Ex-Cop in Floyd Case Asks Judge to Toss Aiding and Abetting Charges

Former Minneapolis Police Officer Tou Thao enters the Hennepin County Courthouse with his attorneys on July 21, 2020. (Evan Frost/Minnesota Public Radio via AP)

MINNEAPOLIS (CN) — The attorney for one of three fired Minneapolis police officers accused of aiding and abetting George Floyd’s killing asked a judge to dismiss the charges Wednesday, arguing prosecutors had no basis to bring the case.

Attorney Eric Paule wrote in his motion to dismiss that the complaint filed by Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison’s office against Tou Thao did not establish that Thao had been aware of any intention by fellow officer Derek Chauvin to commit a crime during Floyd’s arrest on May 25. Chauvin faces second-degree murder and manslaughter charges stemming from the incident, in which he knelt on Floyd’s neck for just short of nine minutes as Floyd pleaded for his mother and said ,“I can’t breathe.”

The complaint, Paule argued, also did not establish what, if any, of Thao’s actions contributed to a crime. Thao and two other officers are charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

Thao featured prominently in a bystander’s video of Floyd’s arrest that went viral and sparked international protests. In the video, he stands in front of Chauvin and Floyd, staring down an increasingly agitated crowd of bystanders and joking “don’t do drugs, kids.”

Paule’s motion to dismiss also promised that four exhibits — including Thao’s unreleased body camera footage, the already public footage from junior officer Thomas Lane’s body camera and training materials and a handbook used by the Minneapolis Police Department — will demonstrate a lack of probable cause.

Thao is visible and audible only in brief snippets of Lane’s bodycam footage, which was made viewable along with footage from J. Alexander Kueng’s body camera by appointment at the Hennepin County Government Center after its filing early in July. The limited access to body camera footage has been a point of contention in the cases against the officers, with attorneys for all four and a media coalition arguing for a wider release of the footage.

Media access to proceedings has been a perennial point of contention in all four cases. Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill vacated a gag order last week after outcry from several parties. Lawyers for the officers have also called for Cahill to allow audiovisual coverage of the trial, an idea Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank opposed in a letter to the judge on Tuesday.  

“Live audio and visual coverage could alter the way lawyers present evidence. It could subject the participants in the trial to heightened media scrutiny, distracting from the trial,” Frank wrote. “Live audio and visual coverage may also be intimidating to some witnesses or impair their ability and willingness to come forward, making a fair trial more difficult.”

Attorney Earl Gray, representing Lane, disagreed.

“It is obvious that [Frank] or his boss Mr. Ellison have never tried a televised high profile case,” Gray wrote in his own short letter Tuesday. “I have tried a handful in Wisconsin and there is absolutely no issue. You do not even know the cameras are there.”

Paule did not respond to a request for comment on the motion to dismiss. The attorney general’s office declined to comment. As of Wednesday afternoon, none of the new exhibits mentioned in Paule’s motion had been made public.

Attorneys for Chauvin and Kueng have yet to file motions to dismiss, but have plenty of time to do so. Thao and Lane’s motions will be heard at the cases’ next scheduled hearing on Sept. 11. Should those motions fail, trials for the officers are scheduled to begin on March 3, beginning with Chauvin, the only one of the four still in custody. Thao was released on bail early this month after he posted a $750,000 bond. Lane and Kueng posted bonds of equal size in mid-June.

Floyd’s death rocked Minneapolis with a week of protests, arson and police crackdowns that soon spread across the globe. While protests in Minneapolis and its neighbor of St. Paul continued peacefully and relatively undisturbed since the first week, confrontations between protesters and government forces elsewhere have led to a widely criticized federal occupation of Portland, Oregon, and promises from President Donald Trump to replicate it elsewhere.

In addition to manslaughter and second-degree murder charges, Chauvin now faces tax-fraud charges in Washington County, where he lived before Floyd’s death and is now incarcerated. Authorities there allege that Chauvin and his wife failed to file taxes at all for several years running, underreported income from other years, and registered a car they used exclusively in Minnesota in Florida to avoid higher Minnesota registration costs.

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