ST. PAUL, Minn. (CN) — Jurors in the federal trial of three officers who assisted in the deadly arrest of George Floyd heard opening statements Monday.
Attorneys from the Minnesota U.S. Attorney’s Office laid out their case against former Minneapolis police officers Tou Thao, Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng, who responded alongside colleague Derek Chauvin to a forgery call and participated in Floyd’s fatal neck restraint.
Immediately afterward, Thao’s attorney Robert Paule and Kueng’s attorney Thomas Plunkett laid out their perspectives on the case, in which both argued that a viral video did not show the full circumstances of Floyd’s arrest and death and Plunkett said his client was a victim of systemic failures by the Minneapolis Police Department.
Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, died on Memorial Day 2020 after Chauvin knelt on his neck for over nine minutes. Kueng and Lane, who had first apprehended Floyd on suspicion of forgery, knelt on Floyd’s back and legs respectively, while Thao stood nearby and kept an increasingly distressed group of bystanders away.
One of those bystanders posted a video she took of Floyd’s death, which quickly went viral and sparked protests around the globe. In Minneapolis, several days of confrontations with police at the city’s Third Precinct, where all four officers were based, ended with officers abandoning the precinct and protesters burning it down. Fires and property destruction died down after a few days, but protests continued for months following Floyd’s death.
Samantha Trepel of acting U.S. Attorney Charles Kovats’ office made the prosecution’s opening statement against the three officers. She stressed the “in your custody is in your care” doctrine, and pointed to several points during Chauvin’s fatal restraint of Floyd during which the officers could have intervened.
Trepel also sought to contravene the idea that Lane and Kueng, each of whom had only a few days on the job as fully sworn-in officers, could be less culpable by virtue of their inexperience.
“Each of these defendants wore the same badge and took the same oath,” she said. She also stressed that the pair had over a year of training under their belts, including on providing CPR and the dangers of keeping handcuffed subjects in the prone position.
Trepel argued that while Lane’s efforts to provide CPR after paramedics removed Floyd from the scene had led prosecutors to bring one less charge against him, he hadn’t acted on concerns about Floyd’s safety when it counted.
“After four minutes, defendant Lane asked, ‘should we roll him on his side?’” Trepel told jurors. “Like every MPD officer, he was trained, again and again, on the answer to that question. ‘Yes, you’ve got to.’” When Chauvin and Kueng disagreed, she said, Lane did nothing. Asking a second time and receiving no response, she said, yielded no more action.
Paule, meanwhile, argued that bystander Darnell Frazier’s video of Floyd’s slow death told only a fraction of the story of events on May 25, 2020. He said that Floyd, when approached by Lane and told to put his hands on the steering wheel, instead reached into the center console of the vehicle he was in, where drugs and counterfeit bills were later found. He also noted Thao’s comments that the 38th and Chicago area was “Bloods territory,” and that at different points during his arrest Floyd had physically resisted officers and disobeyed commands.
“The fact that Mr. Floyd lost his life under tragic circumstances, it is a tragedy,” Paule said. “But that does not mean that the actions of Mr. Thao were criminal.”