3 Former Minneapolis Police Officers Convicted of Violating George Floyd's Civil Rights

The former officers all testified they took their cues from a more senior officer, Derek Chauvin, who later was convicted in the murder of George Floyd

Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane Tou Thao
From left, former Minneapolis police officers J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao. Photo: AP/Shutterstock

Three former Minneapolis police officers were convicted of violating George Floyd's civil rights by a federal jury Thursday.

The three ex-officers — J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao — faced federal charges of violating Floyd's constitutional rights by showing deliberate indifference to his medical needs and failing to provide aid as Derek Chauvin, the senior officer on the scene, fatally pressed his knee into Floyd's neck for more than nine minutes while others watched. They all testified on their own behalf to say they were trusting Chauvin's lead.

Kueng and Thao each faced an additional charge of failing to intervene as Chauvin harmed Floyd, on which they were also found guilty.

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"Today's guilty verdicts should serve as the guiding example of why police departments across America should expand and prioritize instruction on an officer's duty to intervene and recognize when a fellow officer is using excessive force," wrote the George Floyd legal team in a statement Thursday. "With that being said, the existing policies were not on trial; rather, on trial were the human beings present when the breath was taken from an unarmed man right in front of them."

Chauvin pleaded guilty in December to related federal charges of violating Floyd's civil rights, months after his conviction in state court for killing Floyd resulted in a sentence of 22 and a half years in prison.

Kueng, Lane and Thao also all face trial on state charges for aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter in Floyd's case. All have pleaded not guilty to those charges.

Floyd, 46, was killed May 25, 2020, while being detained by the officers for allegedly using a counterfeit $20 bill at a corner Minneapolis market.

Chauvin's conviction followed a prosecution that replayed over and over what millions around the world saw, propelling them into the streets in protest: bystander video of Chauvin, his hands in his pockets and his sunglasses perched atop his head, with Floyd underneath him and crying out for his dead mother as he repeatedly gasped, "I can't breathe."

george floyd
George Floyd.

Prosecutors said that as Chauvin maintained that position, Lane held Floyd's feet, Kueng knelt on Floyd's back, and Thao held back bystanders who objected as the scene unfolded.

Lane, Kueng and Thao failed to help Floyd "contrary to their training, contrary to common sense and contrary to basic human dignity," prosecutor Manda Sertich said in her closing argument Tuesday, reports the Associated Press.

"Officer Chauvin is not ordering these defendants around, he barely talks to them," she said.

Lane and Kueng had been the first to respond to the 911 call reporting that a customer, later identified as Floyd, had tried to pass the allegedly fake bill.

They located Floyd in the driver's seat of a parked SUV. After they approached and handcuffed him, the officers tried to force Floyd into the back of a police car, to which Floyd protested, saying he was claustrophobic.

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Once Chauvin arrived, he put Floyd on the pavement, where Chauvin pressed his knee against Floyd's neck for more than nine minutes as Floyd repeatedly cried out and then became unresponsive.

Derek Chauvin
Derek Chauvin in court June 25, 2021, at his sentencing. ALEX LEDERMAN/AFP via Getty

According to the federal indictment, "Thao and Kueng willfully failed to intervene to stop Chauvin's use of unreasonable force, resulting in bodily injury to, and the death of, Mr. Floyd."

The indictment further alleged that all four officers observed Floyd "in clear need of medical care and willfully failed to aid him," and that by doing so, they "willfully deprived" Floyd of his civil rights "to be free from a police officer's deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs."

Chauvin's guilty plea to the federal charges averted a second trial for him after his April 2021 conviction for second- and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter of Floyd. He has not yet been sentenced on the federal charges, but could face additional prison time.

Federal prosecutors had charged Chauvin with multiple federal civil rights violation in two cases, only one of which involved Floyd. The other involved a then 14-year-old in a 2017 case. In both instances, Chauvin held his knee on the neck of the victim in police custody, displaying what the federal charges alleged was "unreasonable force by a police officer."

Chauvin pled guilty to one count of violating the person's civil rights in each of those two federal cases, in exchange for prosecutors' agreement to dismiss other related charges, reported The Washington Post.

Federal prosecutors at the time indicated they would recommend a sentence up to 25 years, to be served concurrently with Chauvin's prison time for the state murder conviction — but lasting up to 30 months longer.

Sentencing on the civil rights convictions for Kueng, Lane and Thao will take place at a later date.

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