Four federal courthouses in Minnesota closed their doors on Monday as did other courthouses elsewhere to protect personnel in response to unrest engulfing American cities over the police killing of an unarmed black man in Minneapolis.
Some workers were let off early after the demonstrations—centered on racism, police killings of blacks, and fueled by the death of George Floyd—escalated in intensity over the weekend.
Many demonstrations were peaceful, but clashes with law enforcement also were widespread. A number of cities, including Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and New York, were scarred by violence, property damage, and looting.
While the Diana E. Murphy Courthouse in Minneapolis has been open and hasn’t sustained any damage, the statewide district court in coordination with the U.S. Marshals Service agreed to close that building and those in St. Paul, Duluth, and Fergus Falls for the day, Rebeccah Parks, the federal courts’ spokeswoman said.
That Minneapolis courthouse is near where Floyd, 46, died after a white police officer pressed a knee into his neck for several minutes during an arrest on May 25. The officer, Derek Chauvin, faces third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter charges.
The Minneapolis courthouse area has had a lot of protest activity, so that building and the others were closed for “extra precaution,” Park said.
Like many federal courts, public access to Minnesota’s U.S. court houses was already restricted as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, so the closure affects mainly court staff and judges, she said.
Similarly, state courts in Minnesota carried out virtual proceedings amid the outbreak and will continue to do so.
“Courthouses were already closed to the public due to the pandemic with only a few exceptions when the unrest began,” Alyssa Siems Roberson, a spokeswoman for Minnesota state courts, said in an email.
One state courthouse in Dakota County was damaged in a protest, but it is just one of many facilities used for hearings in the area, she said.
As protests spread across the country, other courts took similar action.
Several California state courts also closed on Monday, including Santa Clara County Superior Court. Presiding Judge Deborah A. Ryan issued an order May 31 to close the court citing safety concerns for the public and court staff.
The court is based in San Jose, where a week-long curfew was imposed on May 31 due to civil unrest there.
The Eastern District of California, which includes Sacramento and Frenso, also closed on Monday, Clerk of Court Keith Holland said in an email.
Judges and staff for the federal trial, bankruptcy, and appeals courts in the nation’s capital, which share facilities, went home early upon recommendation from the Marshals Service, Circuit Executive Betsy Paret said in an email.
The courthouse wasn’t damaged during demonstrations, she said.
In New York, state court operations were mostly unchanged, though facilities in the city did sustain some damage, Lucian Chalfen, a spokesman for the New York Courts System, said in an email.
“There was some minor graffiti on a couple of buildings in New York City and a marked vehicle vandalized in Brooklyn. Operations in NYC have not been impacted,” he said.
Two locations outside the cities where the courts share facilitates were closed “as a precautionary measure where protests were being held,” but that closure will not have a residual impact, Chalfen said.