January 30, 2023

3 officers found guilty on federal charges in George Floyd’s killing

Former Minneapolis Police Officers Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng, and Tou Thao.Getty Images file

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.

By Daniella Silva

Three former Minneapolis police officers were found guilty on Thursday of violating the civil rights of George Floyd, the 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, all were convicted of depriving Floyd of his civil rights while acting under government authority when they failed to give him medical aid. Kueng and Thao, additionally, were convicted of not intervening to stop their fellow officer Derek Chauvin from using excessive force.

Thao, Kueng and Lane each face up to life in prison, although such a severe punishment is unlikely. The men are scheduled for trial in June on state charges of aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter.

“This is just accountability. It can never be justice because I can never get George back,” Floyd’s brother Philonise Floyd said at a news conference Thursday afternoon. “And no matter how many times that I pray at night and I think about my brother 24/7, it still is going to be hard.” 

The jury began deliberating Wednesday morning after a monthlong trial.

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,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Manda Sertich said Tuesday.https://iframe.nbcnews.com/P3AsVk6?_showcaption=true&app=1

Defense attorneys argued that the men did not receive adequate training and that they relied on Chauvin as the most experienced officer on the scene.

“These officers tried to devise any excuse that could let them wash the blood from their hands, but following these verdicts George’s blood will forever stain them,” Ben Crump and other attorneys representing Floyd’s family said in a statement after the verdict was announced. “Today’s guilty verdicts should serve as the guiding example of why police departments across America should expand and prioritize instruction on an officer’s duty to intervene and recognize when a fellow officer is using excessive force.”

The officers had responded to a call about a counterfeit bill from a convenience store in Minneapolis’ Powderhorn Park neighborhood when they encountered Floyd, 46, on May 25, 2020. 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 that was 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.

In closing arguments, Robert Paule, a defense attorney for Thao, said Floyd’s death was a tragedy but that “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.”

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Earl Gray, 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 Lane was “concerned” for Floyd and suggested turning him on his side but was ignored by Chauvin. Lane also assisted paramedics, Gray told jurors in his closing argument.

“These officers had a moral responsibility, a legal obligation and a duty to intervene and by failing to do so they committed a crime,” acting U.S. Attorney Charles Kovats said after the verdict was announced. “This is a reminder that all sworn law enforcement officers, regardless of rank or seniority, individually and independently, have a duty to intervene and provide medical aid to those in their custody.”

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. He said he twice asked whether Floyd should be rolled onto his side but was rebuffed by Chauvin, his senior officer.

On cross-examination, Lane testified that he was not suggesting that Floyd should be on his side because he was worried about asphyxia but rather that “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 that he did not recognize the restraint Chauvin was using and thus did not know whether 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 and that he did not know something was seriously wrong with Floyd even as an ambulance took him away.

Image: Civil rights trial continues for three Minneapolis police officers in deadly Floyd arrest, in St. Paul
Protesters outside the Warren E. Burger Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in St. Paul, Minn., on Jan. 24 before opening arguments in the civil trial of three former Minneapolis police officers.Eric Miller / Reuters

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.

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.

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Daniella Silva

Daniella Silva is a reporter for NBC News, focusing on education and how laws, policies and practices affect students and teachers. She also writes about immigration.

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