Minneapolis, MN – Former Minneapolis Police Officers J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao formally rejected a plea deal from prosecutors on Monday that would have let them avoid the state trial and more prison time than they’re already serving on federal civil rights charges.
At the hearing held in Hennepin County court before District Judge Peter Cahill on Aug. 15, Minnesota Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank offered to drop the charges against Kueng and Thao for aiding and abetting the second-degree murder of George Floyd if they pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of aiding and abetting manslaughter, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.
Frank said prosecutors would recommend that Kueng and Thao each be sentenced to a three-year prison term that would be served concurrently with the federal prison sentences they’re currently serving.
Kueng and Thao were sentenced to three and three-and-a-half years, respectively, last month for violating Floyd’s civil rights.
Both former Minneapolis police officers turned down the prosecutor’s offer in front of the judge, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.
“It would be a lie and a sin for me to accept a plea deal,” Thao told Cahill.
Frank said the plea deal offer expired on Aug. 15, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.
The two former officers are scheduled for trial starting on Oct. 24.
Kueng and Thao are the last two former Minneapolis police officers facing charges in connection with Floyd’s death as he was being arrested on May 25, 2020.
Former Minneapolis Police Officer Thomas Lane has already pleaded guilty to state charges of aiding and abetting Chauvin and is awaiting sentencing.
Lane was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in federal prison on July 21 for violating Floyd’s civil rights.
Former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of Floyd’s murder in state court in April of 2021 and was sentenced to 22-and-a-half-years in prison.
He pleaded guilty and entered a plea agreement in federal court on the civil rights charges that allowed him to avoid a second lengthy and expensive trial and was sentenced to 21 years in July.
Kueng and Thao remain charged in Hennepin County with aiding and abetting Floyd’s murder, but their state trials were repeatedly delayed until after the completion of their federal cases.
Two of the officers – Lane and Keung – charged in connection with Floyd’s death were rookies under the tutelage of Chauvin, who was Keung’s field training officer (FTO), KMSP reported.
Lane’s attorney, Earl Gray, said that Floyd’s arrest occurred during Lane’s third shift as an officer and Kueng’s second shift on the police force.
Thao, a nine-year veteran of the Minneapolis police at the time of Floyd’s death, testified in the federal trial that he didn’t know if Chauvin had violated policy when he put a knee on Floyd’s neck because he had repeatedly seen the move demonstrated at the police academy, The Washington Post reported.
During Chauvin’s state trial, police trainers testified that the moves used by officers the day that Floyd died were not taught or sanctioned.
However, Thao’s attorneys entered into evidence a disk of pictures provided by the police department to graduating cadets so they would “have some memories of our academy days” that proved the moves Chauvin used on Floyd were taught and practiced in training at the police academy, The Washington Post reported.
Those “memories” included multiples images of Minneapolis police trainees practicing arrest techniques under instructors’ tutelage by pressing their knees into a prone subject’s neck in much the same manner that Chauvin restrained Floyd.
At least one picture showed an instructor standing to the side and not appearing to correct the move in training sessions, The Washington Post reported.
Kueng and Lane’s attorneys sought to place blame for any violations of Floyd’s civil rights on the Minneapolis Police Department which had just completed their training when the incident occurred that left the arrestee dead.
Attorneys for Kueng and Lane argued that Chauvin was in command of the scene and videos have shown that when the officers questioned their trainer during the arrest of Floyd, he shut down their concerns, including Lane’s suggestion they “roll” the suspect to a different position.
Kueng’s attorney, Thomas Plunkett, entered into evidence the police department policy manual that said officers who were trained to use a neck restraint had “authorization” to use it on a suspect.
“He was my senior officer, and I trusted his advice,” Kueng repeatedly told the jury, emphasizing the academy had taught cadets to follow the commands of senior officers.
He said he didn’t realize that Floyd had died until a homicide detective arrived on the scene, The Washington Post reported.
Chauvin had 19 years on the police department on the day of Floyd’s arrest and death.
Floyd died in the custody of the Minneapolis police on May 25, 2020, after officers responded to a call about a counterfeit $20 that he had allegedly used to make a purchase at a deli.
Store employees pointed out the suspect to police and they arrested him.
The complaint used to charge Chauvin said Floyd actively resisted arrest and then fought being put in the back of a police car once he had been handcuffed.
Cell phone video showed then-Officer Chauvin and three other officers holding Floyd on the ground.
The video showed Officer Chauvin held his knee on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes, during which time the suspect lost consciousness.
Chauvin remained on Floyd’s neck for almost three minutes after he was unresponsive.