George Floyd officers trial - live: Defense says officers were ‘let down’ by Minneapolis Police Department

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J Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao pictured left to right in their booking photos   (Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office)
J Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao pictured left to right in their booking photos (Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office)

Opening arguments began on Monday in the federal trial of the three former Minneapolis police officers charged in connection to George Floyd’s murder, which sparked racial justice protests worldwide.

Tou Thao, J Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane are charged with one count of violating the Black man’s civil rights by failing to provide him with medical aid.

Mr Thao and Mr Kueng are also charged with failing to intervene to stop fellow officer Derek Chauvin’s use of force, after Chauvin knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes on 25 May 2020.

They have all pleaded not guilty.

Chauvin was convicted of murder at his state trial in April and reached a plea deal with federal prosecutors in December.

A nearly all-white jury was convened for the officers’ trial, after a panel of 16 white people and two Asian people was selected last week.

A state criminal trial on aiding and abetting charges begins in June.

Key Points

  • Defense says officers were ‘let down’ by Minneapolis Police Department

  • Prosecutor: Officers ‘watched as George Floyd died a slow and agonizing death’

  • The charges against the three former officers

  • George Floyd’s family says officers ‘must be held responsible for their inaction’

  • Number of fatal encounters with police remain unchanged despite uproar after George Floyd’s killing

Three officers ‘watched as George Floyd died a slow and agonising death’, says prosecutor in opening statement

18:54 , Alex Woodward

Three former police officers “watched as George Floyd died a slow and agonising death” and failed to intervene as Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck “for nine minutes and 29 seconds”, a court in Minnesota heard on Monday.

Prosecutor Samantha Trepel began opening statements on Monday morning in the federal trial of Tou Thao, Thomas Lane and J Alexander Kueng on charges of violating Mr Floyd’s civil rights during his fatal arrest on Memorial Day 2020.

Ms Trepel told jurors that the three officers failed in a “fundamental element of policing” to care for the Black man while he was in their custody and “chose not to act” to stop fellow officer Chauvin murdering him.

The Independent’s Rachel Sharp recaps this morning’s opening remarks from the prosecution in a closely watched trial:

Officers ‘watched George Floyd die slow and agonising death’, prosecutor says

Defense says officers were ‘let down’ by Minneapolis Police Department

18:26 , Alex Woodward

Defense attorney Thomas Plunkett argues that the Minneapolis Police Department “let down” officers on 25 May 2020, and that the most-senior officer at the scene – Derek Chauvin – “called all the shots” among the four officers.

Chauvin also was Mr Kueng’s field training officer.

Defense argues rookie cop did not willfully deny George Floyd his rights

18:05 , Alex Woodward

Thomas Plunkett, defense attorney for J Alexander Kueng, one of two rookie officers on the scene, argued to jurors in his opening remarks how an unseasoned officer could have been unprepared and caught up in a “complex, rapidly unfolding set of circumstances” that day, according to KMSP-TV’s Rob Olson.

The video that captured Mr Floyd’s final moment is not what Mr Kueng saw that day, Mr Plunkett argued.

He told jurors that they must prove that Mr Kueng “willfully” deprived Mr Floyd his rights that day.

Defense argues Floyd refused to follow officers’ instructions before his death

17:42 , Alex Woodward

Defense attorney Robert Paule detailed officers’ initial response to the 911 call that brought them to George Floyd.

In his opening remarks, he argued that Mr Floyd refused to follow officers’ instructions and was “physically resisting” when officers arrived.

“The death of Mr Floyd is a tragedy ... however a tragedy is not a crime,” he said, according to KTSP reporter Eric Chalou.

Judge denies defense motion for mistrial over prosecution’s ‘argumentative’ opening statement

17:10 , Alex Woodward

Two defense attorneys objected to prosecutors’ opening statement as too “argumentative” and one asked for a mistrial.

Judge Paul Magnuson dismissed the motion, but he noted that the opening remarks from the prosecution were more argumentative than typically allowed in his courtroom. “It’s not grounds for a mistrial,” he said, according to KMSP-TV’s Rob Olson.

Prosecutors wrap opening statements, court takes 15 minutes break

17:06 , Alex Woodward

Federal prosecutors have closed their opening statements in the trial of three former Minneapolis police officers accused of failing to provide aid to George Floyd as he Derek Chauvin kneeled against his neck.

