CeCe McDonald goes to court — hearing on Miranda rights in Minneapolis

Photo courtesy Support CeCe McDonald

Crishaun (CeCe) McDonald was in court Monday morning (December 5) for an evidentiary hearing. The young, transgender woman is accused of second degree homicide. The hearing focused on a motion to suppress statements she made in an interview with police detectives following her June 5 arrest.

McDonald’s lawyer, Hersch Izek, submitted a motion that requested that McDonald’s statements obtained from her interview with Sgt. Christopher Gaiters and Sgt. John Holthusen be suppressed from evidence on the grounds that McDonald was “incapable of making a knowing and voluntary waiver of her constitutional protections.”

At about 12:30 in the morning on June 5, police responded to a report of a stabbing at the intersection of 27th Avenue South and 29th Street in Minneapolis, which is outside of Schooner Tavern. According to McDonald’s supporter Katie Burgess, from the Trans Youth Support Network, McDonald was walking toward Rainbow foods with a group of friends — her partner, two other transgender women and two gay black men. Burgess says that three older white people who had been in Schooner Tavern called out transphobic slurs, and a fight broke out, resulting in McDonald’s face being slashed with a piece of glass. According to supporter Jude Ortiz, the glass went all the way through her cheek.

What happened next is the crux of the case against McDonald. Did she stab Dean Schmitz with a scissors? McDonald allegedly denied doing so at the beginning of her interrogation, according to Izek's motion, but then claimed that the victim ran into a pair of scissors that McDonald was holding.

After being arrested, McDonald was taken to HCMC, and then was taken to City Hall for questioning. After initially meeting Gaiters and Holthusen, she waited three hours before being questioned.

McDonald was treated for two lacerations on her face, one that was 2.5 cm and one that was .8 centimeters. She was given a local anesthetic, stitches, 1000 mg of Tylenol for pain and an intermuscular injection for tetanus, according to the motion. However, McDonald’s medical records were not yet submitted as evidence in time for Monday morning’s hearing, so Izek was unable to ask questions to Holthusen regarding these points.

The defense contends that McDonald’s  “bodily injuries, weakened physical state, and prolonged detention rendered Ms. McDonald incapable of making a knowing and intelligent waiver of those constitutional protections,” according to the motion.

When prosecuting attorney Debra Jean Lund questioned Gaiters on Monday, Gaiters said that he had been working on the homicide unit for the Minneapolis Police Department for nearly four years, and has worked for the department for more than 18 years.

Gaiters testified that he knew that McDonald had a medical issue, but that he didn’t know what it was at the time. When he and his partner met her, they asked if she needed to go to the bathroom or needed water, and she said that she did, at which time he “dealt with other cases.”

When he returned, he said he read McDonald her Miranda rights, to which she responded in the positive. He said that she spoke softly, so he asked her to confirm. Gaiters described McDonald as conversational and intelligent, and said she “seemed to understand the questions.” He said, “I saw no signs of cognitive impediment.” During the interview, Gaiters said McDonald “physically demonstrated the offense.”  At times throughout the interview she was crying, and at times laughing, he said.

During questioning by the prosecution, Gaiters said that at one point, McDonald asked if a friend was at the facility, but never asked for that person to be present.

During the cross-examination by Izek, Gaiters said that he was aware that McDonald had stitches, but when he was asked further questions about her injuries and the local anesthesia, the prosecution objected, and the objection was sustained by Judge Daniel Moreno.

Gaiters also said that he would not contest that McDonald had waited in the room for about three hours to be interviewed. During that time, she was not offered an opportunity to call anyone, he said.

When asked if Gaiters had been “looking for a confession,” Gaiters responded that he was looking to hear “her side of the story,” he said, and “to get the truth.”

Gaiters testified during cross-examination that McDonald said she was having trouble speaking because of her stitches, but that he did not have problems hearing her speak.

Izek also asked if Gaiters and his partner used the “good cop/bad cop” interrogation technique, to which Gaiters at first said he didn’t know what Izek was talking about, but then conceded that he knew what it was, but didn’t practice it. Gaiters also continually corrected Izek with his use of the term “interrogation” as opposed to “interview.”

The prosecutor said that McDonald voluntarily gave up her constitutional right to an attorney, and there was no evidence of coercive activity on the part of the police. “Both sergeants were courteous and professional,” she said. “They did offer her water and food.” Lund also stated that McDonald gave no indication of being in pain.  

Judge Moreno said he would take the testimony and arguments under advisement. He also stated that he would rule on another issue — whether the Star Tribune should be ordered to supply the written letter to them from McDonald as evidence in the trial — within 48 hours.

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    Sheila Regan's picture
    Sheila Regan

    Sheila Regan (sheila [at] tcdailyplanet [dot] net) is a Minneapolis theater artist and freelance writer.