Three officers in George Floyd trial complete defense
ST. PAUL, Minnesota — The defense cases in the federal trial of three former Minneapolis police officers charged with crimes in the death of George Floyd concluded Monday on a common theme: that they were not guilty because their training led them to trust the senior officer at the scene, Derek Chauvin, who pressed his knee against Mr Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes until he stopped breathing.
The three former officers — Tou Thao, 36; J. Alexander Kueng, 28; and Thomas Lane, 38 – are charged with violating Mr. Floyd’s constitutional rights by failing to intervene against Mr. Chauvin and failing to provide medical care to Mr. Floyd. All three testified in their own defense.
After testimony ends on Monday, the jury will hear closing arguments from the prosecution and each of the defense attorneys on Tuesday, then begin their deliberations.
During his murder trial last year, Mr Chauvin called on a paramedic, police officers, an eyewitness and a former medical examiner to testify on his behalf, but he did not speak. He was convicted of murder in state court and sentenced to 22½ years in prison.
The other three officers at the scene that day, so far largely peripheral figures in a long national trauma sparked by Mr Floyd’s 2020 killing, relied almost entirely on telling their own stories to come to terms with themselves. defend at trial.
One after another, starting last week, the three former officers took the witness stand at the federal courthouse in St. Paul, Minnesota, and explained what they were doing and thinking when they responded to a call from a convenience store clerk who said Mr. Floyd had used a counterfeit $20 bill to purchase cigarettes.
The first two officers on the scene – Mr. Kueng and Mr. Lane, who were both in their first week on the job as full officers – struggled to stop Mr. Floyd, who repeated at several times that he was claustrophobic and didn’t want to be put in the back of a police car.
Officers testified that they were concerned Mr Floyd was showing symptoms of a drug overdose and was in a very agitated state. They said keeping him face down, even though he kept saying he couldn’t breathe, was necessary, in part to prevent Mr Floyd from hurting himself. The scene was far more chaotic, and possibly more dangerous for officers, than the video footage in evidence suggested, they said.
But above all, they said, they trusted that Mr. Chauvin, the senior officer present, had things under control.
“I think I would trust a 19-year veteran to figure it out,” Mr Thao said.
The officers’ testimony came at the end of a month-long trial that represented a rare example of a civil rights case being sued by the Justice Department against officers for failing to intervene against a fellow officer who had uses excessive force.
Such cases have been rare, in part because it is difficult to prove “deliberation”, which implies some form of intent, or at least knowledge that what the officers witnessed was illegal. For a jury to decide that all three officers are guilty, it would have to determine that the officers knew at the time that Mr. Chauvin was using excessive force and that Mr. Floyd was in a serious medical crisis.
And so the officers, in their testimony, walked a fine line in trying to blame Mr. Chauvin – saying, in effect, that they had confidence in Mr. Chauvin’s actions because of his experience – without acknowledging that they knew that Mr. Chauvin was acting illegally.
Understanding the civil rights trial over the death of George Floyd
Police culture put to the test. The federal civil rights trial of three former officers for their role in the killing of George Floyd centers on a critical issue in American policing: the duty of officers to intervene against fellow officers when they witness misconduct.
“He was my senior officer and I trusted his advice,” Mr Kueng said.
Officers have an obligation to intervene against other officers who commit crimes. But that obligation is often ignored, experts say, due to a police culture that emphasizes loyalty and discourages officers from reporting one of their own.
Mr. Thao and Mr. Kueng are charged with two counts – of failing to intervene against Mr. Chauvin and of failing to provide medical treatment to Mr. Floyd. Mr. Lane, who twice asked Mr. Chauvin during the episode if they should roll Mr. Floyd to his side, is charged with one count of failing to provide medical assistance.
From the start, the lawsuit focused on how police culture values loyalty to other officers above all else – the so-called blue wall of silence. Prosecutors sought to portray the defendants as ignoring their constitutional duties out of deference to a superior officer.
But the defense tried to seize the issue of culture in policing to its advantage, arguing that the Minneapolis Police Department’s training procedures were riddled with paramilitary aspects, with recruits learning to march in formation and obedience to superiors being seen as a guiding principle. .
Mr. Kueng testified that the instructions on the duty to intervene were brief and superficial.
The three officers still face trial in state court for complicity in murder, which is scheduled for June.