Prosecutors at the federal trial of three former Minneapolis police officers charged with violating George Floyd’s civil rights played videos Tuesday that showed the Black man gasping for air as bystanders warned that fellow Officer Derek Chauvin was killing him.
Footage shown at the trial of former officers J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao was from police body cameras, street surveillance video and widely viewed bystander video that also was played extensively in the state criminal trial that eventually convicted Chauvin of murder last year. It shows Floyd struggling with officers as they try to put him in a police vehicle, the officers holding him on the ground and eventually putting him into an ambulance, and a growing group of onlookers become increasingly frantic as Floyd stops moving.
Police had responded to a 911 call that Floyd tried to use a counterfeit $20 bill to buy a pack of cigarettes at a corner store on May 25, 2020. His killing triggered worldwide protests and a re-examination of racism and policing.
Floyd died after Chauvin knelt on his neck for 9 1/2 minutes as the 46-year-old Black man was facedown, handcuffed and gasping for air. Kueng knelt on Floyd’s back, Lane held his legs and Thao kept bystanders back, according to prosecutors.
Kueng, Lane and Thao are broadly charged with depriving Floyd of his civil rights while acting under government authority. Chauvin pleaded guilty in November to a federal civil rights violation.
One video that prosecutors played for jurors was from Thao’s body camera, which showed him pushing an onlooker. It was shown during the testimony of the cashier who had taken the counterfeit bill. Christopher Martin, 20 – who also testified at Chauvin’s trial – said he had recorded about 30 seconds of video as bystanders were yelling at Thao to check Floyd’s pulse, but stopped when Thao pushed the other man.
Martin said he didn’t have a good view of Kueng or Lane.
While cross-examining Martin, Thao’s attorney, Robert Paule, played Thao’s body camera video again, and noted that Thao put his hand up before pushing the man, and that the man didn’t listen to Thao’s direction to get back on the curb. Paule said that when Thao pushed the man, he swatted Thao’s hand away.
Some of the video played Tuesday showed an extended view of what happened before and after Floyd’s restraint. Part of Kueng’s body camera video showed Kueng going into the corner store after the ambulance left and investigating the report that Floyd used a counterfeit bill.
Courteney Ross, Floyd’s girlfriend, was in the courtroom and frequently dabbed her eyes with a tissue as she watched the footage showing his struggle with police and crying, “I can’t breathe,” while bystanders shouted at the officers. At least one juror also appeared to be dabbing her eyes.
Kueng, who is Black; Lane, who is white; and Thao, who is Hmong American, are all charged for failing to provide Floyd with medical care. Thao and Kueng face an additional count for failing to stop Chauvin, who is white. Both counts allege the officers’ actions resulted in Floyd’s death.
Attorneys for both Kueng and Thao noted that prosecutors must prove the officers wilfully violated Floyd’s constitutional rights – a high legal standard that essentially requires prosecutors to prove the officers knew what they were doing was wrong, but did it anyway.
Gray told jurors that Lane will testify, but it’s not known if Thao or Kueng will. It’s also not clear whether Chauvin will testify, though many experts who spoke to The Associated Press believe he won’t.
U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson has said the trial could last four weeks.
Lane, Kueng and Thao also face a separate state trial in June on charges they aided and abetted both murder and manslaughter.
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