“As the evidence will show... the defendants failed to act,” prosecutors told the jury on Monday, according to KARE’s Karla Hult. “You will see that when the ambulance arrived, it was the paramedics – and not these officers – who told Mr Chauvin he needed to get up.”

Prosecutor: Officers ‘watched as George Floyd died a slow and agonizing death’

16:51 , Rachel Sharp

The three former police officers on trial “watched as George Floyd died a slow and agonizing death” and failed to intervene as Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck “for nine minutes and 29 seconds”, according to prosecutors.

Opening statements began in the federal trial of Tou Thao, Thomas Lane and J Alexander Kueng on Monday morning.

The prosecution told jurors that the three officers failed in a “fundamental element of policing” to care for the Black man while he was in their custody and “chose not to act” to stop their fellow officer from killing him.

“These three CPR-trained defendants stood or knelt next to Officer Chauvin as he slowly killed George Floyd right in front of them,” the prosecutor said, according to Fox9 reporter Rob Olson.

Prosecution begins delivering opening statements

16:30 , Rachel Sharp

Opening statements are now underway inside the Warren E. Burger Federal Building and US Courthouse in St Paul, Minnesota, in the trial of the three former police officers charged in connection to the murder of George Floyd.

Prosecutors began opening statements just after 10:15am local time (11:15am ET) on Monday morning.

The statement, which is expected to last around 30 minutes, lays out the federal case that the three defendants violated Mr Floyd’s civil rights by failing to render him medical aid and failing to stop Derek Chauvin’s use of force.

Why is Thomas Lane only charged with one count?

16:11 , Rachel Sharp

J Alexander Kueng, Tou Thao and Thomas Lane are all charged with one count of violating George Floyd’s civil rights by failing to administer medical aid to him.

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

Mr Lane is not charged with this count.

It is not clear why Mr Lane is charged with just the one count however, there is evidence that he asked Chauvin twice whether they should roll Mr Floyd on his side during the deadly encounter.

Footage shows Mr Kueng kneeling on Mr Floyd’s back and Mr Lane holding down his legs while Mr Thao held back bystanders and stopped them from intervening.

Opening statements expected to last around two hours

15:55 , Rachel Sharp

Opening statements are expected to last around two hours in total as they get under way at 10am CT (11am ET) on Monday morning.

Federal prosecutors are expected to kick off proceedings by spending around 30 minutes laying out their case against the three officers.

Then, attorneys for each of the defendants - Tou Thao, J Alexander Young and Thomas Lane - will each deliver their opening statements.

The defence attorneys said they each planned to take around 20 to 30 minutes.

Fate of officers will be decided by mostly-white jury

15:35 , Rachel Sharp

The outcome of the racially-charged federal trial will be decided by an almost all-white jury after jury selection was completed within just one day on Thursday.

The 12 jurors picked to deliberate appear to include 11 white people and one person of Asian descent.

Among the six alternates, five jurors appear to be white and one person of Asian descent.

There appears to be no Black people on the jury that will decide whether the three officers violated Black man George Floyd’s civil rights during the deadly arrest that sparked racial justice protests across the globe and shone a spotlight on police brutality and systemic racism in America.

It’s a marked difference from the jury make-up in Chauvin’s state trial back in April, where a panel of six white and six non-white jurors convicted him of Mr Floyd’s murder.

This panel was more reflective of the Minneapolis’ population which is 64 percent white, according to the most recent US Census data.

The jury for the federal trial is made up of people from across the entire state of Minnesota, which has a less diverse population with 78 percent of people being white.

What happened to George Floyd?

15:15 , Rachel Sharp

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

Derek Chauvin, a white veteran police officer of 18 years, knelt on Mr Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes until he lost consciousness and died.

The Black 46-year-old was heard begging for air saying “I can’t breathe” and calling out for his late mother in his dying moments.

A bystander filmed the encounter on her smartphone and the footage sent shockwaves across the globe and led to a racial justice movement demanding an end to systemic racism and police brutality against Black people.

George Floyd was killed on Memorial Day 2020 in Minneapolis (AP)
George Floyd was killed on Memorial Day 2020 in Minneapolis (AP)

Security ramps up around federal courthouse

14:55 , Rachel Sharp

Security has been beefed up around the federal courthouse as the high-profile trial of the three officers gets underway.

