Jury starts deliberating 3 ex-cops’ case in Floyd killing
St. Paul, Minn. – Jurors started deliberating Wednesday in the federal trial of three fired Minneapolis police officers charged with violating George Floyd’s civil rights, after a judge gave them jury instructions.
J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao are charged with depriving Floyd of his right to medical care when Chauvin pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for 91/2 minutes as the 46-year-old Black man pleaded for air before going silent. Kueng and Thao are also charged with failing to intervene to stop Chauvin during the May 25, 2020, killing that was captured on bystander video and triggered protests worldwide and a reexamination of racism and policing.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys spent a full day Tuesday in closing arguments that recapped a month of testimony and sought to sway the jury toward their view of the case.
Prosecutors said the three officers “chose to do nothing” as a fellow officer, Derek Chauvin, squeezed the life out of Floyd. Defense attorneys countered that the officers were too inexperienced, weren’t trained properly and did not willfully violate Floyd’s rights.
U. S. District Judge Paul Magnuson went through the counts Wednesday, telling jurors what they must consider. For example, he defined reasonable force and said if the jury finds that Chauvin used unreasonable force – and that Thao and Kueng had a realistic opportunity to intervene to stop it – then they must find that they deprived Floyd of his right to be free from unreasonable force under the Constitution.
He also reminded jurors that they need to consider the evidence against each man separately and return a separate verdict for each count.
Prosecutors sought to show during the monthlong trial that the officers violated their training, including when they failed to roll Floyd onto his side or give him CPR. Prosecutors have argued that Floyd’s condition was so serious that even bystanders without basic medical training could see he needed help.
But the defense said the Minneapolis Police Department’s training was inadequate and that the officers deferred to Chauvin as the senior officer at the scene.
Thao watched bystanders and traffic as the other officers held down Floyd. Kueng knelt on Floyd’s back and Lane held his legs. All three officers testified.
During her closing argument, prosecutor Manda Sertich singled out each former officer.
Thao stared directly at Chauvin and ignored bystanders’ pleas to help a man who was dying “right before their eyes,” Sertich said.
Kueng casually picked gravel from a police SUV’s tire as Chauvin “mocked George Floyd’s pleas by saying it took a heck of a lot of oxygen to keep talking,” she said.
And Lane voiced concerns that showed he knew Floyd was in distress but “did nothing to give Mr. Floyd the medical aid he knew Mr. Floyd so desperately needed,” the prosecutor said.
But attorneys for rookies Lane and Kueng urged jurors to question why their clients were charged at all.
Lane’s attorney, Earl Gray, said his client was “very concerned” about Floyd and suggested rolling him onto his side so he could breathe, but was rebuffed twice by Chauvin. He noted that Lane tried to help revive Floyd after an ambulance arrived, telling jurors that “any reasonable person should just be disgusted, should be infuriated” that Lane was charged.
Kueng’s attorney, Thomas Plunkett, said that Chauvin was in charge and that police weren’t adequately trained on the duty to intervene. He also said Kueng looked up to Chauvin, his former field training officer, and “relied on this person’s experience.”
“I’m not trying to say he wasn’t trained,” Plunkett said. “I’m saying the training was inadequate to help him see, perceive and understand what was happening here.”
Thao and Chauvin went to the scene to help Kueng and Lane after they responded to a call that Floyd used a counterfeit $20 bill at a corner store. Floyd struggled with officers as they tried to put him in a police SUV.
Thao’s attorney, Robert Paule, said his client thought the officers were doing what they believed was best for Floyd – holding him until paramedics arrived.
The charges include language that the officers “willfully” deprived Floyd of his constitutional rights. That means jurors must find that officers acted “with a bad purpose or improper motive to disobey or disregard the law,” Paule said.
He noted that Thao increased the urgency of an ambulance call for Floyd, something he said was clearly “not for a bad purpose.” He also said that Thao reasonably believed Floyd was on drugs and needed to be restrained until medical assistance arrived.
On the charge that Floyd was denied medical care, Sertich said that the fact that the officers knew Floyd was in distress but did nothing is proof of willfulness, she said.
She pointed to the 21/2 “precious minutes” after Floyd became unresponsive and before paramedics got there.
“They chose to do nothing, and their choice resulted in Mr. Floyd’s death,” she said.
Sertich contrasted the officers’ inaction with the desperate pleas from bystanders that they get off Floyd and check for a pulse.
A jury that appears to be all white is deliberating. The court did not release demographic information.
Federal civil rights violations that result in death are punishable by up to life in prison or even death, but those sentences are extremely rare, and federal sentencing guidelines suggest the officers would get much less if convicted.
Chauvin pleaded guilty in the federal case in December, months after he was convicted of state murder and manslaughter charges.
Lane, who is white, Kueng, who is Black, and Thao, who is Hmong American, also face a separate trial in June on state charges alleging that they aided and abetted murder and manslaughter.
Webber reported from Fenton, Michigan.