George Floyd death: Closing arguments begin in civil rights trial of 3 ex-officers

Assistant US Attorney Manda Sertich told jurors Tuesday during her closing argument that Thomas Lane, 38, J. Alexander Kueng, 28, and Tou Thao, 36, were all aware that Derek Chauvin was using unreasonable force and knew what procedures could help Floyd, but chose not to act on it.

Sertich argued that Thao and Kueng “had the ability, authority, opportunity, means, and duty to intervene,” adding that there was plenty of time for Kueng and Thao to take action.

“It wasn’t a split-second use of force like a gunshot,” she said, emphasizing Chauvin’s use of force was “not 30 seconds, not a minute: several minutes — 569 seconds.”

“Defendants Thao and Keung watched while George Floyd condition slowly deteriorated,” Sertich argued.

Sertich countered the defense’s argument that it would have been too much to ask of novice officers to know better and do something to help in this situation. She said the officers’ alleged inexperience did not make them unable to recognize a medical emergency situation. The defendants were aware of the level of force being used on Floyd, she said.

Three former officers have testified about what they saw when George Floyd died. Here's what they said

“Just look at the video of Thao staring at Chauvin while Chauvin presses his knee into Mr. Floyd’s neck, (who) then stops speaking, stops moving, loses consciousness,” Sertich said.

Even Lane, she pointed out, knew what needed to be done, as evidenced by his asking Chauvin twice whether they should turn Floyd over. But asking a question isn’t rendering medical aid, Sertich said.

“It is not complicated,” Sertich said in concluding her closing arguments. “All the witnesses, including the defendants, agreed they had a duty to intervene … They chose not to intervene, they chose not to aid Mr. Floyd.”

Defense attorneys for Lane rested their case Monday, and the prosecution did not call any rebuttal witnesses.

Defense attorney Robert Paule is currently delivering his closing argument for Thao. Attorneys for Kueng and Lane are also expected to deliver their closing remarks later Tuesday afternoon. Defense attorneys told US District Court Judge Paul Magnuson last week they’d each need between an hour and 90 minutes for their closing remarks.

A Hennepin County jury found Chauvin guilty of murder and manslaughter in April. He was sentenced to more than 22 years in prison. He awaits additional sentencing after pleading guilty in federal court to violating the civil rights of Floyd and, in a separate incident from 2017, a handcuffed 14-year-old. Prosecutors have asked that Chauvin be sentenced to 25 years, to be served concurrently with his state sentence.

Lane, Kueng and Thao also face a state trial later this year on charges of aiding and abetting in Floyd’s murder. They have pleaded not guilty.

It began with a report of a counterfeit $20 bill

In opening statements, the prosecution alleged the officers committed federal crimes by repeatedly ignoring Floyd’s cries of, “I can’t breathe.” Bystander video shows Floyd, pinned under Chauvin, pleading with officers as he desperately gasps for air before passing out. He was declared dead later that night.

Lane and Kueng were the first to respond to Cup Foods on May 25, 2020, after a report that Floyd had attempted to pass a fake $20 bill. It was Lane’s fourth day with the Minneapolis Police Department.

Floyd wouldn’t immediately answer questions, was “very hyperactive” and appeared to have white foam around his mouth, Kueng testified.

“He seemed to snap and started yelling,” Lane said.

Chauvin and Thao soon responded to the scene. Floyd was “very sweaty” and appeared to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol, Thao said. While the county’s chief medical examiner ruled Floyd died from cardiopulmonary arrest during “law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression,” Dr. Andrew Baker also testified in Chauvin’s trial last year that fentanyl and heart disease were contributing factors — but not the main cause.
George Floyd was 46 years old when a Minneapolis police officer killed him.

Floyd resisted getting into a patrol vehicle, telling officers he was claustrophobic, video from the scene shows. Lane testified he tried to de-escalate the situation by assuring the 46-year-old that he would get into the vehicle with him and roll down the windows.

Floyd’s legs at one point “kind of collapsed without reason,” Kueng said, and “his behavior just went to extreme measures.” Floyd attempted to “launch himself” while fighting the officers trying to place him in the patrol vehicle, Thao testified.

Chauvin informed his colleagues Floyd needed to be taken to the ground, Kueng said, and Thao explained that the intention was to protect him and any bystanders. No one meant to hurt Floyd, Thao said.

It was not unusual to see Minneapolis officers use their knees during an arrest, Thao said. The knee-to-neck move is banned by several police departments, but the MPD allows officers to restrain suspects’ necks if they’re aggressive or resisting.

Floyd was unarmed and handcuffed when he was pinned to the ground.

Ex-officer snaps at prosecutor on stand

Thao began conducting crowd and traffic control, he said, adding that the bystanders had begun to “cause issues.” Asked why he never asked Chauvin to get off of Floyd’s neck, Thao snapped, “I think I would trust a 19-year veteran to figure it out.”

Kueng could not determine how much pressure Chauvin was applying to Floyd’s neck, he testified, but he didn’t think Floyd had stopped breathing.

Lane, who was holding Floyd’s legs, twice asked Chauvin if Floyd should be repositioned, and Chauvin responded, “We’re good,” Lane testified. When Lane expressed concern about Floyd possibly experiencing “excited delirium,” Chauvin told him, “That’s why we got him on his stomach and that’s why the ambulance is coming,” according to Lane’s testimony.

Thomas Lane testifies in his own defense Monday.

About 5 minutes after Kueng told Lane he could not find a pulse, Lane began administering CPR on Floyd, Lane testified, conceding that CPR should have, ideally, begun immediately after Kueng announced Floyd had no pulse.

It wasn’t until a homicide detective arrived on the scene that Kueng realize Floyd was dead, Kueng testified.

Prosecutors allege Floyd might’ve lived if not for the officers’ decision to ignore his cries.

“Each made a conscious choice over and over again,” Samantha Trepel, special litigation counsel from the US Justice Department’s civil rights division, said in opening statements. “They chose not to intervene and stop Chauvin as he killed a man. They chose not to protect George Floyd, the man they handcuffed.”

Because the alleged crime ended in Floyd’s death, a guilty verdict on a count of deprivation of rights under the color of law commands a hefty maximum sentence. Though the US code permits the death penalty in such cases, prosecutors have not indicated they would pursue such a sentence. Thus, a guilty verdict could mean fines for the three officers and sentences up to life in prison.

CNN’s Bill Kirkos, Brad Parks, Julia Jones and Dakin Andone contributed to this report.

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