the past. Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., joined some Republicans in rebuking Water's 2018 statements urging activists to "push back on" members of Trump's Cabinet who supported the family separation policy for migrants at the U.S. southern border.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Chauvin trial judge says Rep. Waters' comments could lead to appeal