(ST. PAUL, Minn.) — Prosecutors in the trial of three former Minneapolis police officers charged with violating George Floyd’s civil rights accused the men Monday of standing by as fellow Officer Derek Chauvin “slowly killed George Floyd right in front of them.”
But one defense attorney countered that Chauvin called “all of the shots” as the senior officer at the scene, and criticized the Minneapolis Police Department for doing too little to train officers to intervene when a colleague should be stopped.
Tou Thao, Thomas Lane, and J. Alexander Kueng are all accused of depriving Floyd his civil rights under the government’s authority. Floyd died on May 25, 2020, after Chauvin pressed him to the ground with his knee on Floyd’s neck for 9 1/2 minutes while the 46-year-old Black man was facedown, handcuffed and gasping for air.
Kueng knelt on Floyd’s back and Lane held down his legs. Thao stopped bystanders from interfering with the videotaped shooting that caused worldwide protests. In state court, Chauvin was convicted last year of murder and manslaughter.
“For second after second, minute after minute, these three CPR-trained defendants stood or knelt next to Officer Chauvin as he slowly killed George Floyd right in front of them,” prosecutor Samantha Trepel, who works for the Justice Department’s civil rights division, told the jury during opening statements. “They chose not to protect George Floyd, the man they had handcuffed and placed in their custody.”
<strong>“You’ll see and hear that officer Chauvin called all the shots.”</strong>Tom Plunkett, the attorney for Kueng, highlighted the rookie status of his client and Lane, and said both men deferred to Chauvin and called him “sir.”
“You’ll see and hear officer Chauvin call all of the shots,” said Plunkett, who also hammered at what he called the Minneapolis Police Department’s lack of training, including on intervention against the unreasonable use of force.
Plunkett noted that Chauvin was Kueng’s field training officer, and as such had “considerable sway” over his future. He also said that Kueng and Lane were not trained in the department’s policy on neck restraint.
Lane also stated that Lane should have been the department’s chief of staff because he was in the car with the highest senior officers. Kueng and Lane were responding to Floyd’s 911 call in which he was accused of buying cigarettes from a corner store using counterfeit $20 bills. Thao, Chauvin and others responded in support.
Earlier, Thao’s attorney, Robert Paule, said Floyd’s death was a tragedy, “however, a tragedy is not a crime.” He also said a widely watched bystander video of the arrest does not show everything that happened before, including Floyd struggling with officers who were trying to put him in a police vehicle.
Kueng (who is Black), Lane (who is white) and Thao (who is Hmong American) are all accused of failing to provide Floyd medical care. Thao, Kueng and Lane are also charged with failing to stop Chauvin (who is white). Both counts allege the officers’ actions resulted in Floyd’s death.
<strong>“These three CPR-trained defendants stood or knelt next to Officer Chauvin as he slowly killed George Floyd right in front of them.”</strong>“We will ask you to hold these men accountable for choosing to do nothing and watch a man die,” Trepel said.
Attorneys for both Kueng and Thao noted that prosecutors must prove Kueng, Lane and Thao willfully violated Floyd’s constitutional rights.
It’s a high legal standard; essentially, prosecutors must prove that the officers knew what they were doing was wrong, but did it anyway.
Trepel said videos will show Thao stood directly next to Chauvin, but instead of intervening, he taunted Floyd for using drugs, telling bystanders, “This is why you don’t” use drugs.
She said Kueng “never once” told Chauvin to get off Floyd, even after Floyd stopped struggling and Kueng twice could not find a pulse. Keung, instead, said she was kneeling beside Floyd.
Plunkett said Kueng told Chauvin that he could not detect a pulse — and told him he did not check the artery in Floyd’s neck because Chauvin was in the best position to do that.
Lane asked if they should roll Floyd onto his side — something all of the officers were trained to do — but Kueng shot down Lane’s question and said, “No, just leave him,” and Chauvin agreed, Trepel said.
Eighteen people were quickly chosen last week to be on the jury. Six will vote and six will alternate. Two of the jurors — one expected to deliberate and one alternate — appear to be of Asian descent. Rest of the jurors appear to be white. The court refused to give demographic data.
Paul Magnuson, U.S. district judge, told jurors the trial might last up to four weeks. It’s not known whether any of the three officers will testify. It’s also not clear whether Chauvin will testify, though many experts who spoke to The Associated Press believe he won’t.
In June, Lane, Kueng, and Thao will also be facing a state-level trial on separate charges of aiding and abiding murder and manslaughter.