First of Four Cops Charged in the Death of George Floyd Will Plead Not Guilty to Second-Degree Murder and Manslaughter
Laura Collins, Daily Mail, June 29, 2020
The first of the four officers to indicate how he intends to plea in the killing of George Floyd will plead not guilty to all charges, DailyMail.com can reveal.
J Alexander Kueng stated his intentions in a court filing seen by DailyMail.com.
The papers filed by attorney Thomas Plunkett state that the ex-cop intends to plead not guilty and use the defenses of self defense, justifiable force and authorized use of force.
It was filed just a few hours after he and his fellow defendants officers appeared in Hennepin County District Court for a pretrial hearing.
The judge presiding over pre-trial hearings of the four ex-cops accused of killing George Floyd has threatened to issue a gag order if attorneys cannot stem the flow of statements and information leaked by family members, friends and others close to the case.
Judge Peter Cahill gave the stern warning today at a series of brief pre-trial hearings that saw Derek Chauvin, 44, Tou Thao, 34, Thomas Lane, 37 and J Alexander Kueng, 26 back before a judge for the second time since all four were charged.
Chauvin is charged on three counts: second degree murder, third degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The three other officers face charges of aiding and abetting second degree murder and manslaughter.
Speaking to each of their attorneys in turn and addressing Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank, Hennepin County District Court Judge Cahill said, ‘The court is not going to be happy reading about…any discussions of the merits of the case or the guilt or innocence of any parties.’
He urged the attorneys to silence all those over whom they had influence and added, ‘From this day forward everyone has had their warning if they don’t heed the court instruction it will be a gag order and possibly a change of venue.’
The issue of where to hold the officers’ trials has not yet been determined nor has it been decided if they are to be tried separately or jointly.
But Judge Cahill was clear that the publicity, statements and leaks from various camps were all ‘pushing the case towards a change of venue.’
Benjamin Crump, attorney for George Floyd’s family was singled out for particular criticism by both the judge and Assistant Attorney General Frank who accused Crump of leaking the details of a meeting at which he and Attorney General Keith Ellison had met with Floyd’s family in confidence in Houston.
Earlier the court had decided to ban televisual and audio recording of today and all pre-trial hearings despite strong objections from the defense of all four men who have argued that such a public airing is vital for the officers to receive a fair trial.
Coverage of the actual trial has yet to be decided.
Chauvin was the first to appear and the only of the accused to do so via video link from the maximum security of Minnesota Correctional Facility Oak Park Heights, where he will be held until his trial.
He spoke clearly but was barely visible on the screen that broadcast his brief appearance.
He raised no objections when the court date for his trial was set as March 8, 2021 though the judge informed him that, as he was in custody, he could demand a trial within 60 days.
The State and his defense both asked for more time to wade through discovery that, as of Friday, ran to 8130 documents and 750 audio visual recordings.
Thao was next, he appeared in person, cuffed and standing behind a Perspex barrier. His expression was unreadable behind his mask. Four family members sat in the front row as he was taken through the same formalities as Chauvin had been just moments earlier.
His attorney Robert Paule pushed for the court to intervene to stop prejudicial pre-trial publicity and noted that it was hard to see how the attorneys could hold sway when, he said, ‘We’ve had public comments by Trump, the Governor or Minnesota, the Attorney General, the Chief of Police who’s appeared on 60minutes and the Mayor as well as the Head of the Department of Public Safety.’
Paule said that he no longer intended to give the public statement he had planned after today’s proceedings and added, ‘All of these [officials] have been making public comments and some of the stuff that’s been said if inadmissible in evidence.
‘Quite frankly I don’t understand why they’ve been saying what they have.’
Kueng was next – dressed in dark suit pants and a vest with a striped shirt and tie he was mask less as he stood next to his attorney Thomas Plunkett.
Lane was last. He strode confidently into courtroom 141, taking his mask off when he reached the podium before the judge. He stood a full head taller than his attorney Earl Gray but said little other than to offer no objections to the judge on any point though his attorney noted his intention to file motions between now and the next court date set for all four which was September 11.
Judge Cahill informed him that, if the trials of all four officers are held individually, the two who remain in custody would be heard first and likely push Lane’s trial well beyond the provision date of March 8. Asked if that was okay with him Lane simply replied, ‘Yes your honor.’
There was nobody in court to support Chauvin as he appeared, a tiny spec of prison regulation orange, on the monitor before the judge.
Family members for the other officers came and went as each appeared including four members of Thao’s family who walked stiffly into the courtroom to witness his second appearance and Kueng’s mother, Joni, with her distinctive shock of peroxide blond hair.
She showed no emotion in court but was seen embracing friends outside.
Only Floyd’s family members were a constant throughout. Floyd’s uncle Selwyn Jones and aunt Angela Harrelson sat in the front row on the left of the courtroom, while the ex-cops’ supporters sat just feet away on the right. None made eye-contact.
At one point the judge cautioned Jones not to react to proceedings though it was unclear what Floyd’s uncle, who was wearing a mask in keeping with the court’s social distancing regulations had done or said.
It is just over a month since the officers were arrested and video of Floyd’s death ignited outrage that erupted into violence and protest across the world as millions bore witness to the 46-year-old father of three’s agonizing final moments; 8minutes and 46 seconds, dying under Chauvin’s knee while the other three accused held him down.
In the time since then the city and the lives of all those immediately effected has changed almost beyond recognition.
Last week the City Council voted 12 to 0 to abolish the Minneapolis Police Department and replace it with a ‘department of community safety and violence prevention.’ The new department, they envisioned, would offer ‘a holistic, public health-oriented approach.’
