A Duluth business group is lobbying to prevent a controversial criminal trial from moving to Duluth or St. Louis County.
The Greater Duluth Business Association has launched a petition to prevent a venue change to Duluth of four Minneapolis Police officers charged in connection with the George Floyd death in Minneapolis.
The business group said Fox 9 News in the Twin Cities reported that defense lawyers want the trial moved out of Hennepin County to ensure fairness for their clients. The matter has received a considerable amount of pre-trial publicity, including comments that Floyd was "murdered" by the defendants.
"The attorney for (Minneapolis Police Officer Tou) Thao has recommended the trial should be held in St. Louis County. While the trial could financially recoup some lost income due to COVID-19 for the tourism industry with an influx of national media, it also brings the possibility of violent protests, as seen in Minneapolis this summer," the Greater Duluth Business Association said.
Members of the group believe hundreds of national media personnel and thousands of spectators, supporters, and protestors might attend the trial, and the Hibbing Courthouse wouldn't be large enough to support them.
"This would make Duluth the only logical location for the trial if held in St. Louis County, but the city would be greatly pressed to accommodate the number of people attending what could easily be a lengthy trial," said the group's news release. "The Greater Duluth Business Association has created this petition to give the citizens of St. Louis County a voice on this critical decision, out of concern for the safety of our citizens, property owners and business community."
So far, however, constituents haven't raised concern, said City Council President Gary Anderson.
"There are no requests for this in my mailbox," he said Monday, and other city councilors haven't mentioned it either.
“We have all seen the devastation of the riots in the Twin Cities this summer with more than 400 businesses damaged and rebuilding costs estimated at more than $500 million,” said Greater Duluth Business Association Board Member Beth Wentzlaff. “There is a very real potential for the protests to turn into violence as they did in Minneapolis. Is this a risk our citizens are willing to take in our already financially challenged region?”
Other counties, like Clay County, have spoken out against the trial being moved to their community.
The petition seeks to convince Judge Peter Cahill that having the trial in Duluth would put too much at risk, the business group said.
It's a matter over which the city has no jurisdiction. Anderson also noted there have been no threats.
"I don't need to be involved in conjecture," he said. "As council president, it's not a resolution I'd bring forward. It's not something I'd personally pursue." But he will add it to the agenda if constituents request it, Anderson said.