Opening Arguments For Three Former Police Officers Charged With Violating George Floyd’s Civil Rights

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A jury was due to hear opening statements on Monday, January 24, 2022, in the federal civil rights trial of three former Minneapolis police officers who took part in the deadly arrest of George Floyd.

Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng, and Thomas Lane are charged with violating Floyd’s civil rights during the arrest of the handcuffed Black man on a road outside a Minneapolis grocery store in May 2020, video of which sparked street protests against racism and police brutality around the world.

Last year, their former colleague Derek Chauvin, 45, was found guilty of murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death at the end of a nationally televised state trial in April 2021, and a Minnesota judge sentenced him to 22-1/2 years in prison. read more

Chauvin, who is white, was also charged alongside his colleagues by federal prosecutors with violating Floyd’s civil rights “under color of law,” or in their capacity as police officers. Chauvin changed his plea to guilty last December. Thao, Kueng, and Lane, who could face years in prison if convicted, have all pleaded not guilty.

Prosecutors from the U.S. Department of Justice’s civil rights division will seek to convince the jury the men “willfully failed to aid Floyd” as he fell unconscious beneath Chauvin’s knee. The indictment says a person under arrest has a right to “be free from a police officer’s deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs.”

Thao and Kueng face an additional count in the indictment, which says they “wilfully failed” to stop Chauvin using excessive force against a prone, handcuffed Floyd, violating Floyd’s right to be free from unreasonable seizure.

Thao had worked for the Minneapolis Police Department for eight years. Lane and Kueng, who helped restrain Floyd’s lower body, had joined only a few months prior to the arrest, and Chauvin was their field training officer, something their defense lawyers are expected to emphasize.

After the federal trial, the three men still face a state trial for aiding and abetting the murder of Floyd.