Friday, September 22, 2023
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Last defendant in George Floyd murder convicted

A judge found that Tou Thao, who kept bystanders on the curb while Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd's neck and back, aided and abetted second-degree manslaughter.

MINNEAPOLIS (CN) — Former Minneapolis police officer Tou Thao has been convicted of aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter for his part in the deadly arrest of George Floyd in 2020.

Following a trial by stipulated evidence, Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill found that Thao knew his colleague Derek Chauvin was creating an unreasonable risk to Floyd, and intended for his presence and actions to aid Chauvin’s unlawful use of force. 

The longtime Minneapolis Police Department veteran, who stood between Chauvin and an increasingly upset group of bystanders while Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck and back for over nine minutes, could face a sentence of two or more years. 

Thao “actively encouraged his three colleagues’ dangerous prone restraint of Floyd while holding back a crowd of concerned bystanders begging the officers to render medical aid,” Cahill wrote in his verdict. He noted that Thao was captured on video telling the bystanders “he’s talking, so he’s fine” and “this is why you don’t do drugs, kids” to reinforce that finding. 

Cahill also dismissed the contention, made by defense attorneys for Thao and his former police department colleagues Chauvin, Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng, that the crowd of bystanders posed a threat to the officers or to Floyd, creating the need for force. “Although MPD officers are trained to call for backup and communicate with officers on scene when they feel a crowd of bystanders poses a risk, Thao did not call for law enforcement backup or ask Officer Chang (a nearby Park Police officer) to assist him with crowd control, undercutting any implication that the bystanders were truly hostile.” 

A second charge for aiding and abetting second-degree murder — the most severe charge for which Chauvin was convicted in April 2021— was dismissed pursuant to an agreement between the parties. 

Thao is already serving a 3 ½ year sentence in federal prison for violating Floyd’s civil rights. He agreed to a trial on stipulated evidence shortly after sentencing in his federal case, during which he delivered a lengthy speech denouncing prosecutors and encouraging them and Floyd’s family to “turn to God” as he said he had in jail. 

Thao is now set for sentencing for the state case on Aug. 7. The presumptive sentence for aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter is 48 months, but Cahill has discretion to modify that sentence. 

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, whose office led the prosecutions of Thao, Chauvin, Kueng and Lane, issued a statement on the verdict Tuesday morning. 

“While we have now reached the end of the prosecution of Floyd’s murder, it is not behind us. There is much more that prosecutors, law-enforcement leaders, rank-and-file officers, elected officials, and community can do to bring about true justice in law enforcement and true trust and safety in all communities,” Ellison said. He pushed for the passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, a reform bill introduced in 2021 which has been deadlocked since the House passed it early that year. 

Ellison also gave condolences to Floyd’s family. “Floyd’s loved ones can never have him back,” he said, “yet they have turned their private tragedy into a public movement for accountability, healing, and justice that keeps Floyd’s legacy vibrant and alive to this day and beyond.”

Thao’s attorney, Robert Paule, did not respond to a request for comment late Tuesday morning. 

Thao’s sentencing will mark the end of criminal proceedings related to Floyd’s death three years ago. Lane took a plea deal in his state court case shortly after his civil rights conviction in federal court, and Kueng followed suit not long after sentencing in the federal case. Following his second-degree murder conviction, Chauvin took a federal plea deal for civil rights violations against Floyd and a teenager he allegedly beat with a flashlight in 2014. 

A civil case brought by Floyd’s family against the officers and the City of Minneapolis, meanwhile, was settled for a record-breaking $27 million in 2021. Several cases against the city and other law-enforcement entities for alleged civil rights violations during protests of Floyd’s murder are ongoing.

Categories / Civil Rights, Criminal, National, Trials

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