Three ex-Minneapolis police officers guilty of violating the civil rights of George Floyd
A federal jury has found three former Minneapolis police officers guilty of depriving George Floyd of his civil rights when they assisted in the restraint that led to his death.
The jury found that Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao all denied Floyd his right to medical care and that two of them did not intervene as Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck .
The three former officers each faced federal civil rights charges for their conduct on May 25, 2020, when they joined Derek Chauvin in holding Floyd down for about nine minutes and warding off bystanders.
Lane and Kueng were the first officers on the scene after employees of the Cup Foods convenience store called 911 to report someone had tried to use a counterfeit $20 bill. As the two confronted and handcuffed Floyd, they were joined by Thao and Chauvin. Chauvin was the highest ranking officer present.
After officers struggled to get Floyd into a police cruiser, three held Floyd to the ground for about nine minutes as bystanders begged them to stop. Floyd was later pronounced dead.
It was Chauvin who pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck. He was convicted of murder at a state trial last year, and in December pleaded guilty to a single charge of violating Floyd’s civil rights.
Instead, this federal civil rights trial — the second of what will likely be three total trials over Floyd’s death — has focused on the actions of the other three ex-officers, all of whom assisted in the Lethal restraint: Lane held Floyd’s legs down, Kueng knelt on Floyd’s back, and Thao stopped bystanders from intervening.
All three were charged with willfully and without due process depriving Floyd of his right to liberty. Prosecutors say the former officers saw that Floyd needed medical attention but did not provide it. Thao and Kueng each faced an additional charge of willfully depriving Floyd of his right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure when they failed to intervene to arrest Chauvin.
“They chose not to intervene, they chose not to help George Floyd as the window to save Mr. Floyd’s life has closed,” prosecutor Manda Sertich told jurors during closing arguments on Tuesday. “It’s a crime.”
Prosecutors faced the challenge of convincing the jury that the three officers had “willfully” deprived Floyd of his civil rights, a legal standard that has often served as a high bar in civil rights lawsuits.
They focused on training officers, saying officers knew they had a duty to provide medical care and had been trained to turn handcuffed suspects on their side to allow them to breathe. A Minneapolis Police Department training expert had testified that officers were trained to intervene if they saw a co-worker using excessive force.
Defense attorneys argued former officers were following Chauvin’s lead
Of the three defendants, Lane appeared to have the strongest defense, legal observers agreed. Lane twice asked if they should turn Floyd onto his side so he could breathe, but he was pushed away by Chauvin and Kueng. Lane also called an ambulance and body camera footage shows he then assisted paramedics in their attempt to resuscitate Floyd.
“Even though he acknowledged and even expressed the mortal danger that George Floyd was in, he did nothing to give George Floyd the medical help he knew Mr. Floyd so desperately needed,” said Serich on Tuesday. “When the need was greatest, he did the least.”
Lawyers representing the ex-officers argued that their training had not been sufficient and that they were following the example of Chauvin, the senior officer on site. Both Lane and Kueng were rookies, a fact that their lawyers repeatedly turned to.
“I’m not trying to say he wasn’t trained,” said Thomas Plunkett, a defense attorney representing Kueng. “I say the training was insufficient to help him see, perceive and understand what was happening here.”
Lane’s attorney, Earl Grey, criticized the prosecution and blamed “mob rule and politics” for the trial.
The three ex-officers are also charged by the state with aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter. All three pleaded not guilty. This trial is due to begin on June 13.
Chauvin’s state trial took place last year and he was found guilty of murdering Floyd. He is currently serving a 22-year prison sentence. In December, he pleaded guilty to two federal civil rights charges — one related to Floyd’s death and the second to a separate incident in 2017. Sentencing has yet to occur.