What are the charges against the three officers on federal trial over George Floyd’s death?

Federal trial underway for former Minneapolis police officers J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao

Rachel Sharp
Monday 24 January 2022 03:25
Body camera footage show bystanders demand that police check George Floyd's pulse

J Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao, who were all fired from Minneapolis Police Department in the wake of George Floyd’s killing, are standing trial on charges that they violated the Black man’s civil rights during the deadly arrest back on Memorial Day 2020.

All three have pleaded not guilty to the charges.

They were indicted by a federal grand jury on the civil rights charges - which are effectively hate crime charges - together with Chauvin last May.

However, Mr Kueng, Mr Lane and Mr Thao will no longer stand trial with Chauvin after he reached a plea deal with prosecutors in December.

Under the plea agreement, Chauvin pleaded guilty to violating Mr Floyd’s civil rights, meaning he no longer faces a federal trial but must serve a minimum of 20 and a maximum of 25 years in prison.

This comes after Chauvin was found guilty of Mr Floyd’s murder in his state trial last April and was sentenced to 22-and-a-half years in prison.

As part of the federal plea agreement, he will now be moved from Minnesota’s maximum security state prison to a federal prison for the remainder of his time behind bars.

As well as their federal trial, Mr Kueng, Mr Lane and Mr Thao are also facing a state trial together on charges of aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter.

The state trial was slated to begin on 7 March but has now been moved to 13 June.

What happened to George Floyd?

Mr Floyd died on 25 May 2020 outside a convenience store in Minneapolis during an arrest over a suspected $20 counterfeit bill.

Footage of the killing shows Chauvin, a white veteran police officer of 18 years, kneeling on Mr Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes while he begged for air, saying: “I can’t breathe”.

The bystander video of the murder sent shockwaves across the globe and sparked Black Lives Matter protests demanding an end to systemic racism and police brutality against Black people.

George Floyd was murdered by Derek Chauvin on Memorial Day 2020

The federal charges

The federal charges accuse the officers of failing to provide medical care to Mr Floyd and for failing to intervene during his murder.

Mr Thao and Mr Kueng are charged with two federal counts while Mr Lane is charged with one count under the federal civil rights statute “Deprivation of Rights Under Color of Law”.

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

The indictment says the three defendants saw Mr Floyd lying on the ground in clear need of medical care and showed a “deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs”.

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

The federal indictment says the two officers were “aware” that Chauvin was holding his knee on Mr Floyd’s neck while he was handcuffed and not resisting and that he continued to hold him down even after he became unresponsive.

Mr Thao and Mr Kueng “wilfully failed to intervene” to stop Chauvin’s “unreasonable use of force”.

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

J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao left to right in booking photor

Why is Thomas Lane not charged with the second count?

Mr Kueng and Mr Lane had both been on the job for five months at the time of Mr Floyd’s murder, after becoming officers in December 2019.

Prosecutors say they both helped Chauvin restrain Mr Floyd, with footage showing Mr Kueng on his back and Mr Lane holding down his legs.

Mr Thao, who was a veteran officer of eight years, held back bystanders and stopped them from intervening during the fatal encounter.

It is not clear why Mr Lane is charged with just the one count when the other two are also charged with failing to intervene to stop Chauvin’s use of force.

However, there is evidence that Mr Lane asked Chauvin twice whether they should roll Mr Floyd on his side.

Derek Chauvin at his state trial where he was found guilty of murder

Will Derek Chauvin testify?

It is possible that Chauvin could be called to testify as a witness in his former colleagues’ trial.

However, in his plea agreement, Chauvin said that he “did not observe” either of the three defendants “do or say anything” for him to take his knee off the neck of his victim.

This testimony could be useful to the prosecution.

What sentences do they face?

Federal civil rights violations that result in death are punishable by up to life in prison or even the death penalty.

However, it is unlikely that they will face such severe penalties if convicted.

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