The Warren E. Burger Federal Building and US Courthouse in St Paul, Minnesota, was surrounded by metal fencing, nearby streets were closed off to the public and security guards were seen patrolling the area when day one of the trial began with jury selection on Thursday.

It’s a similar sight to that seen during Derek Chauvin’s state murder trial last spring, when the Hennepin County Courthouse was fenced off and members of the National Guard patrolled the streets of Minneapolis in anticipation of the verdict.

A pedestrian makes his way in front of a gated Warren E. Burger Federal Building on Friday (AP)
A pedestrian makes his way in front of a gated Warren E. Burger Federal Building on Friday (AP)
Pedestrians made their way across a closed street near the heavily gated Warren E. Burger Federal Building on Thursday (AP)
Pedestrians made their way across a closed street near the heavily gated Warren E. Burger Federal Building on Thursday (AP)
A security officer patrols the gated Warren E. Burger Federal Building as jury selection got underway on Thursday (AP)
A security officer patrols the gated Warren E. Burger Federal Building as jury selection got underway on Thursday (AP)
Fencing surrounds the perimeter of the Warren E. Burger Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse on January 20, 2022 in St Paul, Minnesota (Getty Images)
Fencing surrounds the perimeter of the Warren E. Burger Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse on January 20, 2022 in St Paul, Minnesota (Getty Images)

Judge says the trial has ‘absolutely nothing’ to do with race

14:35 , Rachel Sharp

The trial judge has said that the case against the three officers has “absolutely nothing” to do with race, despite the Black man’s death setting off a movement calling for racial justice and an end to police brutality against Black people.

US District Judge Paul Magnuson made the comments during jury selection on Friday when a prospective Black juror said he wasn’t sure he could be impartial “due to my colour”.

“There is absolutely nothing about the subject of religion, race or ethnicity that’s involved in this case,” the judge told him.

The juror was ultimately dismissed after he continued to say he did not think he could be impartial.

Legal expert Joe Daly, an emeritus professor at Mitchell Hamline Law School, said that the judge’s comments were technically correct “in the framework of the law and facts” because the charges do not accuse the officers of targeting Mr Floyd because of his race.

However, he said that the case “has almost everything to do with race”.

“It has to do with what we know about how police enforce minor crimes against African Americans, how police have acted toward African Americans, minority people,” he told the Associated Press.

What are the three officers charged with?

14:15 , Rachel Sharp

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

Tou Thao and J Alexander Kueng are charged with two federal counts while Thomas 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.

The Independent’s Rachel Sharp has more:

Charges against the three officers on federal trial over George Floyd’s death

George Floyd’s family says officers ‘must be held responsible for their inaction’

13:55 , Rachel Sharp

George Floyd’s family have called for the three officers on trial to be “held responsible for their inaction” on the day that the Black father-of-five was murdered by their colleague Derek Chauvin.

Prominent civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who represents the Floyd family, tweeted that Tou Thao, J Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane could have “saved” Mr Floyd.

“Derek Chauvin’s knee was on George Floyd’s neck, but the other three officers aided and abetted in his death,” he tweeted.

“They could have saved Floyd’s life. They must ALSO be held responsible for their inaction!”

Opening statements will begin today in the federal trial of Mr Thao, Mr Kueng and Mr Lane who are charged with violating Mr Floyd’s civil rights.

The three officers are also standing trial together on state charges of aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter in June.

ICYMI: Who is J Alexander Kueng?

13:34 , Rachel Sharp

J Alexander Kueng, who is Black, was the youngest of the four officers on the scene the day George Floyd was killed in May 2020.

His family has earlier said that he joined the police force to bridge the divide between law enforcement and Black residents.

His mother, Joni Kueng was quoted as saying by New York Times: “It’s a gut punch. Here you are, you’ve raised this child, you know who he is inside and out. We’re such a racially diverse family. To be wrapped up in a racially motivated incident like this is just unfathomable.”

Read the full story here:

J Alexander Kueng: Former officer facing federal charges in George Floyd’s death

ICYMI: Who is Thomas Lane?

13:00 , Maroosha Muzaffar

Thomas Lane — one of the former Minneapolis officers whose federal trial is set to begin today — joined the Minneapolis Police Department in early 2019.

