By Amy Berberyan and Alex Jimenez
MINNEAPOLIS – Three former police officers—J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane, and Tou Thao—last Thursday were found guilty of several federal crimes related to the death of George Floyd and face up to life in prison.
On May 25, 2020, officers responded to a call involving a counterfeit $20 bill in which 46-year-old George Floyd was the suspect. The situation escalated to a point where Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for about nine-and one-half minutes before killing Floyd.
Floyd’s death was one of several racially charged confrontations throughout the country over the last several years, sparking widespread protests against systemic racism.
While ex-Officer Chauvin was convicted for the murder of George Floyd last year, protesters’ and advocates’ calls for accountability regarding the other three officers involved was successful. Most notably, the three officers were charged for depriving Floyd of his federal civil rights and failing to give medical aid while serving under oath.
The trial for these three men lasted a month, and the jury began deliberating last Wednesday in the morning.
During their closing arguments, prosecutors claimed the three defendants had “front-row seats” to the murder and “chose to do nothing.” Instead, they watched as Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Manda Sertich said “[the defendants] chose not to aid George Floyd as the window into which Mr. Floyd’s life could have been saved slammed shut.”
The defendants’ defense attorneys argued that the three former officers had not been properly trained in the methods required to deescalate the situation, and as a result looked to Chauvin for guidance, the most experienced officer present during the incident.
All three former officers were convicted of depriving Floyd of his rights while acting under the authority of the government. Kueng and Thao were also convicted of not intervening to stop Chauvin from using excessive force on Floyd. They face up to life in prison.
Kueng, Lane, and Thao will be tried in June for state charges involving aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter.
In a statement issued after the guilty verdict was announced, Ben Crump and several other attorneys representing Floyd’s family wrote, “These officers tried to devise any excuse that could let them wash the blood from their hands, but following their verdicts George’s blood will forever stain them.
“Today’s guilty verdicts should serve as the guiding example of why police departments across America should expand and prioritize instruction of an officer’s duty to intervene and recognize when a fellow officer is using excessive force,” added Crump
Thao’s defense attorney, Robert Paule, admitted Floyd’s death was a tragedy but added that “just because something has a tragic ending does not mean it’s a crime.”
Thomas Plunkett, Kueng’s defense attorney, said his client had been confident in Chauvin’s experience and also that the police department had provided him with training “inadequate to help him see, perceive, and understand what was happening here.”
Lane’s defense attorney, Earl Gray, said his client was “concerned” for Floyd and noted how Lane had suggested turning Floyd over onto his side so he could breathe. Chauvin turned this suggestion down. Gray added that Lane assisted the paramedics that arrived to help Floyd.
Lane was the only defendant not charged with failing to intervene to stop Chauvin from exerting excessive force on Floyd. During his testimony, he choked back tears while recounting how he could not locate Floyd’s pulse.
“These officers had a moral responsibility, a legal obligation, and a duty to intervene and by failing to do so they committed a crime,” said Charlie Kovats, acting U.S. attorney, after the verdict was announced.
He added, “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 custody.”
During Kueng’s testimony, the former officer said that he had not realized Floyd’s “serious medical need” and failed to recognize Chauvin was using excessive force during the incident. Furthermore, he did not know if the amount of force Chauvin was using violated police policy due to Chauvin being his senior.
Thao testified that he had been focused on keeping the onlookers in line, and as a result had not realized there was a problem with Floyd.
Chauvin, meanwhile, was convicted of murder and manslaughter by a jury last year. He plead guilty to violating Floyd’s civil rights in December and is currently awaiting sentencing.
He is facing 22.5 years in prison, “the longest imposed on a police officer for a killing in the line of duty,” according to an NBC article.
“This is just accountability,” said Philonise Floyd, brother of George Floyd. “It can never be justice because I can never get George back. 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.”