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Feds wrap case against ex-Minneapolis cops with teenage witness

Darnella Frazier, whose video of George Floyd's death went viral and sparked global protests, closed out prosecutors' civil rights case against three former officers involved in his arrest.

ST. PAUL, Minn. (CN) — Federal prosecutors wrapped up their case against three former Minneapolis police officers accused of violating George Floyd’s civil rights Monday afternoon with testimony from a Virginia university’s police chief and the teenager whose video of Floyd’s death went viral in May of 2020. 

Jurors in the trial of J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao spent most of Monday listening to testimony from Timothy Longo, Sr., an associate vice president for safety and security at the University of Virginia. Longo, who oversees the university’s police department and spent 19 years on Baltimore’s police force starting in 1981, told prosecutors that Floyd posed no threat to the officers and that they had a duty to save his life, and failed to do so. 

Defense attorneys took Longo to task on his own history as an expert witness and that of his own department. Attorney Robert Paule asked him about the case of Freddie Gray, who died in Baltimore police custody in 2015. Longo testified as a defense expert witness for two of the officers charged in Gray’s death, who were later acquitted

Paule, who represents Thao, pointed out that Longo had testified in that case that people restrained in handcuffs could still sometimes escape. Longo replied that Gray – who died after being placed, handcuffed and with legs tied, in a police van – didn’t have much in common with Floyd. On redirect, Assistant U.S. Attorney Samantha Trepel elicited testimony from Longo that Gray was conscious and alert when officers interacted with him. 

Longo was followed late in the afternoon by Darnella Frazier, who was 16 when Floyd was killed and is now 18. Frazier took the stand over the objections of defense attorneys, who argued that her emotionality would have a prejudicial effect. Frazier broke down in front of the jury upon first taking the stand, but U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson allowed her to return after a break. “The reality is it’s an emotional thing,” he said of testifying. “Just walking in and seeing this place can be scary.” 

Frazier went on to detail, as she did in Derek Chauvin’s murder trial last April, her arrival at Cup Foods on the corner of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue in south Minneapolis, where she and her young cousin found Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck, with Kueng and Lane on his back and legs and Thao standing between them and an increasingly concerned crowd. 

Under questioning from Assistant U.S. Attorney LeeAnn Bell, Frazier emphasized that she hadn’t seen Floyd resist the officers, nor had she seen the crowd display any kind of threat. Floyd, she said “was kind of letting it be known that he couldn’t breathe… he was uncomfortable.” Nevertheless, Chauvin remained on Floyd’s neck, she said. 

Floyd, she added, was “the only one that needed protection in that moment.” 

Only one defense attorney cross-examined Frazier: Lane’s attorney Earl Gray, who asked whether she'd seen Floyd being taken away in an ambulance. Frazier told him she didn’t remember. Lane’s case thus far has leaned heavily on the fact that he asked Chauvin twice whether the officers should roll Floyd on his side, checked his pulse, and provided CPR at the direction of paramedics after they took Floyd from the scene. 

Prosecutors rested their case after Frazier’s testimony, and attorneys for two of the former officers began arguing in favor of motions for acquittal each filed earlier Monday afternoon. Paule pointed out that Thao never touched Floyd and that he suggested the use of a hobble device, which would have required putting Floyd on his side in what police training calls the “recovery position.” Gray, meanwhile, argued that Chauvin took charge of the scene upon arrival and that their clients, both rookies, made efforts to save Floyd but were shot down by the senior officer. 

“I can’t believe this man is charged with this crime,” Gray said of Lane. “He provided medical aid to Floyd.” He also noted that paramedic Derek Smith, who took Floyd from the street and testified that he believed he was dead at the scene, had thanked Lane from the stand and said the officer was helpful to him and his partner. 

Bell responded that the officers’ actions revealed that they knew what they should do, but failed to follow through on that training. “Each of these officers knew that they had an obligation to provide medical care in these circumstances and failed to do so,” she said. 

Magnuson denied the motions, saying that he’d read briefs on each but that it was unlikely his position would change. Court wrapped for the day after one more revelation, when Thao and Kueng said they planned on testifying. Gray told Magnuson that while he had previously said his client would testify, he wanted to talk the question over more with Lane before making a final decision on that. 

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