Three former Minneapolis police officers who were with Derek Chauvin when he killed George Floyd were found guilty in their federal trial of violating Floyd’s civil rights on Feb. 24. This verdict comes just two days after the three men who murdered Ahmaud Arbery were found guilty in their federal hate crimes trial.
“These officers had a moral responsibility, a legal obligation and a duty to intervene,” U.S. Attorney Charles Kovats said in a statement after the jury’s verdict was read, per the Associated Press. “By failing to do so, they committed a crime.”
Floyd was detained by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin during an arrest over his alleged use of counterfeit money at a Minneapolis grocery store. During the arrest, Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for over 9 minutes while three other officers—J. Alexander Kueng, Tou Thao and Thomas Lane—and bystanders watched. Thao engaged in crowd control, while Lane held Floyd’s legs down and Kueng knelt on Floyd’s back.
Floyd was later pronounced dead at the hospital; his killing led to a national reckoning on race, inequality and police violence.
Chauvin was later found guilty of second-degree murder, amongst other charges, and sentenced to 22 and half years in prison. He also pled guilty in a federal civil rights case.
The three officers were all charged with willfully depriving Floyd of his liberty without due process. Thao and Kueng were separately charged with willfully violating Floyd’s rights to be free from unreasonable seizure when they failed to stop Chauvin’s actions.
During the trial—which lasted about a month—the prosecution argued that the officers were obligated to step in and stop Chauvin from kneeling on Floyd’s neck, and should have provided aid to Floyd but failed to do so. As they put it, Floyd’s condition was so severe that, while Chauvin was kneeling on his neck, bystanders and onlookers without medical training could see that he needed help. (In cellphone footage recorded during the incident, many of them are heard calling for such action.)
“They chose not to intervene, they chose not to aid Mr. Floyd,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Manda Sertich said during closing arguments on Tuesday. “This is a crime. The defendants are guilty as charged.”
The defense team focused their attention on the Minneapolis Police Department and its training methods, which they argued was insufficient. In addition, they blamed the culture of the MPD, stating that rookie officers like Lane and Kueng were told to respect senior officers like Chauvin.
The three officers took the stand on their own behalf during the trial, also arguing that their training was inadequate and that they lacked experience. While on the stand, Thao said that he would “trust a 19-year veteran to figure it out,” in reference to Chauvin and his actions.
The officers are still waiting for their state trial, which is scheduled to start on June 13. They’re charged with aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter.
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