Three former Minneapolis police officers who were involved in George Floyd's killing violated his civil rights during a deadly arrest, a federal jury found on Thursday.
After deliberating for more than 13 hours over the course of two days, the jury found Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng, and Thomas Lane guilty of depriving Floyd of his right to medical care as Derek Chauvin pressed his knee on his neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds and killed him. Thao and Kueng were also found guilty of failing to intervene during the deadly arrest on May 25, 2020. The jury also found that all three former officers’ actions resulted in Floyd’s death, which means they will face a heavier sentence for them.
The punishment for violating someone's civil rights can be as much as a life sentence, or even the death penalty, depending on the circumstances of the crime and the resulting injury. Those outcomes are rare, however, and it's likely that Kueng, Thao, and Lane will receive less severe sentences.
Floyd's brutal killing was caught on cellphone video, and it launched wide-scale protests against police killings of Black people as well as a national reckoning on racial injustice.
During the monthlong federal trial, prosecutors argued that the three men chose not to intervene as their colleague slowly killed Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, and failed to provide medical care, not giving him CPR or rolling him onto his side.
"Each made a conscious choice over and over again," Samantha Trepel, a special litigation counsel from the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, said in her opening statement. "They chose not to intervene and stop Chauvin as he killed a man. They chose not to protect George Floyd, the man they handcuffed."
Defense attorneys sought to pin the responsibility of Floyd's death on Chauvin, who they said called the shots as the senior-most officer on the scene. They said the Minneapolis Police Department had a culture of deference toward senior police officers and that the training given to the rookie officers was inadequate. They also said the graphic viral video of Floyd’s killing did not show the full picture, including what the officers were thinking in the moment and what cumulative actions they had taken.
Chauvin was sentenced to 22 and a half years in prison last June after being convicted for murdering Floyd. He pleaded guilty in December to violating Floyd's civil rights in the federal case and is awaiting sentencing.
Kueng, who is Black, and Lane, who is white, helped Chauvin restrain Floyd on the ground. Thao, who is Hmong American, held bystanders back as they begged the officers to stop restraining Floyd.
All three officers testified during the trial. During his testimony, Thao said it had not been his "role" to monitor Floyd's condition because he was focused on the crowd and was serving as a "human traffic cone" to protect the officers from the bystanders.
Thao, who was Chauvin's partner that day and the second-most-senior officer at the scene, said he'd believed Floyd was "fine" because the officers were not administering CPR on him.
Both Kueng and Lane testified that they were rookies at the time and deferred to Chauvin, an 18-year veteran of the Minneapolis Police Department.
Kueng told the court that Chauvin was his field training officer and that he followed his lead during Floyd's arrest.
"He was my senior officer, and I trusted his advice," Kueng said.
He also said he wasn't trained in the neck restraint Chauvin was using and therefore believed that Chauvin was acting according to the department's policy when he choked Floyd with his knee.
Lane, who at the time of the arrest was on his fourth day as a full-fledged officer with the department, said he suggested moving Floyd from his facedown position twice, but that Chauvin refused. He also testified that he'd believed Floyd was still breathing because he "could see his chest rise and fall."
Prosecutors have argued that the men were trained to step in and stop other officers from using excessive force — and to offer immediate medical care to someone in custody if they showed signs of medical distress.
They also said the distressed group of onlookers who pleaded with the officers to stop restraining Chauvin and to check his pulse had "no special training," but they were acutely aware that the officers were killing him.
"George Floyd should be alive today," Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement about the verdict. "The Justice Department will continue to seek accountability for law enforcement officers whose actions, or failure to act, violate their constitutional duty to protect the civil rights of our citizens."
In a statement, civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who has been representing Floyd's family, and his co-counsel said the guilty verdict "should serve as a guiding example" for why police departments across the country need to "prioritize instruction on an officer's duty to intervene."
"Nothing will bring George Floyd back to his loved ones, but with these verdicts, we hope that the ignorance and indifference toward human life shown by these officers will be erased from our nation's police departments, so no other family has to experience a loss like this," the attorneys said.
Thao, Kueng, and Lane were released on bail conditions after the verdict was handed down Thursday because they face another state trial later this year. All three men will be tried on state charges of aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s killing in June.