Jury is now deliberating in the civil rights case of 3 ex-officers connected to George Floyd's killing
By Travis Caldwell, Julia Jones and Omar Jimenez, CNN
(CNN) -- The jury began deliberating Wednesday in the civil rights case of three former Minneapolis police officers connected to the killing of George Floyd in 2020.
Former officers Tou Thao, 36, J. Alexander Kueng, 28, and Thomas Lane, 38, tried to restrain Floyd as Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck and back for more than 9 minutes during the arrest, resulting in Floyd's death. Thao, Chauvin's partner, stood nearby and kept back a crowd of horrified onlookers, while Kueng and Lane -- both rookie officers in their first days on the job -- restrained Floyd's torso and legs.
Each faces a count of deprivation of rights under color of law for failing to give Floyd medical aid. Thao and Kueng are also charged with failing to intervene in Chauvin's use of unreasonable force.
"They chose not to intervene, they chose not to aid Mr. Floyd," Assistant US Attorney Manda Sertich said in closing arguments. "This is a crime. The defendants are guilty as charged."
All three ex-officers testified on their own behalf during the trial, a stark contrast from Chauvin's silence during his state murder trial last year. Their defenses have offered several reasons to try to explain why they didn't intervene or render aid, saying they were inexperienced, received inconsistent training and deferred to Chauvin's seniority.
"I think I would trust a 19-year veteran to figure it out," Thao said on the stand, referring to Chauvin.
The trial comes about 21 months after Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, was handcuffed and pressed to the pavement on his stomach until he fell unconscious and stopped breathing. The four officers on scene called for medical services but did not render aid to Floyd, and he remained in the same position until paramedics arrived and lifted his limp body into an ambulance. He was declared dead later that night.
The incident was captured on harrowing video taken by a bystander that showed Floyd desperately gasping for air and pleading that he couldn't breathe. Chauvin was convicted last April of Floyd's murder in state court, and he pleaded guilty to federal charges in December as part of a plea deal.
The federal trial for Thao, Kueng and Lane began in a St. Paul, Minnesota, courtroom last month. They have pleaded not guilty to the charges and are being tried together. They also face a state trial later this year on charges of aiding and abetting in Floyd's murder.
On Wednesday, Judge Paul Magnuson gave the jury instructions in the law, and the panel of 4 men and 8 women then began deliberating at about 10 a.m. The proceedings are not being televised because the federal court does not allow cameras.
Officers were ill-equipped to intervene, defense says
In closing arguments Tuesday, defense attorneys argued that the indictment language of "willfully" failing to aid Floyd or stop Chauvin did not apply.
Attorney Robert Paule, on behalf of Thao, said that a person acts willfully when they commit an act with a bad purpose or improper motive to disobey or disregard the law. He added that "just because something has a tragic ending doesn't mean it's a crime."
Kueng's attorney, Thomas Plunkett, said there was no specific intent on his client's part.
"If it is not shown there's a willful act with specific intent ... with proof beyond a reasonable doubt," then it hasn't been proven, Plunkett said.
The core of Plunkett's argument was that Kueng was an inexperienced officer and subordinate to Chauvin, a department veteran of more than 18 years and the field training officer in charge.
Chauvin informed his colleagues Floyd needed to be taken to the ground, Kueng has said, and Thao earlier testified that the intention was to protect him and any bystanders. No one meant to hurt Floyd, Thao said.
It was not unusual to see Minneapolis officers use their knees during an arrest, Thao said. The knee-to-neck move is banned by several police departments, but the MPD allows officers to restrain suspects' necks if they're aggressive or resisting.
Plunkett showed the court Minneapolis Police Department training slides, arguing that the training was incomplete and inconsistent. Thao testified that he had not seen officers be corrected when using knees to restrain people in the past, Plunkett noted.
Earl Gray, attorney for Lane, also touched on Chauvin's seniority over the other former officers. "We don't need commanders to tell us that if someone has seniority over you, you listen to them," Gray said. The date of the incident was Lane's fourth day with the department.
Lane's questions during the arrest about repositioning Floyd was also a sign that Lane "was never deliberately indifferent," Gray argued.
When Lane mentioned he was worried about so-called "excited delirium" and suggested flipping Floyd on his side, Gray said, he showed "concern about serious medical needs. Is that deliberate indifference? No!"
'They chose not to intervene'
Assistant US Attorney LeeAnn Bell argued the force primarily applied by Chauvin became unreasonable once Floyd went unconscious, and "Officer Thao and Officer Kueng had a duty to stop it."
"Force used has to be appropriate and proportional at the time," she said. "If they go unconscious, you cannot continue to use force."
"If you can't find a pulse, your answer cannot be 'I did nothing,'" she added as she singled out some of the defense's arguments, in particular former officer Lane, who at one point helped restrain Floyd on the ground.
"Mr. Lane could get up from where he was," she began, saying he could have walked over and looked for a pulse. "It is not reasonable not to do anything and excuse it with 'I'm down by the legs,' so I just didn't do anything."
Bell also attacked the defense's continued arguments and definitions of "willfully" as laid out in the indictment. "They had opportunity and means to (help) and didn't ... Disregarding that is willfulness," she said.
"They didn't have to intend to harm Mr. Floyd, they just needed to know they could take certain actions under the law and failed to do so," Bell later added.
Assistant US Attorney Manda Sertich said Tuesday that all the witnesses, "including the defendants," agreed they had a duty to intervene.
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