Three generations of men on his mother’s side of the family also served in the department, including his great-great-grandfather Michael Mealey, who was chief from 1911 to 1912, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Read the full story here:

Thomas Lane: What to know about former police officer charged in George Floyd’s death

ICYMI: Who is Tou Thao?

12:15 , Maroosha Muzaffar

Tou Thao — one of the former Minneapolis officers whose federal trial is set to begin today — graduated from the Minneapolis Police Department academy in 2009.In May 2020, on the day George Floyd was murdered by Derek Chauvin, Mr Thao was his partner that day.According to city records, Mr Thao had received six prior complaints while on the force.Read the full story here:

Tou Thao: Former officer faces federal charges in George Floyd’s killing

Trial to begin for cops accused of violating Floyd's rights

10:46 , Maroosha Muzaffar

The federal trial for three former Minneapolis police officers charged with violating George Floyd’s civil rights as their fellow officer, Derek Chauvin pinned the Black man’s neck to the street is expected to begin Monday with opening statements, after a jury of 18 people was swiftly picked last week.

Read the full story here:

Trial to begin for cops accused of violating Floyd's rights

No accountability still in police killings, watchdog says

08:51 , Maroosha Muzaffar

About 98 per cent of killings by police from 2013-2020 have not resulted in police officers being charged with a crime, non-profit Mapping Police Violence says.

The watchdog that tracks the police fatalities in the US says that there is still no accountability and that 98.3 per cent of fatalities by police during the seven-year period have not resulted in the police officers being charged with a crime.

It says that Black people are still two and a half to three times as likely as white people to be killed by a police officer.

In 2021, police killed 1134 people across the country.

Former prosecutor says criminal trials not instruments of change

08:34 , Maroosha Muzaffar

Paul Butler, a professor at Georgetown University Law Center and a former prosecutor was quoted as saying in a New York Times report that “criminal trials are not designed to be instruments of change.”

He added that “criminal trials are about bringing individual wrongdoers to justice. So while there have been high-profile prosecutions of police officers for killing Black people, that doesn’t in and of itself lead to the kind of systemic reform that might reduce police violence.”

Opening arguments in the federal trial of three former Minneapolis officers in the George Floyd killing in May 2020, are expected to begin on Monday.

Will Derek Chauvin testify at the federal trial?

08:24 , Maroosha Muzaffar

As federal trial into the three former Minneapolis police officers is all set to begin on Monday, there are questions over whether Derek Chauvin — who has pleaded guilty in the George Floyd murder case — will be called in to testify.

F Clayton Tyler — a Minneapolis defence attorney who is not connected to the case — told Associated Press: “My guess is that neither party will call him.” He, however, said that if the prosecutors’ arguments are going poorly, they might call Mr Chauvin to testify.

He said “you can imagine how the other attorneys are going to be able to jump on him. It could get ugly if he gets on the stand.”

Mr Tyler pointed out that defence attorneys might call him if they know he is going to testify in their favour. “They’re going to point the finger at him anyway, without him being there” since he was the senior officer at the time of encounter.

Number of fatal encounters with police remain unchanged despite uproar after George Floyd’s killing

08:08 , Maroosha Muzaffar

According to Mapping Police Violence — a nonprofit that tracks police fatalities across the country — in 2021, there were only fifteen days when the police didn’t kill anybody.

The shocking data reveals that last year, the police killed 1134 people, despite the uproar across the country after George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis in May 2020.

Their analysis suggested that the majority of these killings by police in 2021 could have been prevented.

And among those killed, Mapping Police Violence says that “Black people were 28 per cent of those killed by police in 2021 despite being only 13 per cent of the population.”

US District Judge rejects media coalition’s request to ease restrictions

07:51 , Maroosha Muzaffar

The US District Judge Paul Magnuson rejected the media coalition’s request to ease restrictions on the number of reporters allowed inside the courtroom.

In a letter to Leita Walker, attorney for the media coalition, last week Mr Magnuson wrote: “The current spread of the omicron variant has created an unprecedented situation for our court system. We must keep the jurors we have invited to the courthouse as safe as possible, and science dictates that restricting the number of the people in the courtroom is the best way to do that.”

He also rejected the media coalition’s request for same-day access to trial exhibits. “I appreciate your concerns but I do not share them. I believe that the media and the public will have as much access to these proceedings as is possible in this time of high Covid transmission.”

