Testimony Begins in Case of 3 Ex-Officers Charged with Violating George Floyd's Civil Rights

The three former Minneapolis police officers all pleaded not guilty to charges of failing to intervene in fellow ex-officer Derek Chauvin's 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 charged with roles in the 2020 death of George Floyd are getting their day in court as testimony began Monday on federal civil rights charges alleging they failed to intervene as another officer murdered him.

The three officers — J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao — all have pleaded not guilty to the federal charges.

A fourth former officer, Derek Chauvin, pleaded guilty last month to related federal charges of violating Floyd's civil rights. Chauvin already is serving more than 20 years after his conviction on state charges for the murder of Floyd in police custody.

Then-officers Lane and Kueng were first to respond on May 25, 2020, to a 911 call reporting that a customer, later identified as Floyd, had tried to use an allegedly counterfeit $20 bill at a corner Minneapolis market.

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.

george floyd
George Floyd.

Chauvin arrived and put Floyd on the pavement, where Chauvin pressed his knee against Floyd's neck for more than nine minutes as Floyd repeatedly told him "I can't breathe" and became unresponsive.

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 alleges 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 federal civil rights "to be free from a police officer's deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs," resulting in Floyd's death.

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

Chauvin's guilty plea in December to the federal charges averted a second trial for him after his high-profile 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.

Chauvin, 45, was sentenced in June to 22.5 years in prison — or 270 months — for killing Floyd, a Black man whose death caught on viral video sparked the nation's largest civil rights protests in decades along with continuing conversations about police brutality and racial injustice.

Federal prosecutors independently charged Chauvin with multiple federal civil rights violations in two cases — one involving Floyd, and another involving 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."

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Chauvin pleaded guilty to one count of violating the person's civil rights in each case, 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 conviction — but lasting up to 30 months longer.

As with Chauvin's criminal trial, security is high at the federal courthouse in St. Paul where Kueng, Lane and Thao are on trial, reports Minnesota Public Radio. A jury of 18 people, which includes six alternates, was seated last week to hear the case, which U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson said is expected to last about a month, according to the outlet.

All three also still await trial on state charges for aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter in Floyd's case. All have pleaded not guilty to those charges.

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