Death of George Floyd: Jury now deliberates in civil rights case of 3 ex-officers linked to murder
Former officers Tou Thao, 36, J. Alexander Kueng, 28, and Thomas Lane, 38, tried to restrain Floyd as officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck and back for more than 9 minutes during the arrest, resulting in the death of Floyd. Thao, Chauvin’s partner, stood nearby and held back a crowd of horrified onlookers, while Kueng and Lane – both rookie officers in their first days on the job – restrained Floyd’s torso and legs.
“They chose not to intervene, they chose not to help Mr. Floyd,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Manda Sertich said in closing arguments. “It’s a crime. The defendants are guilty.”
“I think I would trust a 19-year-old veteran to figure it out,” Thao said on the helm, referring to Chauvin.
Thao, Kueng and Lane have pleaded not guilty and are being tried together. They will also face a state trial later this year for aiding and abetting the murder of Floyd.
Officers were ill-equipped to intervene, defense says
Before the court ended for the day, prosecutors and defense attorneys spoke at length during closing arguments on the charges.
Defense attorneys have argued that the indictment’s language of not “willingly” assisting Floyd or arresting Chauvin does not apply.
Lawyer Robert Paule, on behalf of Thao, said a person acts voluntarily when they commit an act for an evil purpose or improper motive to disobey or ignore the law. He added that “just because something has a tragic ending doesn’t make it a crime”.
Kueng’s attorney, Thomas Plunkett, said there was no specific intent on his client’s part.
“If it is not shown that there is a willful act with specific intent … with proof beyond a reasonable doubt,” then it has not been proven, Plunkett said.
The core of Plunkett’s argument was that Kueng was an inexperienced officer and subordinate to Chauvin, a department veteran of over 18 years and the officer in charge of field training.
Chauvin informed his colleagues that Floyd needed to be taken to the ground, Kueng said, and Thao said earlier the intention was to protect him and all bystanders. No one wanted to hurt Floyd, Thao said.
Earl Grey, Lane’s lawyer, also referred to Chauvin’s seniority compared to other former officers. “We don’t need commanders to tell us that if someone has seniority on you, you listen to them,” Gray said. The date of the incident was Lane’s fourth day with the department.
Lane’s questions during the arrest about repositioning Floyd were also a sign that Lane “was never willfully indifferent,” Gray explained.
When Lane mentioned he was worried about the so-called “excited delirium” and suggested turning Floyd to the side, Gray said, he was “concerned about the serious medical needs. Is it indifference deliberate? No!
“They chose not to intervene”
Assistant U.S. Attorney LeeAnn Bell argued that the force primarily applied by Chauvin became unreasonable once Floyd lost consciousness, and “Officer Thao and Officer Kueng had a duty to stop him.”
“The force used must be appropriate and proportional to the moment,” she said. “If they pass out, you can’t continue to use force.”
“If you can’t find a pulse, your answer can’t be ‘I didn’t do anything,'” she added, pointing to some of the defense arguments, in particular former officer Lane, who at one moment helped hold Floyd to the ground.
“Mr. Lane could get up from where he was,” she began, saying he could have walked over and felt for a pulse. “It’s not reasonable to do nothing and excuse it with ‘I’m by the legs’, so I didn’t do anything.”
“They didn’t have to intend to harm Mr. Floyd, they just needed to know they could take certain actions under the law and didn’t,” Bell later added. .
Assistant U.S. Attorney Manda Sertich said Tuesday that all witnesses, “including the defendants,” agreed they had a duty to intervene.
CNN’s Julia Vargas Jones and Omar Jimenez reported from St. Paul, Minnesota; Travis Caldwell wrote from Atlanta. CNN’s Bill Kirkos, Brad Parks, Amir Vera and Eliott C. McLaughlin contributed to this report.