He also said that he will decide on releasing the exhibits at the end of the case.

Trial expected to last four weeks

07:35 , Maroosha Muzaffar

As the federal trial for three former Minneapolis police officers begins on Monday, the US District Court Judge Paul Magnuson has said that he expects the trial to last four weeks.

The courthouse in downtown St Paul seated 18 jurors for the federal trial — 12 will deliberate and six are alternates, the Associated Press reported.

There are eight men and 10 women. The opening arguments in the three former Minneapolis officers — who are charged with violating George Floyd’s constitutional right by not providing medical aid during the May 2020 encounter in which Floyd died — are expected to start on 24 January.

Who is expected in the courtroom as the federal trial begins?

06:43 , Maroosha Muzaffar

As cameras are not allowed in the federal courtroom — the trial is being held at the Warren E Burger Federal Building and US Courthouse in downtown St Paul — the following people are expected to be in the courtroom:

US District Court Judge Paul Magnuson; former officers J Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao; defence attorneys Robert Paule, Earl Gray and Thomas Plunkett; attorneys from the US Attorney’s Office; jurors; witnesses; court reporter; four pool media reporters and a sketch artist.

George Floyd, 46, died in May 2020 after Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck even as Floyd kept saying that he couldn’t breathe.

Two other former Minneapolis police officers — J Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane — helped restrain Floyd while another, now-former officer with the Minneapolis police Tou Thao held back bystanders.

Attorney says former officers had 'different levels of involvement' as opening arguments begin today

06:23 , Maroosha Muzaffar

The prosecutors with the US Attorney’s Office are expected to take a total of 30 to 40 minutes to present their opening statements today.

Defence attorney, Mike Bryant — who is not involved in the trial — told Fox9 News that “my expectation is there will be a combination of argument and videos to start showing the video to show what each of these officers did wrong in depriving George Floyd of his rights.”

He added that “they all have different levels of involvement. You’ve got different levels of experience. You have different levels of what they did. So there is a possibility you may see one or two of them argue in a different manner than the third.”

Who is Thomas Lane?

05:39 , Maroosha Muzaffar

One of the three former Minneapolis police officers, Thomas Lane faces charges of violating George Floyd’s constitutional rights by failing to provide medical aid to him in May 200 when their fellow officer Derek Chauvin, knelt on his neck.

Mr Lane joined the Minneapolis Police Department in early 2019.

Three generations of men on his mother’s side of the family also served in the department, including his great-great-grandfather Michael Mealey, who was chief from 1911 to 1912, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Read more about Thomas Lane here:

Thomas Lane: What to know about former police officer charged in George Floyd’s death

Who is J Alexander Kueng?

05:34 , Maroosha Muzaffar

The former Minneapolis officer, J Alexander Kueng, is accused of violating George Floyd’s right to be free from unreasonable seizure and failing to render medical aid.

Know more about him here:

J Alexander Kueng: Former officer facing federal charges in George Floyd’s death

Who is Tou Thao?

05:32 , Maroosha Muzaffar

Opening arguments in the federal jury trial against three former Minneapolis officers is set to begin on Monday. Thomas Lane, J Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao — are guilty of violating George Floyd’s constitutional rights for failing to provide medical aid during the encounter in May 2020, which ultimately led to Floyd’s death.

Know more about Tou Thao below:

Tou Thao: Former officer faces federal charges in George Floyd’s killing

Former federal prosecutor calls the trial ‘unique’

04:46 , Maroosha Muzaffar

A former federal prosecutor, Mark Osler said that the trial of three former Minneapolis officers in the George Floyd killing is “unique.”

A law professor at the University of St Thomas, Mr Osler told Minneapolis Public Radio that “this trial is really unique and important because it does present the question of the duty of officers on what they didn’t do, as opposed to reviewing actions themselves.”

Three former officers – Tou Thao, J Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane – will stand trial in federal court on charges of violating Floyd’s civil rights for failing to provide him with medical aid during the encounter.

Mr Thao and Mr Kueng are also charged with failing to stop fellow officer Chauvin’s use of force against Floyd. Opening arguments in the federal trial are expected to begin on Monday.

03:48 , Maroosha Muzaffar

Hello and welcome to the Independent’s live blog on the federal trial of three former officers over the George Floyd killing.

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