Chris Lange, FISM News
Opening statements in the trial of three former Minneapolis police officers involved in the arrest and death of George Floyd took place yesterday, as the latest trial surrounding the tragic event that rocked the nation last year got underway.
J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane, and Tou Thao are each accused of depriving Floyd, who was black, of his civil rights while acting under government authority. Prosecutors attest that they are guilty of failing to intervene and stop the actions of ex-officer Derek Chauvin that led to Floyd’s death. All three have pleaded not guilty to all charges and are being tried together.
Floyd was arrested outside a Minneapolis convenience store on May 25, 2020, on suspicion that he tried to use a counterfeit $20 bill to purchase cigarettes. During the arrest Chauvin, who is white, pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for 9 ½ minutes while Floyd, who was handcuffed at the time, said he couldn’t breathe and pleaded with Chauvin to stop.
During the incident, Kueng knelt on Floyd’s back and Lane held down his legs while Thao held back a group of onlookers trying to intervene. Video footage of the arrest sparked deadly riots across several U.S. cities and beyond and gave rise to the “Black Lives Matter” movement against police brutality and racial discrimination. Kueng is black, Lane is white, and Thao is Hmong American.
“For more than nine minutes, each of the three defendants made a conscious choice over and over again not to act,” said Federal prosecutor Samantha Trepelm from the U.S. Department of Justice’s civil rights division in opening arguments, according to Reuters.
One of the defense attorneys countered that Chauvin, as the senior officer on the scene, called “all of the shots” and accused the Minneapolis Police Department of not doing enough to train officers on how and when to intervene when a colleague should be stopped.
Jurors were shown video footage of the deadly encounter after the prosecutors and defense attorneys made opening remarks.
Lawyers for the three former officers say they had a right and a duty to arrest Floyd and were not criminally liable for Chauvin’s conduct.
“The death of Mr. Floyd is indeed a tragedy…. However, a tragedy is not a crime,” one attorney said during opening remarks.
Members of the Floyd family are expected to testify over the course of the trial. Mr. Lane is also expected to take the stand, though it is not clear if Kueng and Thao will testify.
Chauvin, 46, was convicted in April of second- and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in Floyd’s death and sentenced to 22-½ years in prison in a closely watched trial.