A lawyer for a rookie Minneapolis police officer charged with violating George Floyd’s civil rights said during closing arguments at his federal trial Tuesday that his client spoke up to officer Derek Chauvin but was ignored.
Earl Gray is the lawyer for Thomas Lane, who held Mr. Floyd’s feet while Mr. Chauvin knelt on the Black man’s neck for 9½ minutes and another officer knelt on Mr. Floyd’s back. Mr. Chauvin was the senior officer on the scene.
Mr. Gray said Mr. Lane was “very concerned” about Mr. Floyd and suggested rolling Mr. Floyd on his side so he could breathe, but he was rebuffed.
Mr. Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao are charged with depriving Mr. Floyd of his right to medical care when Mr. Chauvin pressed his knee into Mr. Floyd’s neck as the 46-year-old Black man pleaded for air before going silent. Mr. Kueng and Mr. Thao are also charged with failing to intervene to stop Mr. Chauvin during the May 25, 2020, killing that triggered protests worldwide and a re-examination of racism and policing.
Mr. Kueng’s lawyer, Tom Plunkett, hammered away at a major part of the defence contention that the officers were inadequately trained in intervention and that they deferred to Mr. Chauvin, who was the senior officer on the scene.
“I’m not trying to say he wasn’t trained,” Mr. Plunkett said. “I’m saying the training was inadequate to help him see, perceive and understand what was happening here.”
Earlier, Mr. Thao’s lawyer, Robert Paule said his client thought officers were doing what they believed was best for Mr. Floyd – holding him until paramedics arrived.
Mr. Thao was watching bystanders and traffic as the other officers held down Mr. Floyd. Mr. Kueng knelt on Mr. Floyd’s back and Mr. Lane held his legs.
The charges include language that the officers “wilfully” deprived Mr. Floyd of his constitutional rights.
That means jurors must find that officers acted “with a bad purpose or improper motive to disobey or disregard the law,” Mr. Paule said.
He noted that Mr. Thao increased the urgency of an ambulance call for Mr. Floyd, something he said was clearly “not for a bad purpose.” He also said Mr. Thao reasonably believed Mr. Floyd was on drugs and needed to be restrained until medical assistance arrived, that there was no bad purpose.
Mr. Thao and Mr. Chauvin went to the scene to help Mr. Kueng and Mr. Lane, who were rookies, after they responded to a call that Mr. Floyd used a counterfeit US$20 bill at a corner store. Mr. Floyd struggled with officers as they tried to put him in a police SUV.
Earlier, prosecutor Manda Sertich singled out each former officer as the government wrapped up its case in the month-long trial.
Mr. Thao stared directly at Mr. Chauvin and ignored bystanders’ pleas to help a man who was dying “right before their eyes,” Ms. Sertich said.
She said Mr. Kueng casually picked gravel from a police SUV’s tire as Mr. Chauvin “mocked George Floyd’s pleas by saying it took a heck of a lot of oxygen to keep talking.”
And Mr. Lane voiced concerns that showed he knew Mr. Floyd was in distress but “did nothing to give Mr. Floyd the medical aid he knew Mr. Floyd so desperately needed,” the prosecutor said.
Prosecutors have argued the officers violated their training by not rolling Mr. Floyd onto his side or giving him CPR.
Ms. Sertich discounted Mr. Lane’s attempt to perform CPR after an ambulance arrived, saying the officers did nothing for 2½ “precious minutes” after Mr. Floyd became unresponsive and before paramedics got there.
“They chose to do nothing, and their choice resulted in Mr. Floyd’s death,” she said.
The prosecutor ran through the elements necessary to prove Mr. Thao and Mr. Kueng failed to intervene, saying they did nothing, “not one statement, not one gesture, not one physical intervention,” to stop Mr. Chauvin. She also highlighted Mr. Thao’s status as a veteran officer: “He certainly had the means to save Chauvin from himself.”
On the intervention charge, she said, prosecutors merely had to prove the officers knew the force Mr. Chauvin was using was unreasonable and that they had a duty to stop it but didn’t. On the charge that Mr. Floyd was denied medical care, the fact that the officers knew Mr. Floyd was in distress but did nothing is proof of wilfulness, she said.
Ms. Sertich contrasted the officers’ inaction with the desperate cries of bystanders pleading with them to get off Mr. Floyd and to check for a pulse: “Even though they had no power, no authority, no obligation, they knew they had to do something.”
Those bystanders, Ms. Sertich said, gave Mr. Thao and Mr. Kueng “play-by-play commentary” that should have raised their awareness that Floyd was in trouble – shouting that Mr. Floyd could not breathe, that he wasn’t responsive and urging the officers to look at him.
“Anyone ... can recognize that someone with a knee on their neck, who has slowly lost their ability to speak, stopped moving and has gone unconscious has a serious medical need,” Ms. Sertich said, urging jurors to review videos of what happened.
Ms. Lane, Ms. Kueng and Ms. Thao all testified during the trial.
Ms. Chauvin pleaded guilty in the federal case in December, months after he was convicted of state murder and manslaughter charges.
Mr. Lane, who is white, Mr. Kueng, who is Black, and Mr. Thao, who is Hmong American, also face a separate trial in June on state charges alleging they aided and abetted murder and manslaughter.
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