George Floyd: Former officer blames ‘hierarchy’ for not stopping Chauvin and says he feared he would fire him

J Alexander Kueng admitted that he did not try to get Derek Chauvin to take his knee off George Floyd’s neck

Rachel Sharp
Thursday 17 February 2022 22:17 GMT
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Former officer J. Alexander Kueng has blamed the “hierarchy” in policing for why he failed to stop Derek Chauvin from killing George Floyd and has said he feared the senior officer would fire him if he disagreed with his commands.

Mr Kueng took the stand for a second day on Thursday in his federal trial where he is charged with violating Mr Floyd’s civil rights along with fellow former officers Tou Thao and Thomas Lane.

He testified that there was an “an unofficial rule for seniority” within the Minneapolis Police Department and that, with Chauvin being the most senior of the four officers on the scene, he had followed his lead that day.

“It’s commonly known there is a hierarchy,” he said.

Under cross-examination, Mr Kueng admitted that he did not try to get Chauvin to take his knee off Mr Floyd’s neck and did not check if the Black man had a neck pulse after being unable to find one on his wrist.

Mr Kueng was the second of the three officers to take the stand at their trial, where the defence has sought to argue that convicted murderer Chauvin is solely to blame for Mr Floyd’s death and that the other three were just following his orders.

All three are charged with one count of depriving Mr Floyd of his civil rights by failing to provide him with medical care.

Mr Thao and Mr Kueng are also charged with one count of depriving Mr Floyd of his civil rights by failing to intervene to stop Chauvin’s unreasonable use of force.

Both counts allege the officers’ actions resulted in Mr Floyd’s death.

They have all pleaded not guilty to the charges.

White officer Chauvin knelt on Mr Floyd’s neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds during an arrest over a suspected $20 counterfeit bill at the Cup Foods store.

Footage of the encounter, which led to protests across the globe, shows Mr Kueng was kneeling on Mr Floyd’s back, while Mr Lane held down his legs.

J. Alexander Kueng is seen testifying during his trial in a courtroom sketch
J. Alexander Kueng is seen testifying during his trial in a courtroom sketch (AP)

During the incident, Mr Lane is heard asking if they should move Mr Floyd to a different position.

When Chauvin tells him “no”, Mr Kueng echoes him saying: “No, just leave him.”

Meanwhile, Mr Thao was holding back bystanders and stopping them from intervening.

Chauvin was both Mr Kueng and Mr Lane’s field training officer and the pair were only a few shifts into the job when they were the first officers to respond to the scene.

Mr Kueng told the court that he had “trusted” Chauvin’s judgement during the encounter and saw him as a “role model”.

“He was my senior officer and I trusted his advice,” he said.

During Wednesday’s testimony, he had spoken about following the orders of more senior officers when asked about a Minneapolis police training manual.

The manual, his attorney read out, said that “instant and unquestioned obedience is demanded”.

“You don’t think about it, you don’t second guess it, you just follow it,” Mr Kueng said.

Tou Thao is pictured under cross-examination from prosecutor LeeAnn Bell in a courtroom sketch
Tou Thao is pictured under cross-examination from prosecutor LeeAnn Bell in a courtroom sketch (AP)

While claiming he trusted Chauvin, Mr Kueng also indicated under cross-examination from prosecutor Manda Sertich on Thursday that he failed to step in and take action out of fear for his future career.

When asked by the prosecutor if he believed Chauvin could report him and have him terminated from his job as a police officer, Mr Kueng said: “Yes.”

He admitted that it was “something to reassess” that he did not think Mr Floyd was in need of serious medical attention, after she pointed out that the said he couldn’t breathe around 20 times and then fell silent around four and a half minutes into the more than nine-minute restraint.

“It is something to reassess, yes ma’am,” he said.

He said that he had checked Mr Floyd’s wrist pulse twice. When he couldn’t find one, he told Chauvin, saying he believed he would then check his pulse on his neck.

Mr Kueng did not make any attempt to check his neck pulse himself, did not tell Chauvin to check his pulse and did not move from his position holding him down at that point.

Mr Thou had also sought to shift the blame onto Chauvin during his testimony on Tuesday and Wednesday.

When the prosecutor questioned why he didn’t try to stop Chauvin, he snapped back: “I think I would trust a 19-year veteran to figure it out.”

Mr Lane has also said he plans to take the stand in his defence.

Chauvin reached a plea deal with federal prosecutors in December, pleading guilty to the civil rights charges in exchange for avoiding joining the trio on trial and being moved to federal prison.

This came after the veteran officer of 19 years was convicted of murder and manslaughter at his state trial in April.

Mr Thao, Mr Kueng and Mr Lane also face trial on state charges of aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter. The trial has been delayed multiple times and is now expected to begin in June.

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