Three former Minneapolis police officers have been found guilty of violating the civil rights of George Floyd, a Black man whose death at the hands of police in 2020 spurred protests against systemic racism around the world.
The former officers, J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao, were charged with depriving Floyd of his civil rights while acting under government authority. Kueng and Thao faced an additional charge of not intervening to stop their fellow officer, Derek Chauvin, from using excessive force. They had pleaded not guilty.
Thao, Kueng and Lane each face up to life in prison, though such a severe punishment is unlikely. A state trial is scheduled for June against the men on charges of aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter.
In closing arguments, prosecutors said the defendants had “front-row seats” to Floyd’s murder and “chose to do nothing” to help him while Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for 9 ½ minutes.
“They chose not to aid George Floyd, as the window into which Mr. Floyd’s life could have been saved slammed shut,” prosecutor Manda Sertich said Tuesday.
The officers had responded to a call from a convenience store in Minneapolis’ Powderhorn Park neighborhood about a counterfeit bill when they encountered Floyd, 46. Lane and Kueng, both rookie officers and partners on the call, were on top of Floyd as Chauvin applied deadly pressure to Floyd’s neck and he gasped for air. Thao had been in charge of crowd control.
Sertich said Thao argued with and belittled the crowd pleading with him to help Floyd who was dying. Kueng casually picked gravel out of a police car tire and joined as Chauvin mocked Floyd, she said. Lane voiced concern that Floyd should be turned on his side but did nothing else to give him much-needed medical aid, she said.
Defense attorneys have said the men did not receive adequate training and relied on Chauvin as the most experienced officer on the scene.
During closing arguments, Robert Paule, a defense attorney for Thao, said Floyd’s death was a tragedy, but “just because something has a tragic ending does not mean it’s a crime.”
Kueng’s attorney, Thomas Plunkett, said his client was confident in Chauvin and had received training from the police department that “was inadequate to help him see, perceive and understand what was happening here.”
An attorney for Lane, the only one of the three officers not charged with failing to intervene to stop Chauvin from using excessive force, said the former officer was “concerned” for Floyd and suggested turning him on his side, but was ignored by Chauvin. Lane also assisted paramedics, Earl Gray told jurors during his closing argument.
All three officers testified during the trial, the first time they had made public comments about the case since Floyd was killed May 25, 2020.
Lane, the third officer to testify, choked back tears while testifying that he tried to assist paramedics after he was unable to locate Floyd’s pulse.
Lane said he did chest compressions on Floyd when the paramedics arrived and prepared to load him into an ambulance and that he offered to ride with them to the hospital. The former officer said he twice asked if Floyd should be rolled onto his side but was rebuffed by Chauvin, his senior officer.
During cross-examination, Lane testified that he wasn’t suggesting Floyd should be on his side because he was worried about asphyxia, but rather “I just wanted to be able to get a better assessment.”
Kueng testified that he did not realize Floyd had a “serious medical need” while he restrained him and did not recognize the restraint Chauvin was using and thus did not know if it violated police policy.
Thao, meanwhile, testified that he had relied on his fellow officers to tend to Floyd’s medical needs while he dealt with onlookers at the scene, and that he did not know there was something seriously wrong with Floyd even as he was taken away by an ambulance.
Last year, a jury convicted Chauvin on state murder and manslaughter charges. In December, he pleaded guilty to violating Floyd’s civil rights and is awaiting sentencing in the federal case against him.
He remains in prison on a 22 ½-year sentence for the state case, one of the longest imposed on a police officer for a killing in the line of duty.