The federal trial for three former Minneapolis police officers charged with violating George Floyd’s civil rights as Derek Chauvin pinned the Black man’s neck to the street began Monday with opening statements, after a jury of 18 people was swiftly picked last week.
J. Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao are broadly charged with depriving Floyd of his civil rights while acting under government authority. All three are charged for failing to provide Floyd with medical care and Thao and Kueng face an additional count for failing to stop Chauvin, who was convicted of murder and manslaughter in state court last year.
Legal experts say prosecutors have to prove Kueng, Lane and Thao willfully violated Floyd’s constitutional rights, while defense attorneys are likely to blame Chauvin for Floyd’s murder, which was videotaped and triggered worldwide protests, violence and a reexamination of racism and policing.
Floyd, 46, died on May 25, 2020, after Chauvin pressed him to the ground with his knee on Floyd’s neck for 9 1/2 minutes while Floyd was facedown, handcuffed and gasping for air. Kueng knelt on Floyd’s back and Lane held down his legs. Thao kept bystanders from intervening.
Attorneys for the Floyd family have said bystander video shows that the three officers “directly contributed to [Floyd’s] death and failed to intervene to stop the senseless murder.”
On Thursday, 18 people were chosen for the jury; 12 will deliberate and six will be alternates. Two of the jurors — one expected to deliberate and one alternate — appear to be of Asian descent. The rest appear to be white. The jurors include people from the Twin Cities area, the suburbs and southern Minnesota. The court declined to provide demographic information.
Federal prosecutions of officers involved in on-duty killings are rare. Prosecutors face a high legal standard to show that an officer willfully deprived someone of their constitutional rights. Essentially, prosecutors must prove that the officers knew what they were doing was wrong, but did it anyway.
The indictment charges Thao, who is Hmong American; Lane, who is white; and Kueng, who is Black, with willfully depriving Floyd of the right to be free from an officer’s deliberate indifference to his medical needs. The indictment says the three men saw Floyd clearly needed medical care and failed to aid him.
Thao and Kueng are also charged with a second count alleging they willfully violated Floyd’s right to be free from unreasonable seizure by not stopping Chauvin as he knelt on Floyd’s neck. It’s not clear why Lane is not mentioned in that count, but evidence shows he asked twice whether Floyd should be rolled on his side.
Both counts allege the officers’ actions resulted in Floyd’s death.
U.S. District Judge Magnuson told jurors that the trial could last four weeks. It’s not known whether any of the three officers will testify. It’s also not clear whether Chauvin will testify, though many experts who spoke to The Associated Press believe he won’t.
Lane, Kueng and Thao also face a separate state trial in June on charges they aided and abetted both murder and manslaughter.