Yesterday, three former Minneapolis police officers were found guilty of not intervening or rendering medical assistance to George Floyd, their co-accused. They pinned him to the ground for 9 and 1/2 minutes, May 25, 2020. After 13 hours of deliberation, the jury decided that Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao had infringed on 18 USC242 by denying Floyd his constitutional rights. The jury found that Floyd died from prolonged restraint.
Chauvin, who was convicted last April of the murder of Floyd, currently serves a sentence of 22.5years in state prison. In December, he pleaded guilty to the same federal crime under which Lane and Kueng were also charged. They were not charged for what they did on that particular day, but rather what they didn’t do. They were convicted and sent a clear message to the public about how dangerous it is for officers of police who do not stop their colleagues using excessive force.
Floyd died after Lane and Kueng, who were both in their first week of being full-fledged officers, took Lane and Kueng into custody for buying cigarettes at Cup Foods. Cup Foods is a convenience and restaurant on Chicago Avenue. Chauvin, who was a veteran of 19 years and had previously been Kueng’s training officer arrived while the rookies tried unsuccessfully to push Floyd into the backseat.
Chauvin assumed control, Floyd was taken to Chauvin’s house and made to lie down on his stomach. Kueng then applied pressure to Floyd’s spine, Lane supported his legs, and Chauvin placed his handcuffs on Floyd. After repeatedly complaining about his inability to breathe, he remained there until his final breath. Thao was accused of keeping Floyd, the three other officers and a small group of bystanders from Floyd. Video from a bystander of the incident sparked bipartisan anger and nationwide protests. The four officers were then fired.
Thao, Kueng and Lane were charged with “willfully” depriving Floyd of his rights. One of the key issues at the trial was whether or not they knew Chauvin was using lethal, excessive force. This should have been evident, according to the prosecution, considering Floyd’s requests for relief and repeated warnings by witnesses that Floyd was in imminent danger. Floyd’s unconsciousness meant that it was obvious that Floyd needed emergency medical attention. His continued confinement of Floyd was also utterly unnecessary. Chauvin continued to keep his knee on Floyd’s neck, even though Floyd had lost his pulse.
“For more than nine minutes, each of the three defendants made a conscious choice over and over again not to act,” federal prosecutor Samantha Trepel told the jury. They didn’t intervene to stop Chauvin from killing a man in slow motion on broad daylight streets.
Lane recognized that Floyd was in danger. In fact, he suggested Floyd roll onto his side. This suggestion is consistent with officers’ training on the risks of “positional asthma” while being held for long periods. Lane was not accused of failing to stop Chauvin’s excessive force use, as he is the only defendant. Like them, Lane was also charged with failure to provide CPR and moving Floyd in a way that made it easier to breathe.
In their defense, the defendants claimed that they were not adequately trained for such a situation. Chauvin, who was also the chief officer in the incident, was also an argument.
Thao was not like Lane or Kueng. He had worked for the Minneapolis Police Department about 11 years. Thao’s lawyer countered that Thao did not understand what was going on and was too distracted by the traffic and his crowd.
This excuse was clearly not accepted by the jury. Because they believed Chauvin was murdering Floyd, the bystanders became angry. Thao responded to their concerns by lying and assuring that Floyd was okay. The situation was even made light of by Thao, who said, “This why you don’t do drugs kids!”
Prosecution argued that defendants ought to have acknowledged the rightness of the witnesses and not dismissed them as mere bystanders. Trepel explained, “After Mr. Floyd lost speech ability, people stood up for him.” They understood by watching his limp body, then listening to what he said and listening to the silence. He would not die if someone did anything to change it.
Thao, Kueng and Lane still face charges of state involvement in the abetting and facilitation of Chauvin’s crimes. The state trials of the three men will begin in Hennepin County District Court on June 13. They are charged with aiding and abiding Chauvin to commit felony murder, second-degree manslaughter, and other crimes.
After the state charges were filed, Ted Sampsell-Jones, a professor at Mitchell Hamline School of Law in St. Paul, noted that they are “legally valid under Minnesota law” but “rely on some fringe doctrines of accomplice liability.” These doctrines have been long criticized by reformers because they create an expansive and strict liability for minors participating in group crimes.