George Floyd killing: Jury to get case Wednesday in ex-cops' federal trial

Screenshot from body camera.
Body camera video from former Minneapolis police officer Tou Thao shows bystanders repeatedly plead with officers to get off George Floyd.
Courtesy of Hennepin County District Court

Updated 4:35 p.m.

The fate of three ex-Minneapolis police officers federally charged with depriving George Floyd of his right to medical care will go to the jury Wednesday morning following closing statements Tuesday from the prosecution and defense.

Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao were on the scene of Floyd’s arrest on May 25, 2020, as Derek Chauvin, the senior officer on site, pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for more than 9 minutes as the man lay handcuffed and face down on the pavement, pleading that he couldn’t breathe.

Chauvin was found guilty in April on state charges of murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s killing while in police custody. In December, Chauvin pleaded guilty to the federal charge of violating Floyd’s civil rights.

In closing statements Tuesday, prosecutor Manda Sertich told the court the three ex-cops disregarded their training and their duty to intervene to stop Chauvin’s unreasonable use of force to subdue Floyd.

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Sertich told jurors the defendants did nothing to help Floyd, "contrary to their training, contrary to common sense and contrary to basic human dignity."

J. Alexander Kueng, from left, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao
J. Alexander Kueng (left), Thomas Lane and Tou Thao
Hennepin County Sheriff's Office via AP

Of the defense arguments that they were simply deferring to Chauvin as senior officer on scene, Sertich said, “Officer Chauvin is not ordering these defendants around, he barely talks to them. And you don’t need training to know that niceties, like calling someone sir, do not trump a human life."

Defense attorneys for the three men used their closing statements to push back on the idea their clients didn’t do their duty as they knew it.

Kueng’s attorney Thomas Plunkett cited inadequate training, lack of experience, confidence in Chauvin and deference to him as senior officer as reasons his client wasn’t criminally liable in Floyd’s death.

Floyd's death was a "tragedy,” but "a tragedy is not a crime,” said Thao’s attorney Robert Paule. To be guilty, Paule told jurors Thao would have had to fail to act "with specific purpose of willfulness, which means a bad purpose or an improper motive.”

Defense attorney Earl Gray told jurors that "mob rule and politics" were to blame for the government prosecution of Lane. He argued Lane tried to help, noting that he called the ambulance, but that Chauvin’s senior status on the scene left him in control.

"Those were the bosses who were talking. Tom Lane can’t argue with them. You know that,” he said. “We sure know that Chauvin, just based on his conduct here, was going to be the leader of the pack with these two kids, with these two guys,” he added speaking of Lane and Kueng.

Jury instructions usually follow quickly after closing statements end, but a snow emergency in St. Paul required the courthouse to be closed. Judge Paul Magnuson will deliver jury instructions Wednesday morning, then the jury will start deliberations.

Thao and Kueng are also charged with failing to intervene with their colleague Chauvin’s use of force on Floyd. Lane, Kueng and Thao also face a separate state trial in June on charges alleging that they aided and abetted murder and manslaughter.

‘He didn’t look good’

Lane was the final officer to present his defense, testifying Monday he didn't realize how dire Floyd's condition was until paramedics turned Floyd over.

“What went through your mind when you saw his face there, once he was tipped over?” Gray asked asked.

“Um. He didn’t look good,” Lane said.

Prosecutors presented weeks of testimony and evidence about the officers’ training, arguing that they knew they had a duty to intervene to stop Chauvin, and that they knew they had a duty to render medical aid. They have argued that Floyd’s condition was so serious, even bystanders without basic medical training could see he needed help.

Defense attorneys have argued the Minneapolis Police Department’s training was inadequate. They also attacked a police culture that they said teaches officers to defer to their seniors, saying that Chauvin called all the shots at the scene. Lane and Kueng, both rookies, argued they deferred to Chauvin.

Lane testified that he asked twice if Floyd should be rolled over, but was rebuffed, and he held his position because an ambulance was on the way.

Kueng testified that Chauvin was his former training officer who had considerable sway over his career. He said he trusted Chauvin’s advice. Thao testified that he was watching the bystanders and he trusted that the officers behind him were caring for Floyd.