St. Paul, Minnesota (CNN)[Breaking news update at 5:12]
Former Minneapolis police officers Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane were found guilty of violating George Floyd’s civil rights by a federal jury in St. Paul, Minnesota, on Thursday.
The 12 jurors — four men and eight women — found Lane, Kueng and Thao guilty of depriving Floyd of his civil rights by showing deliberate indifference to his medical needs as former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd for more than 9 minutes on May 25, 2020 — ultimately killing him. The jurors also found Thao and Kueng guilty of an additional charge for failing to intervene to stop Chauvin. Lane, who did not face the extra charge, testified that he asked Chauvin twice to reposition Floyd while restraining him but was denied both times.
Violating a person’s civil rights “is punishable by a range of imprisonment up to a life term, or the death penalty, depending upon the circumstances of the crime, and the resulting injury, if any,” according to the Department of Justice. Federal sentencing guidelines suggest the officers could receive a lesser sentence.
[Previous story, published at 4:46]
The jury has reached a verdict in the federal trial of the three former Minneapolis police officers connected to George Floyd’s death.
Tou Thao, 36, J. Alexander Kueng, 28, and Thomas Lane, 38, are each charged with deprivation of rights under color of law for allegedly failing to administer medical aid to Floyd as Derek Chauvin, another Minneapolis officer, knelt on his neck. Thao and Kueng are also charged with willfully failing to intervene in Chauvin’s use of unreasonable force, resulting in Floyd’s death. Lane, who did not face the extra charge, testified that he asked Chauvin twice to reposition Floyd while restraining him but was denied both times.
The three have pleaded not guilty to the federal charges and are being tried together.
The jury, which consists of eight women and four men, deliberated for more than twelve hours Wednesday and Thursday after receiving instructions from Judge Paul Magnuson.
Prosecutors argued that the officers had multiple chances to interrupt Chauvin’s fatal restraint and save Floyd.
“They had opportunity and means to (help) and didn’t … Disregarding that is willfulness,” Assistant US Attorney LeeAnn Bell said during closing arguments.
However, each of the three former officers took the stand and tried to place blame elsewhere, saying they had a lack of proper training and that they deferred to Chauvin, the most senior officer on scene.
“I think I would trust a 19-year veteran to figure it out,” Thao said on the stand.
The trial is the second such criminal proceeding to break down in detail Floyd’s final moments on May 25, 2020. As captured on harrowing video by an onlooker, the 46-year-old Black man was handcuffed and pressed face down into the pavement for over 9 minutes as he screamed “I can’t breathe.” Floyd soon fell unconscious and stopped breathing, yet officers continued to restrain his limp body until after paramedics arrived.
The video showing his desperate pleas and the officers’ unsympathetic response sparked one of the largest protest movements in American history.
Chauvin was convicted last April of Floyd’s murder in state court, and he pleaded guilty to federal charges in December as part of a plea deal. Thao, Kueng and Lane will separately face a state trial later this year on charges of aiding and abetting in Floyd’s murder.
What the 3 officers said
Unlike Chauvin, who did not testify in his murder trial, the three former officers took the stand in their defense.
The arrest began after Floyd came under suspicion of having used a counterfeit $20 bill at a Minneapolis convenience store. All three ex-officers testified that Floyd seemed to be displaying some erratic behavior at the start of their encounter.
Lane — who was working just his fourth day with the Minneapolis Police Department — and Kueng were the first to arrive on the scene. Kueng testified Floyd “was very hyperactive” and had difficulty responding to questions when initially approached by police.
At that point, Chauvin and Thao arrived. Lang and Kueng both testified how Floyd later resisted attempts to place him into the back of a police car. Lane said that he was unsure of what to do, and Chauvin then “either asked or cut in front of me and asked if he was under arrest and then informed George Floyd that he was under arrest for forgery.”
“I recall officer Chauvin saying we’re going to bring him down,” Kueng told the jury.
Thao said that one of the purposes for restraining Floyd was to protect him from potentially getting up and injuring himself or bystanders, adding the measure was partly done “to save his life.” Thao said none of them intended to harm Floyd.
Thao testified that it was not unusual to see Minneapolis officers use their knees during an arrest. The knee-to-neck move is banned by several police departments, but the MPD allows officers to restrain suspects’ necks if they’re aggressive or resisting. However, the suspects are supposed to be turned on to their sides to avoid suffocation in what’s known as “positional asphyxia.”
Lane, who was holding Floyd’s legs, testified that he twice asked Chauvin whether Floyd should be repositioned during the restraint. The first time, Lane asked Chauvin whether they should put Floyd’s legs up as is taught in the academy.
“No, we’re good,” Chauvin said, according to Lane’s testimony.
Lane then said he asked Chauvin whether they should roll Floyd on his side.
“No, we’re good like this,” Chauvin responded, according to Lane’s testimony.
Kueng testified he could see that Floyd had stopped moving at some point — but did not appreciate the severity of Floyd’s medical needs.
Thao, meanwhile, was several feet away working to control the growing crowd and ensure cars moved around the scene.
“At that point I have a different role, which is to do crowd control to allow them to attend to Mr. Floyd.”
Officers could and should have done more, prosecution says
Prosecutors called more than 20 witnesses over the course of the 13 days of testimony. The prosecution prompted both high-ranking Minneapolis police officers and expert witnesses to testify that the defendants had a duty to intervene and render first aid under department policies.
Multiple witnesses also testified the three ex-officers made no attempt to get Chauvin off Floyd’s neck or to render medical care. Several medical experts testified this was “a survivable” event and that CPR would have saved Floyd’s life.
Prosecutor Bell argued Tuesday that the force primarily applied by Chauvin became unreasonable once Floyd went unconscious, and “Officer Thao and Officer Kueng had a duty to stop it.”
“Force used has to be appropriate and proportional at the time,” she said. “If they go unconscious, you cannot continue to use force.”
Assistant US Attorney Manda Sertich stated during closing arguments that Thao and Kueng “had the ability, authority, opportunity, means, and duty to intervene,” adding that there was plenty of time for Kueng and Thao to take action.
“It wasn’t a split-second use of force like a gunshot,” she said, adding that it was “not 30 seconds, not a minute. Several minutes, 569 seconds (…) Defendants Thao and Keung watched while George Floyd condition slowly deteriorated,” Sertich argued, adding that the officers’ relative inexperience did not make them unable to recognize a medical emergency situation.
Even Lane, she pointed out, knew what needed to be done, as evidenced by his question of whether they should turn Floyd over. But asking a question isn’t rendering medical aid, Sertich said.
CNN’s Bill Kirkos, Amir Vera, Eric Levenson, Eliott C. McLaughlin, Brad Parks, Scottie Andrew and Paul Vercammen contributed to this report.