St. Paul, MN – Jury deliberations began Wednesday in the federal trials of the three former Minneapolis police officers that have been charged with helping former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin trample George Floyd’s civil rights when he died as they were arresting him.
Attorneys made closing arguments on Tuesday afternoon and then U.S. District Court Judge Paul Magnuson closed the courthouse early because of an impending snow storm, CNN reported.
“It’s being done for the safety of everybody involved in this matter,” Magnuson explained.
The judge said he would begin Feb. 23 with jury instructions and then send the panel to deliberate, CNN reported.
A federal grand jury indicted Chauvin and the three officers who were with him 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 in Hennepin County 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 and initially pleaded not guilty to all of the federal charges.
But then Chauvin changed his plea to guilty on Dec. 15, 2021, avoiding a lengthy and expensive trial.
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.
Prosecutors argued through the federal trial in recent weeks that Lane, Kueng, and Thao had all known that Chauvin was using unreasonable force on Floyd but chose not to intervene, CNN reported.
However, defense attorneys argued their clients were either inconsistently-trained, too inexperienced to intervene, and never intended to harm Floyd.
“Just because something has a tragic ending doesn’t mean it’s a crime,” Thao’s attorney, Robert Paule, told the jury.
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 have 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.
The criticism has cast a bright light on the beleaguered Minneapolis police, who are already under a federal investigation and monitoring, The Washington Post reported.
Attorneys for Kueng and Lane have 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.
Minneapolis Police Officer Nicole Mackenzie, who is responsible for the police department’s medical training, testified that she thought Lane hadn’t tried hard enough to get Chauvin to do the right thing, The Washington Post reported.
“He was making the right suggestions. I believe he recognized this was a medical emergency that needed intervention, and I believe he was trying to get people on board,” Officer Mackenzie told the jury.
But then she testified that “suggesting aid and actually rendering aid are two very different things. … A suggestion will not pump blood through your system,” The Washington Post reported.
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 realized 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.
Paule also showed the jury a video of Minneapolis police training that showed cadets being trained to press their knees into a person’s neck during defensive-tactics classes, The Washington Post reported.
If convicted, all three officers could face up to life in prison and hefty fines because their crimes resulted in Floyd’s death.
They could be even be given the death penalty, but prosecutors have not indicated that they were going to pursue capital punishment in the case, The Washington Post reported.