Status hearing set for 3 cops charged in Floyd's death

J. Alexander Kueng, from left, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao
This combination of photos provided by the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office in Minnesota on June 3, 2020, shows former Minneapolis police officers J. Alexander Kueng, from left, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao, who face charges related to the murder of George Floyd in 2020.
Hennepin County Sheriff's Office via AP

Three former Minneapolis police officers charged with violating George Floyd's civil rights during an arrest that ended in his death were scheduled to appear in federal court Tuesday for a pretrial conference that could address a host of issues, including what evidence will be allowed at trial.

Tou Thao, J. Kueng and Thomas Lane face a Jan. 20 trial for allegations that they deprived Floyd of his rights while acting under government authority.

Specifically, the officers are charged with depriving Floyd of the right to be free from indifference to his medical needs. Thao and Kueng are also charged with willfully depriving Floyd, who was Black, of his right to be free from unreasonable force by failing to stop fellow officer Derek Chauvin from pressing his knee into Floyd's neck.

Chauvin, who is white, was convicted in April of state murder and manslaughter charges. Last month, he pleaded guilty to a federal count of violating Floyd’s civil rights.

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The May 2020 killing was captured on bystander video and galvanized protests against police brutality around the U.S. and beyond.

According to evidence at Chauvin's murder trial, Kueng and Lane helped restrain the 46-year-old Floyd as he was on the ground. Kueng knelt on Floyd’s back and Lane held down Floyd’s legs. Thao kept bystanders from intervening.

Pretrial hearings, sometimes called status conferences, are standard. U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson is expected to lay out how the trial will proceed and weigh what evidence will be limited or allowed. Both sides have filed several motions.

Among them, Kueng's attorney, Tom Plunkett, wants paramedics to be barred from testifying about whether Floyd was dead when they arrived, saying it's irrelevant. Prosecutors disagree, saying the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the officers' actions resulted in Floyd's death. They anticipate presenting evidence that shows the officers were trained that “when a person is no longer breathing and does not have a pulse, one must act quickly to provide potentially lifesaving aid.”

Thao's attorney, Bob Paule, wants the court to bar prosecutors from asking witnesses about how they felt while watching Floyd's arrest or videos of it, saying such testimony is likely to mislead the jury. Prosecutors say witness observations are relevant as the jury determines the officers' state of mind.

Paule is also asking the judge to bar witnesses from wearing clothing that could bias the jury. Specifically, he said a Minneapolis firefighter who witnessed the death while off duty should not wear her uniform while testifying, as she did in Chauvin's murder trial.

Lane’s attorney, Earl Gray, also asked that the government be barred from calling a 10-year-old girl as a witness, saying her testimony would be used to invoke sympathy. Prosecutors disagreed, saying even the young girl, who was 9 at the time, could see Floyd had a serious medical need.

Prosecutors are asking that the defense be barred from introducing evidence about the culture of the Minneapolis Police Department and past use-of-force complaints. Paule and Plunkett argued that barring such evidence would keep them from putting on a full defense.

Plunkett is also seeking to introduce evidence about two police stops from 2019 in which Floyd was present, saying they show how he acted when confronted by police and that he does not have claustrophobia, as he told officers during the arrest that ended in his death. Prosecutors say Floyd's prior police encounters are irrelevant.

Paule and Gray also want extra peremptory challenges during jury selection, citing pretrial publicity. Ordinarily, the government has six peremptory challenges and defendants in a multi-defendant case have 10.

It was not known if Magnuson would issue any rulings during Tuesday's hearing.

The three former officers also face state charges of aiding and abetting both murder and manslaughter.