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Ex-officers found guilty in federal civil rights trial over George Floyd’s death

Could face the possibility of life in prison

A federal jury has found former Minneapolis police officers Thomas Lane, Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng guilty of violating George Floyd’s civil rights during his deadly arrest. All three men now face the possibility of life in prison, but federal sentencing guidelines suggest they may get much less, The Associated Press reports.

Former Minneapolis police officers Thomas Lane, Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng were accused of violating Floyd’s civil rights during his arrest and death by denying him medical care. Kueng and Thao are also charged with failing to intervene to stop fellow officer Derek Chauvin, who had his knee on Floyd’s neck.

Floyd’s legal team, including Ben Crump and co-counsel Antonio Romanucci and Jeff Storms, released a statement shortly after the three men were convicted.

“Today closes another important chapter in our journey for justice for George Floyd and his family,” it said. “Nothing will bring George Floyd back to his loved ones, but with these verdicts, we hope that the ignorance and indifference toward human life shown by these officers will be erased from our nation’s police departments, so no other family has to experience a loss like this.”

Floyd’s brother, Philonise Floyd, and Floyd’s nephew, Brandon Williams, also spoke after the verdict was announced. 

“Today is a good day for us,” said an emotional Philonese. He thanked his attorneys, who he said were like friends. “They did a hell of a job.” 

Brandon Williams said the family is still hurting and he still has a lot of sleepless nights. Both he and his father called on Congress to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing act.

When the verdicts were read on Thursday, there was just one woman behind the defense table. Lane was the only one to react to the verdict — shaking his head, dropping something on the table and making an audible noise. 

Three of the jurors appeared to wipe away tears during and after the reading.

In closing arguments, the prosecution maintained that all three officers violated Floyd’s rights and their duties by not immediately offering him first aid when he began to struggle to breathe. 

The defense highlighted the officers’ testimonies that they believed Floyd was still breathing, and placed some of the blame on a lack of police training. They cited training and precedent that led the officers to defer to Chauvin, who was their superior. 

Chauvin was convicted of murder in state court in April, and pleaded guilty to a federal civil rights charge in December.  U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson emphasized to jurors in this trial that Chauvin’s convictions should not influence their decision. 

On May 25, 2020, the four officers responded to a call where 46-year-old Floyd had been accused of using a counterfeit $20 bill. After Floyd was handcuffed, Chauvin pinned him to the ground with his knee on Floyd’s neck for over nine minutes. 

Surrounding them were bystanders who were captured on video yelling at the officers that Floyd was unable to breathe. 

This trial focused on the actions of Lane, Thao and Kueng. During the fatal stop, Kueng knelt on Floyd’s back while Lane held his legs down. 

All three men testified that they suggested alternative methods to restrain Floyd. Lane, the rookie White officer who first called the ambulance, said a decision was made to not use a hobble device, which allows the person to breathe easier while restrained, because it would require them to call a supervisor after he was detained. 

He also said he suggested they roll Floyd on his side after he stopped resisting, but Chauvin said no. Towards the end of his testimony, Lane agreed the situation “could have been handled differently.”

During his testimony, Thao, who is Hmong American, said he was in charge of crowd control and never checked Floyd’s pulse. He also highlighted the three officers’ lack of experience and rank compared to Chauvin. 

When asked why he didn’t tell Chauvin to get off of Floyd’s neck, Thao responded, “I think I would trust a 19-year veteran to figure it out,” CBS Minnesota reported

Kueng, the rookie Black officer who knelt on Floyd’s leg, testified that probationary officers were taught to always defer to a superior to the point of unquestioning obedience. He added that he was concerned about their ability to keep Floyd contained, but followed Chauvin’s lead. 

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

Lane, Kueng and Thao will also face a state trial, scheduled for June, on charges of aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter.

Acting U.S. Attorney General Charles J. Kovats thanked the jury on Thursday afternoon. 

Kovats said many police across the country fulfill their duty every day, but the three former officers in this trial failed to do so with Floyd. “All sworn officers have a duty to intervene and provide medical aid to those in their custody,” he said. “It’s good policing. In their custody is in their care.”

FBI special agent in charge Michael Paul called the verdict “very important” for the country, adding that it would likely inform the ongoing debate over law enforcement. 

LeeAnn Bell, the assistant to the U.S. Attorney, thanked the jury and Floyd’s family for their patience and diligence, calling it a long and challenging trial “for many reasons.”

In a statement released from the Department of Justice, Attorney General Merrick Garland said Floyd should still be alive.

“Today’s verdict recognizes that two police officers violated the Constitution by failing to intervene to stop another officer from killing George Floyd, and three officers violated the Constitution by failing to provide aid to Mr. Floyd in time to prevent his death,” he wrote.

Zoe Christen Jones, Sophie Reardon – CBS News

feature image via Hampton County Detention Center