The move – opposed by Mayor Jacob Frey – must overcome significant bureaucratic obstacles if it is to be ready to go to the ballot in November.
On the same day it emerged that three members of the council had been provided with private security detail costing the taxpayers $63,000 after they received death threats for supporting proposals to defend the beleaguered police department.
Council members Andrea Jenkins, Phillipe Cunningham and Alondra Cano have each received protection for the past three weeks at a rate of $4300 a day.
Two of the three officers who failed to intervene as Floyd died have made bail which was set for all three at $1million unconditional, $750,000 conditional.
Thomas Lane was released Wednesday June 10. J Alexander Kueng was released Friday June 19 and within hours had been accosted by an angry member of the public as he shopped at Cub Foods in Plymouth, Minnesota.
A brief video clip showed Kueng clutching a packet of OREOs as the woman berated him, ‘You’re literally outside here comfortably as if you didn’t kill that man? Did you think that people wouldn’t recognize you? You don’t have the right to be here. You killed somebody in cold blood – you do not have the right to be here.’
For his part Kueng’s attorney, Thomas Plunkett has consistently painted his client as a ‘young African American male who grew up with an absentee father and a single mother’ who turned to law enforcement to make his community, ‘a better place.’
But members of Kueng’s own family have spoken out against him. Kueng who has a Nigerian father and white mother was raised in ‘a racially diverse family,’ according to his mother Joni who adopted four at risk children who she raised along with Kueng.
Speaking in a recent New York Times article his mother described what has happened with her son as a ‘gut punch’ while his adopted sister, Radiance, dismissed the idea that her brother’s inexperience (he was three days on the job) was any excuse for his failure to stop the horror that unfolded that day.
She told the publication, ‘I don’t care if it was his third day at work or not. He knows right from wrong.’ According to Radiance there was no doubt in her mind that her brother should have intervened, and she is now considering changing her last name, so she is no longer associated with him.
Lane has kept a low profile though his attorney Earl Gray has launched a vociferous media campaign to argue his client’s innocence and place blame firmly on Chauvin’s shoulders. Pointing to Chauvin’s seniority Gray argued that Lane, who was also a rookie, raised objections but could not be expected to do anything more than he had done and ultimately had no choice but to fall in line with the senior officer.
‘What was he supposed to do?’ he asked in a string of media appearances, ‘Tell Chauvin to get off?’
He has maintained that his client is a ‘good guy,’ and has reminded all who will listen that Lane was the only one of the officers involved to have attempted to administer CPR to the already dead man.
Both Thao and Chauvin, whose bail was set at $1.25million, have remained in custody; Tao in Hennepin County Jail and Chauvin, in the maximum-security Minnesota Correctional Facility in Oak Park Heights.
The senior officer was moved there on June 1 amid security concerns. Eight correction officers – half of whom are black, all of whom are people of color – have filed official complaints in the interim stating that they have been prevented from bringing Chauvin to his cell solely on the basis of their race.
They claim that the orders which came from Ramsey County Superintendent Steve Lydon, who is white, amounted to segregation and suggested that he did not believe they could be trusted to do their jobs because they were not white.
No family members have spoken and Chauvin’s wife of ten years, former Minneapolis pageant queen Kellie, 45, swiftly off-loaded her disgraced husband, filing for divorce the day before he was charged.
If convicted Chauvin faces up to 40 years in prison for second degree murder. The men charged with aiding and abetting him face the same penalty if convicted on the most serious charges, while their second charge – aiding and abetting second degree manslaughter – carries a sentence of up to 10 years and a maximum fine of $20,000.
The actions of all four officers are now all too well-rehearsed and set down in a detailed Statement of Probable Cause pieced together from surveillance footage, interviews with witnesses and their own body cameras.
Officers Lane and Kueng were the first to arrive at the scene at 8.08pm, May 25 when someone made a 911 call reporting a man for buying merchandise from Cup Foods with a counterfeit $20.
Floyd was parked in a car just around the corner when the officers arrived. There were three people in the car, with Floyd in the driver’s seat. As Lane began speaking with Floyd through his open window he pulled his gun and asked Floyd to show him his hands.
Floyd placed his hands on the steering wheel and Lane reholstered his gun.
The footage goes on to show Floyd complying with all the officers’ requests – getting out of the car, sitting on the ground, being handcuffed.
The probable cause statement notes that as he sat on the ground, ‘Floyd said, ‘Thank you man,’ and was calm.’
It was only when Lane stood Floyd up and tried to get him into the squad car that the man ‘stiffened’ and fell to the ground.
The statement said, ‘Mr Floyd told the officers that he was not resisting but did not want to get in the back seat and was claustrophobic.’
Chauvin and Thao arrived in separate squad cars at this point and all four officers began trying to push Floyd into the car as he, ‘repeatedly said that he could not breathe.’
At 8.19pm Chauvin pulled Floyd from the car and he went to the ground face down. Keung had his back, Lane held his legs, Chauvin placed his knee on Floyd’s neck in an act that has reverberated around the world.
Floyd said, ‘I’m about to die,’ he repeatedly called for his ‘mama’ and said he could not breathe but they held their positions as Chauvin pressed the life out of the 46-year-old father of two.
After five minutes Floyd stopped moving, after six he fell silent and stopped breathing. Lane said he ‘wanted to roll him on his side.’ Kueng check his wrist and found no pulse.
Still they held their positions. Two minutes later at 8.27pm Chauvin finally relinquished his pressure. By then he was holding down a dead man.