St. Paul, MN – Jury selection began in the federal trial of three former Minneapolis police officers charged with violating George Floyd’s civil rights when they helped former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin arrest him.
A federal grand jury indicted all four officers in May of 2021 on charges that they violated Floyd’s civil rights during the incident that led to his death a year earlier.
A Hennepin County jury convicted Chauvin of second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter on April 20, 2021.
Former Minneapolis Police Officers J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas K. Lane, and Tou Thao are charged with aiding and abetting Floyd’s murder, but their state trials have been delayed until June 13 after the completion of their federal cases.
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced in May of 2021 that a federal grand jury had charged Chauvin, Thao, and Kueng each with two counts of deprivation of rights under color of law, NBC News reported.
Lane was charged with one count of deprivation of rights under color of law.
The indictment said that Chauvin “willfully deprived George Floyd of the right, secured and protected by the Constitution and laws of the United States, to be free from an unreasonable force by a police officer,” NBC News reported.
Thao and Kueng were charged with failing to intervene in Chauvin’s unreasonable use of force, CNN reported.
All four former police officers were federally charged for failing to render medical aid to Floyd.
The grand jury also handed down two counts against Chauvin related to a 2017 arrest he made of a 14-year-old boy who had been attacking his family members.
All four former officers initially pleaded not guilty to all of the federal charges.
But then Chauvin changed his plea to guilty on Dec. 15, 2021.
By pleading guilty to the federal charges, Chauvin will avoid another lengthy and expensive trial and may get a lesser sentence, NBC News reported.
Legal experts have said that it will be harder to convict the three other officers on the federal charges than on the state charges that are pending against them, the Associated Press reported.
“In the state case, they’re charged with what they did. That they aided and abetted Chauvin in some way,” former federal prosecutor Mark Osler explained. “In the federal case, they’re charged with what they didn’t do – and that’s an important distinction. It’s a different kind of accountability.”
The University of St. Thomas School of Law professor said that proving they willfully violated Floyd’s constitutional rights will be very difficult, the Associated Press reported.
State prosecutors are trying to prove the three men helped Chauvin commit murder or manslaughter, but federal prosecutors are trying to prove they failed to intervene.
Federal prosecutors have to prove that the now-former officers knew what they were doing was wrong, but proceeded to do it anyway, the Associated Press reported.
Federal civil rights violations that lead to death can result in sentences of up to life in prison or even the death penalty.
However, federal sentencing guidelines are based on complicated formulas that appeared to indicate the former Minneapolis officers would be sentenced to much less than the maximum if convicted, according to the Associated Press.
Former defense attorney and St. Cloud State University Professor John Baker said that all of the three officers facing trial now have strong defense arguments.
Baker said Chauvin was a training officer and attorneys for Lane and Kueng, both rookies in their first week on the job when Floyd died, could argue the new cops were just doing what a senior officer told them to do, the Associated Press reported.
He said that Thao’s attorneys can argue their client was just trying to keep the public from becoming involved in the arrest.
U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson began questioning jurors on Jan. 20 and said that he thought jury selection could be completed in two days, the Associated Press reported.
It took two weeks for a state jury to be chosen for Chauvin’s murder trial.
Magnuson said he expected the whole trial to last about four weeks, the Associated Press reported.
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.