Prosecutors question officer in Floyd killing about training

Steve Karnowski and Tammy Webber
Associated Press

St. Paul, Minn. – A former Minneapolis police officer charged in George Floyd’s killing returned to the witness stand Thursday as a prosecutor peppered him with questions about his training, including on officers’ duty to provide medical care for people in custody.

J. Alexander Kueng is one of three former officers charged in federal court with violating Floyd’s constitutional rights when Officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for 91/2 minutes as the 46-year-old Black man was handcuffed, facedown on the street and pleading for air before going silent. Kueng knelt on Floyd’s back, Thomas Lane held his legs and Tou Thao kept bystanders back.

In this courtroom sketch, former Minneapolis Police Officer J. Alexander Kueng, right, testifies during his trial in the killing of George Floyd in federal court in St. Paul, Minn., on Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022.

Prosecutor Manda Sertich showed Kueng material from an emergency medical responder course he took that said someone might not be breathing adequately even though they’re talking, and lists thing to check for.

She pointed out that Floyd stopped talking after about 4 ½ minutes and asked if it was a “red flag.”

“It is something to reassess, yes ma’am,” replied Kueng, who later agreed that he was trained to roll someone on their side to help them breathe when it was safe to do so.

All three officers are accused of depriving Floyd of his right to medical care. Prosecutors have argued that the officers violated their training by not rolling Floyd onto his side or giving him CPR.

This combination of photos provided by the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office in Minnesota on June 3, 2020, shows, from left, former Minneapolis police officers J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao.

Kueng and Thao are also accused of failing to intervene to stop Chauvin in the May 25, 2020, killing that triggered protests worldwide and a reexamination of racism and policing.

Defense attorneys contend the Minneapolis Police Department provided inadequate training and taught cadets to obey superiors. They have also said that Chauvin, who was convicted of state murder and manslaughter charges last year, called the shots that day.

Kueng testified Wednesday that he deferred to Chauvin because he was his senior officer and that’s what he had been trained to do. Kueng and Lane were both rookies, just a few days off of probationary status.

Kueng said he was concerned about their inability to stop Floyd from thrashing around as they tried to arrest him after police responded to a 911 call about Floyd using a counterfeit $20 bill at a corner store. He said that when Lane suggested changing the restraint, Chauvin disagreed.

“He was my senior officer and I trusted his advice,” Kueng said.

Kueng recalled checking Floyd’s wrist for a pulse after Floyd was facedown on the street, and said he told Chauvin he couldn’t find one. He said it was up to Chauvin to check Floyd’s neck for a more accurate pulse and to make decisions on the “difficult balance between scene safety and medical care.”

Thao testified earlier Wednesday that he knew Floyd’s pleas that he couldn’t breathe were becoming weaker, but still did not realize Floyd was in danger even as bystanders became increasingly vocal.

Under cross-examination by prosecutor LeeAnn Bell, Thao said he relied on the other three officers scene to care for Floyd’s medical needs while he controlled the crowd and traffic and that he didn’t think Chauvin’s knee was on Floyd’s trachea.

The prosecutor also asked Thao what steps officers took to help Floyd. He replied that they were waiting for paramedics. She also asked if he ever told Chauvin to get off Floyd.

“I did not,” Thao replied, adding later that, “I think I would trust a 19-year veteran to figure it out.”

Thao’s attorney, Robert Paule, asked his client why officers thought it important to keep Floyd restrained and Thao said they believed Floyd was in a state of “excited delirium” – a disputed condition in which someone is said to have extraordinary strength – and needed medical care from paramedics “that we were not capable of doing.”

Lane is also expected to testify.

Lane, who is white; Kueng, who is Black; and Thao, who is Hmong American, also face a separate state trial in June on charges alleging that they aided and abetted murder and manslaughter.

Chauvin, who is white, pleaded guilty in December to a federal civil rights charge.

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Webber contributed from Fenton, Michigan.