Federal court convicts former police officers in George Floyd civil rights case
© WikiMedia (Leonhard Lenz)
Federal court convicts former police officers in George Floyd civil rights case

A federal jury in St. Paul, Minnesota found three former Minneapolis police officers guilty of violating George Floyd’s civil rights Thursday.

The 12-person jury found the men, J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao, guilty of depriving Floyd of his civil rights by exhibiting indifference to his medical needs during Floyd’s arrest in May 2020. Jurors deliberated for over 13 hours over the course of two days before reaching a verdict. 

In addition to this charge, the jury found Thao and Kueng guilty of failing to intervene in order to stop former arresting officer Derek Chauvin from kneeling on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes. Lane did not face this additional charge as he testified saying he asked Chauvin to change positions while restraining him and he refused to do so. 

Per 18 USC § 242 , violation of an individual’s civil rights is punishable by life imprisonment or the death penalty, depending on the circumstances. The officers, now free on bond, are expected to face a lesser sentence.

In order to prove the officers were guilty, the prosecution needed to show that Floyd had an objectively serious medical need, which the officers chose to ignore and did not take reasonable measures to address or correct.

Both counts the officers were charged under hinged on whether they acted willfully and with intent. The defense argued that the officers did not fail to help Floyd, that they had insufficient training and were under the command of Chauvin—an experienced veteran who had seniority over them.

Assistant US Attorney LeeAnn Bell argued that the officers did not have to intend to harm Floyd, but needed to have known that they could have  taken intervening actions under the law. To find the defendants guilty, the jury was instructed that it must find that the officers witnessed Chauvin use unreasonable force, had the actual opportunity to prevent further harm and chose not to do so.

All three officers chose to take the stand and testify at trial. When asked why he did not intervene, Thao testified that he believed the other officers on scene had the situation under control and that he trusted a 19-year veteran like Chauvin to figure the situation out. Keung similarly testified that he deferred to Chauvin during the arrest and was untrained on arresting procedures regarding use of the leg. Finally, Lane testified that he tried to de-escalate the situation asking Chauvin multiple times if they should reposition Floyd and began CPR five minutes after Kueng mentioned he could not find a pulse.

Pre-sentencing proceedings will begin next week.