Jurors to weigh fate of officers who restrained George Floyd when he died
[Jurors have reached a verdict in the trial of three officers over George Floyd’s death. Follow live updates.]
ST. PAUL, Minn. — According to the prosecution’s account, three Minneapolis police officers merely watched ruthlessly as their colleague, Derek Chauvin, slowly killed George Floyd by kneeling on his neck for more than nine minutes. In the eyes of defense lawyers, the officers had trusted Mr. Chauvin, the veteran officer at the scene, to do his duty and should be acquitted.
The dueling positions presented on Tuesday ended arguments in the federal trial over Mr Floyd’s death, and jurors on Wednesday will begin deliberating whether one of the three officers – Tou Thao, 36; J. Alexander Kueng, 28; and Thomas Lane, 38 – are guilty of violating Mr Floyd’s civil rights.
Jurors have heard from doctors, police officers and other witnesses since the trial began nearly a month ago, and now they must decide whether any of the actions of the officers on May 25, 2020 – for which they have were promptly fired – reached the level of a felony. Mr. Kueng and Mr. Lane, both in their first week on the job as full officers, helped restrain Mr. Floyd, and Mr. Thao held off a group of worried bystanders. The three officers are accused of failing to provide medical aid to Mr. Floyd, while Mr. Kueng and Mr. Thao are also accused of failing to intervene to arrest Mr. Chauvin.
The lawsuit largely focused on the training of Minneapolis police officers and their duty to provide assistance or prevent a colleague from using excessive force. The verdict could indicate whether jurors are watching the police more carefully – even when assessing the actions of officers who are not primarily responsible for a person’s death.
Mr Chauvin, 45, has been incarcerated since April, when he was found guilty of murdering Mr Floyd. He pleaded guilty to a federal charge of violating Mr. Floyd’s civil rights in December. The other three officers are also charged by the state with aiding and abetting the murder, with that trial scheduled for later this year.
In her closing argument on Tuesday, Manda Sertich, federal prosecutor in Minnesota, sought to highlight the length of time Mr. Floyd endured while the three officers failed to provide assistance. She also argued that the officers deliberately disenfranchised Mr. Floyd, meaning they knew what Mr. Chauvin was doing was wrong. Jurors must find that the defendants’ actions were deliberate in order to convict them.
By the time Mr. Floyd made his final calls for air, Ms. Sertich said, the three officers had spent several minutes failing to come to his aid.
Mr Thao had “done nothing” for 4 minutes and 40 seconds as Mr Floyd called for help, Ms Sertich said. During the same period, she said, Mr Kueng ignored pleas from Mr Floyd as he crouched ‘side by side’ with Mr Chauvin, never urging him to let go . And Mr. Lane, who was holding Mr. Floyd’s legs, had chosen “not to prevent the horror from unfolding under his nose”, suggesting only once that Mr. Chauvin roll Mr. Floyd to the side but ” doing nothing to get George Floyd the medical help he knew he desperately needed,” the prosecutor said.
Even though Mr Floyd said he couldn’t breathe for the 27th time, Ms Sertich said, the officers “were only halfway through their crime”.
The officers are being tried together, but each has their own attorney, and the three attorneys delivered separate closing arguments for several hours on Tuesday afternoon.
They maintained that their clients had relied on the judgment of Mr. Chauvin, the senior officer on the scene; that their attention had sometimes been diverted from Mr. Floyd’s deteriorating state of health; and that restraining Mr. Floyd was necessary because he had taken fentanyl and refused to get into the back of a police cruiser after being charged with using a counterfeit $20 bill. The lawyers also criticized the prosecutors, with one saying prosecutors made misleading arguments and another suggesting they brought the case due to political pressure.
“Just because something has a tragic ending doesn’t make it a crime,” Robert Paule, Mr Thao’s lawyer, told the jury.
Earl Gray, Mr Lane’s lawyer, noted that his client had asked Mr Chauvin if officers should roll Mr Floyd onto his side and as a result he had not been charged with failing to to have intervened. Mr. Gray also said that Mr. Lane quickly told paramedics that Mr. Floyd was unresponsive after they arrived at the scene and that he rode with Mr. Floyd in an ambulance.
“How on earth could our government, the wonderful United States of America – freedom and all that – accuse someone of doing this?” Mr Gray said, adding it was ‘a bit scary’.
Understanding the civil rights trial over the death of George Floyd
Thomas Plunkett, a lawyer for Mr Kueng, said the crowd of bystanders had created an unusual and hostile situation, and he said the jurors were the officers’ last defense against a “mob mentality” which he said was the cause of their lawsuits.
Officers had responded to a 911 call from an employee of a south Minneapolis convenience store reporting that Mr. Floyd had used a counterfeit $20 bill to purchase cigarettes.
As officers pinned a handcuffed Mr. Floyd face down on the street, a teenager recorded video of Mr. Floyd, a black security guard who had lost his job in the coronavirus pandemic, begging for air under the implacable knee of Mr. Chauvin. The video prompted the Minneapolis police chief to quickly fire all four officers, and it sparked racial justice protests that have brought millions to American streets and sidewalks. Mr. Chauvin and Mr. Lane are white, Mr. Thao is Hmong and Mr. Kueng is black.
Most of the 18 jurors selected to hear the case — 12 primary jurors and six alternate jurors who would replace primary jurors if necessary — were white, in part due to the fact that jurors were drawn from across Minnesota rather than the more diverse twin . Region of cities.
Tim Arango and Jay Senter contributed reporting from St. Paul.