Federal prosecutors rested their case Monday against three former Minneapolis police officers charged with violating George Floyd’s civil rights, setting the stage for two of the officers to soon take the stand as part of their defence.
The prosecution rested its case after nearly three weeks of testimony from doctors, police officers and bystanders, including the teenager who recorded widely seen video that showed Officer Derek Chauvin pressing his knee onto Floyd’s neck for 9½ minutes while the 46-year-old Black man was handcuffed, facedown and pleading for air.
J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao are broadly charged with violating Floyd’s constitutional rights while acting under government authority. Kueng knelt on Floyd’s back and Lane held down his legs while Thao kept bystanders back.
All three are accused of depriving Floyd of medical care. Kueng and Thao are also accused of failing to intervene to stop the May 25, 2020, killing, which triggered protests worldwide and a re-examination of racism and policing. The charges allege that the officers’ actions resulted in Floyd’s death.
Before court ended for the day Monday, Thao and Kueng told the judge that they plan to testify. Lane’s attorney, Earl Gray, told the jury earlier that Lane would also be taking the stand, but on Monday, Gray said he and Lane would like to talk it over more before making a decision.
The defence is expected to start presenting witnesses on Tuesday.
Darnella Frazier, who was 16 when Floyd was killed, was the last witness to testify for the prosecution. Frazier, who was given a special citation by the Pulitzer Prizes for her video of the killing, said she knew Floyd needed medical care when he became unresponsive.
“Over time, he kind of just became weaker and eventually just stopped making sounds overall,” she said.
Moments after she took the stand, Frazier, who is now 18, began crying, saying: “I can’t do it. I’m sorry.” The judge, who has been trying to keep emotional testimony out of the trial, took a short break before resuming. When Frazier came back, she talked about witnessing Floyd on the ground with Chauvin’s knee on his neck.
“It looked like he was very uncomfortable and he kept saying, `I can’t breathe,”' she said, adding that Thao looked like he was protecting and patrolling the area. When prosecutor LeeAnn Bell asked what it appeared to her that Thao might need to protect. She said Floyd “was the only one who needed protection at that moment.”
She added: “I didn’t see George Floyd resist at all. The only thing I saw him do was really try to find comfort in his situation try to breathe and get more oxygen.”
Earlier Monday, a use-of-force expert testified that the officers should have intervened. The testimony from Tim Longo, the police chief at the University of Virginia at Charlottesville, was peppered with emphatic objections, numerous warnings from the judge that the information was repetitive, and combative cross-examination.
Gray, Lane’s attorney, challenged Longo on whether he was asserting that “my client, a four-day veteran” should have thrown Chauvin off Floyd. Both Kueng and Lane were just a few days into their jobs as full-fledged officers.
“I think someone should have done something, yes,” Longo replied.
Gray continued, thundering, “What else should they have done besides that?”
“No one asked Chauvin to get his knee off his neck,” Longo said after a little more discussion.
Longo testified earlier that an officer has a duty to take “affirmative steps” to stop another officer from using excessive force.
“The term `intervene’ is a verb, it’s an action word. And it requires an act. And what you do is, you stop the behaviour,” he said.
Chauvin, who is white, was convicted of murder and manslaughter in state court last year and later pleaded guilty to a federal civil rights charge.
Lane, who is white; Kueng, who is Black; and Thao, who is Hmong American, also face a separate state trial in June on charges alleging that they aided and abetted murder and manslaughter.
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