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Former cops convicted of violating George Floyd’s civil rights

The former officers’ federal trial is not the end of the road for them, as each still faces charges of aiding and abetting murder in state court.

ST. PAUL, Minn. (CN) — A Minnesota jury on Thursday found three former Minneapolis police officers guilty on all counts of violating George Floyd’s civil rights during his deadly arrest.

Jurors also found that the officers’ actions resulted in Floyd’s death, a determination that could carry a longer sentence.

The verdict came after about 13 hours of deliberations, which started Wednesday morning after a snowstorm dropped three inches of snow on St. Paul and closed court early on Tuesday. 

Floyd’s death under Derek Chauvin’s knee on May 25, 2020, sparked protests and social unrest in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and then around the world. All four officers involved in his arrest – Thomas Lane, Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng and 19-year veteran Chauvin – were arrested soon afterward on murder and aiding-and-abetting charges. They were later charged with federal civil rights violations. Chauvin took a plea deal after his murder conviction while Lane, Thao and Kueng went on trial this month.

The jury, pulled from a statewide pool, appeared to be entirely white after the dismissal of a juror of apparent Asian descent on Tuesday morning. The court did not release specific demographic information for the jurors. Illness and family commitments contributed to attrition of the jury over the course of the trial. By the end of the day Tuesday, the roster of 12 jurors and six alternates U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson sought during jury selection had dwindled to leave only two alternates. 

Magnuson ordered presentence investigations for all three officers and allowed them to leave the courthouse on bail conditions in light of their upcoming trial in Hennepin County District Court. He thanked jurors and those who helped to facilitate the trial before adjourning court for the day. 

Chauvin, who was shown on tape kneeling on Floyd’s neck for over nine minutes, was convicted of second- and third-degree murder and manslaughter last April, though the third-degree charge is unlikely to stick after a Minnesota Supreme Court decision in the case of fellow former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor. He pleaded guilty in December to one civil-rights charges related to Floyd’s death in exchange for the dismissal of a second and two other charges connected to his alleged restraint and beating of a teenager in 2017. 

Chauvin is in custody in Minnesota pending federal sentencing. He has already been sentenced to 22 years for second-degree murder, which he would serve concurrently with any federal sentence. Federal prosecutors have sought a 25-year sentence for Chauvin. He also faces tax-evasion charges in his home county on the eastern border of the state. 

Acting U.S. Attorney Charles Kovats gave a press conference after the verdict in which he thanked the jury, the prosecution team and the Floyd family. 

“These officers had a moral responsibility, a legal obligation, and a duty to intervene. And by failing to do so, they committed a crime,” Kovats said. 

“Officers Thao, Kueng and Lane on that day failed to fulfill this duty, and as a result, George Floyd senselessly died. That is why they were charged, that is why they were convicted. And although today’s verdict won’t bring George Floyd back to his family, or his friends, his community, and his loved ones, this outcome represents our collective affirmation to uphold George Floyd’s civil rights.” 

FBI special agent in charge Michael Paul said at the conference that the verdict “helps us reaffirm a very important standard for all of law enforcement across America.” 

Assistant U.S. Attorney LeeAnn Bell, who led the prosecution during the trial, said that “we haven’t been able to talk about George Floyd much during this trial, but as one of the bystanders said, George Floyd was a human being.” 

She thanked the Floyd family for their cooperation and patience with the investigation. “My hope, and the hope of our team, is that today’s verdict will bring a measure of justice,” she said.

“This is just accountability, it can never be justice,” Floyd’s brother Philonise Floyd said. The prosecution, he said, “did a hell of a job,” but “I can never get George back.” He called for an end to qualified immunity, no-knock warrants and chokeholds and for the passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, a bill drafted year in response to Floyd’s death. The bill was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives but was blocked in the Senate. 

Attorneys for the three officers did not offer comments after the verdict. 

The officers’ federal trial is not the end of the road for them, either. Each still faces charges of aiding and abetting murder in state court. That trial is set for June. 

Throughout the civil rights case, prosecutors have emphasized the doctrine that “in your custody is in your care” and the MPD’s duty-to-intervene policy, adopted in 2019. Under those policies, they argued, the officers should have asked or forced Chauvin to get off Floyd’s neck and provided medical aid. 

“They chose not to intervene. They chose not to aid George Floyd, as the window into which Mr. Floyd’s life could have been saved slammed shut,” prosecutor Manda Sertich said in her closing arguments. “This is a crime. The defendants are guilty as charged.”

Attorneys for the three officers variously argued that Floyd’s death was not Chauvin’s doing, that his struggle to stay out of Kueng and Lane’s squad justified the officers’ use of force, and that the senior officer had effectively taken over the scene and prevented any action. They also took aim at the MPD, showing jurors photos of training with officers performing the hold Chauvin used on Floyd– despite police administrators’ contentions that the hold wasn’t authorized under its policies. 

The defense also pointed to other inconsistencies between the reality of training and what police officials said was involved. Despite Inspector Katie Blackwell’s contention that the police academy had moved away from its “paramilitary” roots, each attorney argued, cadets were still drilled in military formations and expected to follow a military-modeled set of rules and command structure. 

Throughout trial, St. Paul’s Warren E. Burger Federal Building has been heavily barricaded and swarming with federal law enforcement. The scene on the street outside, however, has been dead silent. Recent protests of police uses of force in Minneapolis have been focused on the MPD’s killing of 22-year-old Amir Locke on Feb. 2. Locke, whose cousin was later arrested in connection with a St. Paul homicide, was killed during a no-knock warrant after reaching for a weapon. Locke was initially described as a murder suspect by MPD but charging documents for Locke’s cousin and a third man make no mention of Locke. 

Protests have remained centered in Minneapolis, where they have been a fixture since the killing of another Black man, Winston Smith, by a federal marshal task force last June. The two-year sentence handed down last week to former Brooklyn Center officer Kimberly Potter for her manslaughter convictions also brought scattered protests to the city and its northern suburb.

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