The federal trial began Monday for three former police officers accused in the killing of George Floyd.
Former Minneapolis Police Department officers J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas K. Lane, and Tou Thao were all present during Floyd’s arrest on May 25, 2020, after which he died in police custody.
Floyd, a black man, told former cop Derek Chauvin that he was in pain and could not breathe as Chauvin knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes, even after Floyd passed out. Video of the arrest taken by bystanders went viral.
Floyd’s death sparked nationwide racial justice and anti-police brutality protests as well as violent riots in major cities.
Chauvin, who was the senior officer on the scene, was convicted in April of murdering Floyd. A state jury found Chauvin guilty on charges of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter.
He was sentenced in June to 22 and a half years in prison.
Chauvin also pled guilty in December to federal charges of violating Floyd’s civil rights. He is still awaiting sentencing in that trial.
Kueng, Lane, and Thao face charges of aiding and abetting, and all three have all pled not guilty to federal and state charges. All three of the former officers have been charged with failing to give Floyd medical aid. Additionally, Kueng and Thao were also charged with violating Floyd’s right to be free from unreasonable seizure by failing to intervene and stop Chauvin as he knelt on Floyd’s neck.
“For second after second, minute after minute, these three CPR-trained defendants stood or knelt next to officer Chauvin as he slowly killed George Floyd right in front of them,” prosecutor Samantha Trepel told the jury during the government’s opening statement.
Kueng’s defense attorney, Tom Plunkett, argued that both Kueng and fellow officer Lane were junior to Chauvin and deferred to him. Kueng and Lane were serving only their third and fourth shifts as full-time officers during Floyd’s arrest.
“You’ll see and hear officer Chauvin call all of the shots,” the defense lawyer told the jury during his opening statement.
“They chose not to protect George Floyd, the man they had handcuffed and placed in their custody,” she said.
The three former cops are expected to place the blame on Chauvin alone for Floyd’s death.
During jury selection, the judge in the federal case warned potential jurors that Chauvin is no longer on trial, telling them they must consider only the crimes alleged against the three other officers.
“The crimes that Mr. Chauvin pled guilty to are totally separate to those at issue here,” Judge Peter Magnuson stressed to potential jurors.
Chauvin claimed in his federal plea agreement that he was “aided and abetted by other officers.”
Chauvin could potentially be called to testify in the trial, but his participation appears unlikely.
Kueng, Lane, and Thao will also face a separate state trial on charges that they aided and abetted murder and manslaughter. That trial is set to begin in June.