Defense attorneys rested their case Monday in the federal civil rights trial of three former officers involved in George Floyd’s death.
All three officers have testified about their points of view on May 25, 2020, when Floyd, a Black man, was fatally restrained. Closing arguments in the joint trial are set to begin Tuesday.
With each vantage point now on record, the jury and public now have more insight into the events before, during, and after former officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck and back for 9 minutes and 29 seconds.
Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng, and Thomas Lane are each charged with deprivation of rights under color of law as Chauvin restrained Floyd. Thao and Kueng are also charged with willfully failing to intervene in Chauvin’s use of unreasonable force, resulting in Floyd’s death.
The three have pleaded not guilty to the federal charges and are being tried together. Chauvin admitted guilt in December as part of a plea deal.
All three former officers will face a state trial later this year on charges of aiding and abetting in Floyd’s murder.
Here’s what each former officer said in their respective testimony:
Officers say Floyd was displaying erratic behavior
Lane was one of the first two officers – along with Kueng – to respond to the Cup Foods store on May 25, 2020, for reports that Floyd tried to use a counterfeit $20. His attorney, Earl Gray, emphasized it was only Lane’s fourth day with the Minneapolis Police Department.
All three officers said Floyd seemed to be displaying some erratic behavior.
“He was very hyperactive,” Kueng told the jurors. “He didn’t register questions until the second or third time you asked him.” Kueng added that Floyd appeared to have some “white foam” around his mouth.
“He seemed to snap and started yelling.” Lane said.
At this point, Lane said, Chauvin and Thao arrived at the scene.
Thao testified that even though he had been waived off from responding to the scene after other officers had arrived, he decided to continue assisting.
“From my experience, Cup Foods is hostile to police,” he told the jury. “It’s a well-known Bloods gang hangout.” Before and after Floyd’s death, there had been murders on the streets, gang activity, and fights near the store, it had previously reported.
Thao said he thought “it was obvious” Floyd was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, partly because he was “very sweaty.”
The Hennepin County Medical Examiner said after Floyd died that fentanyl and methamphetamine were contributing factors to his death, but did not say how much of either drug was in Floyd’s system or how that may have contributed.
Officers say Floyd resisted attempts to place him in a squad car
Lane testified he attempted to deescalate the situation outside the store while attempting to get Floyd into a squad car, saying he lowered the tone of his voice and told Floyd that he would get in the car with him and roll down the windows.
While explaining his attempts to place Floyd into the back of a squad car, Kueng said “his legs kind of collapsed without reason.”
“His behavior just went to extreme measures,” he added. “He started shaking very violently.”
Thao said Floyd used his leg to “launch himself” as he resisted being placed into a squad car.
Unsure of what to do, Lane testified, Chauvin “either asked or cut in front of me and asked if he was under arrest and then informed George Floyd that he was under arrest for forgery.”
“I recall officer Chauvin saying we’re going to bring him down,” Kueng told the jury.
Thao said that one of the purposes for restraining Floyd was to protect him from potentially getting up and injuring himself or bystanders, adding the measure was partly done “to save his life.” Thao said none of them intended to harm Floyd.
Lane’s attorney asked about the discussions the officers had amongst themselves trying to figure out how to restrain Floyd properly. Lane recommended a hobble restraint, a device used to tie up the legs and arms of a suspect but knew “a sergeant is going to have to come to the scene and it seems a bit excessive” and they’d have to take off the restraint once the ambulance came.
Thao also testified it was not uncommon to see other Minneapolis police officers use their knee while arresting someone. The knee-to-neck move is banned by several major metropolitan police departments, but Minneapolis police allow officers to restrain suspects’ necks if they’re aggressive or resisting arrest. Floyd was unarmed and handcuffed when he was pinned to the ground.
By this point during the encounter, he testified his role at the scene shifted to crowd and traffic control.
“I knew the crowd was starting to gather up and cause issues,” Thao said. “At that point I have a different role, which is to do crowd control to allow them to attend to Mr. Floyd.”
Thao referred to his shifted role as becoming a “human traffic cone,” ensuring that cars would not hit the officers and the ambulance that had been called could easily spot them.
Officers have differing vantage points of Floyd’s death
Thao, Lane, and Kueng had three very different vantage points in the moments leading up to Floyd’s death.
Kueng testified he was unable to tell how much pressure Chauvin was using and that he didn’t think Floyd had stopped breathing, even after the ambulance arrived, partly due to the calm demeanor of the paramedics.
Thao testified he did see Chauvin’s knee on Floyd’s neck and that he was in a position to hear Floyd stop talking. Thao also said he was able to see his partners and what was happening around them.
Lane – who was holding Floyd’s legs – asked Chauvin twice whether Floyd should be repositioned during restraint. The first time, Lane asked Chauvin whether they should put Floyd’s legs up as they are taught in the academy.
“No, we’re good,” Chauvin said, according to Lane’s testimony.
Lane then said he asked Chauvin whether they should roll Floyd on his side.
“No, we’re good like this,” Chauvin responded, according to Lane’s testimony.
Lane told jurors he was worried about “excited delirium,” which he defined as “basically an adrenaline overdose.”
“That’s why we got him on his stomach and that’s why the ambulance is coming,” Chauvin said, according to Lane’s testimony.
Kueng testified he could see that Floyd had stopped moving at some point. Kueng defined it as a medical concern, but not a “serious medical need,” as Assistant US Attorney Manda Sertich defined it.
Lane testified he started CPR about five minutes after Kueng told him that he could not find a pulse on Floyd. Lane also testified that ideally CPR should be started immediately after one cannot find a pulse.
Kueng said he didn’t begin to realize Floyd had died, or that it had become a “critical incident,” until a homicide officer later arrived on the scene.
Thao – who was still handling crowd control at that point – was asked by Assistant US Attorney LeeAnn Bell why he did not tell Chauvin to get off Floyd’s neck and back during the 9 minutes and 29 seconds.
“I think I would trust a 19-year veteran to figure it out,” Thao said on the stand.