Three former Minneapolis police officers were convicted Thursday of violating George Floyd’s civil rights, as a federal jury rejected their arguments that inexperience, improper training or the distraction of shouting bystanders excused them from failing to prevent Floyd’s killing.
Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane were convicted of depriving Floyd of his right to medical care as the 46-year-old Black man was pinned under fellow Officer Derek Chauvin’s knee for 9 1/2 minutes while handcuffed, facedown on the street on May 25, 2020. Kueng knelt on Floyd’s back, Lane held his legs and Thao kept bystanders back.
Thao and Kueng were also convicted of failing to intervene to stop Chauvin in the videotaped killing that sparked protests in Minneapolis and around the globe as part of a reckoning over racial injustice.
Lane shook his head and looked at his attorney as his verdict was read, according to a pool report. Thao and Kueng showed no visible emotion. Their attorneys declined to comment immediately after the verdict was read.
Acting United States Attorney Charles Kovats called the convictions a reminder that all sworn law enforcement officers have a duty to intervene.
“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.
The jury that appeared to be all-white reached the verdicts after two days of deliberations. Lane is white, Kueng is Black and Thao is Hmong American.
Conviction of a federal civil rights violation that results in death is punishable by life in prison or even death, but such sentences are extremely rare. The former officers will remain free on bond pending sentencing. No sentencing date has been set.
Chauvin, who is white, was convicted of murder last year in state court and pleaded guilty in December in the federal case. He was sentenced to 22 1/2 years in the state case. Under the plea deal in the federal case, both sides agreed Chauvin should face a sentence ranging from 20 to 25 years.
Chauvin and Thao went to the scene to help rookies Kueng and Lane after they responded to a call that Floyd used a counterfeit $20 bill at a corner store. Floyd struggled with officers as they tried to put him in a police SUV.
During the month-long federal trial, prosecutors sought to show that the officers violated their training, including when they failed to move Floyd or give him CPR. Prosecutors argued that Floyd’s condition was so serious that even bystanders without basic medical training could see he needed help.
The defense said their training was inadequate. Kueng and Lane both said they deferred to Chauvin as the senior officer at the scene. Thao testified that he relied on the other officers to care for Floyd’s medical needs as his attention was elsewhere.
Attorneys for the Floyd family said in a statement that the verdicts underscore the need for police departments nationwide to expand programs that encourage officers to stop other officers from using excessive force.
“These officers tried to devise any excuse that could let them wash the blood from their hands, but following these verdicts George’s blood will forever stain them,” the statement said.
Lane, Kueng and Thao also face a separate trial in June on state charges alleging that they aided and abetted murder and manslaughter.
The verdicts come just days after the conviction of three white men on hate crimes charges in Georgia in the death of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man who was chased and shot in February 2020.
—Amy Forliti, Steve Karnowski And Tammy Webber, The Associated Press