Posted on January 23, 2022

Another Trial in the Killing of George Floyd, This Time for Other Officers at the Scene

Holly Bailey, Washington Post, January 20, 2022

Nine months after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of murder and manslaughter in the killing of George Floyd, the other officers at the scene face their turn in the courtroom.

A jury was seated Thursday in the federal trial of former officers J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas K. Lane and Tou Thao, who are charged with violating Floyd’s civil rights during the fatal May 2020 arrest, paving the way for opening statements to begin Monday. It is the first of two scheduled trials this year for the ex-officers, who are also facing state charges of aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s killing. They are set to stand trial in that case in June.

Kueng, Lane and Thao have pleaded not guilty in both cases. All three have signaled through their attorneys that they are likely to blame Floyd’s death on Chauvin, who was convicted in April on state charges of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter and sentenced to 22½ years in prison.

Chauvin pleaded guilty last month to separate federal charges that he violated Floyd’s constitutional rights when he knelt on the man’s neck and back for 9 minutes and 29 seconds as Floyd begged for breath and ultimately lost a pulse. Chauvin is awaiting sentencing in that case. Prosecutors said they would recommend a sentence of 25 years to be served concurrently with his murder conviction.


Susan Gaertner, former chief prosecutor in Ramsey County, Minn., said the convictions of Chauvin and Kimberly Potter suggested that the landscape around police-involved killings in the region had changed “dramatically” in the aftermath of Floyd’s death.

Gaertner pointed to the differences in how the officers had been charged and how aggressively their cases had been prosecuted. “But the big change is the apparent receptivity of juries to convict police officers when they harm or kill someone in the line of duty,” she said.

While judges often order juries to ignore everything they hear outside the courtroom, the racial reckoning after Floyd’s death had played out everywhere. “You combine all the different aspects of our society that is paying more attention to racial injustice and to expectations about police behavior, and that’s going to filter down into the 12 people that go into that jury deliberation room,” said Gaertner, who now works as a defense attorney in the Twin Cities. She said it is “humanly impossible” for jurors to completely ignore the events of the past two years even if a judge asks them to. “Our minds just don’t work that way.”

It’s a concern that appears to be on the minds not only of the attorneys for the former officers but also that of U.S. District Judge Paul A. Magnuson, who recently marked his 40th anniversary on the federal bench and was assigned to oversee the case. As in the Chauvin and Potter cases, the court summoned a larger-than-usual pool of potential jurors — about 300 people. Each person was asked to fill out a lengthy questionnaire probing their knowledge of the case and opinions on groups such as Black Lives Matter and the recent racial justice demonstrations.


The seated jury included seven women and five men. The six alternates included three men and three women. While the federal court did not release demographic information about the jury, pool reporters inside the courtroom said the panel appeared to be majority White.

Attorneys for the former officers have questioned in court filings whether their clients can receive a fair trial, pointing to the intense news coverage of Floyd’s death and Chauvin’s trial and conviction. {snip}


Several potential jurors told the judge they could not be impartial in the case because they had watched Chauvin’s trial or had relatives or friends who were police officers.

One juror was dismissed after he told the judge he could no longer view video of Floyd’s death. Another said that she was a resident of the Minneapolis suburbs and that she was disturbed by “vandalism” in the community in the aftermath of Floyd’s death.

Magnuson told the women that he understood concerns about “anarchy in the streets or whatever you want to call it” but that jurors could not let “fear” shape their views of the case. The woman was ultimately excused.

The jury pool questioned Thursday appeared to include only one Black man, an immigrant, from Hennepin County, who told the judge he was not sure he could be impartial “because of the color of my skin” and because of his religious faith in which he felt he could not “judge other human beings.”

“This case has nothing to do with race. It has nothing to do with religion,” Magnuson told the man.

“I still think I cannot do it,” the man replied, prompting the judge to excuse him from the case.

A federal grand jury indicted Chauvin, Kueng, Lane and Thao in May on charges that they violated Floyd’s constitutional rights when he was restrained and handcuffed face down on a Minneapolis street during an investigation of an alleged counterfeit $20 bill as he complained of struggling to breathe and ultimately lost consciousness.

Kueng, Lane and Thao were charged with failing to render medical aid to Floyd. Kueng and Thao were also charged with violating Floyd’s right to be free from unreasonable seizure by not intervening as Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck and back.