Four former Minneapolis police officers accused of violating George Floyd’s civil rights pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to indictment in federal court.
In May, a federal grand jury indicted Derek Chauvin, Thomas Lane, J. Kueng and Tou Thao, nearly a year after Chauvin was seen kneeling on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes in videos that have sparked nationwide protests against police brutality and systemic racism.
Floyd, who was handcuffed and lying down, repeated “I can’t breathe” repeatedly as Kueng and Lane helped hold him down and Thao pushed passers-by away.
The officers are charged with violating a federal law that prohibits government officials from abusing their authority, and prosecutors must prove that they willfully deprived Floyd of his civil rights. Kueng and Thao, who saw Chauvin pin Floyd to the ground, were accused of not intervening. All four were charged with failing to provide medical assistance to Floyd.
If found guilty of causing bodily harm by violating the Federal Civil Rights Statue, the four could face fines or up to 10 years in prison, according to the Justice Department. Actions resulting in death can lead to a life sentence or the death penalty, but legal experts told MPR that was unlikely.
If Chauvin is found guilty in the federal case, that sentence would be served alongside his 270-month state sentence in Floyd’s death. A jury found him guilty in April of unintentional second degree murder, third degree murder and second degree manslaughter.
The four men appeared by video conference in Minneapolis so that lawyers could argue 40 pre-trial motions. Chauvin appeared from a room in the state maximum security prison.
From May :Derek Chauvin, 3 other former Minneapolis cops charged with civil rights charges in George Floyd’s death
At the start of the hearing on Tuesday, trial judge Tony Leung indicated that the question of the separation of the trials of Keung, Thao and Lane from those of Chauvin would be addressed.
In August, attorneys for Kueng and Thao demanded that their federal trials be separated from those of Chauvin, arguing that jurors would suffer unfair prejudice if they were tried with him. Lane’s attorney has asked to join the request, which prosecutors are opposed to.
At the time, prosecution and defense attorneys agreed the request was premature and asked to put it aside until more information was available, according to court documents.
Leung could also hear arguments over the amount of evidence prosecutors must turn to the defense, according to MPR. Prosecutors have already handed over more than 370 gigabytes of documents, audio and video footage, the outlet reported citing court documents.
“A more difficult case to prove”:What Chauvin’s guilty verdict means for three other officers accused of Floyd’s death
The federal indictment is separate from the state’s case against the agents. Lane, Kueng, and Thao are accused of aiding and abetting Floyd’s death.
In May, Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill, who presided over Chauvin’s trial, postponed the state trial until March 2022 so the federal case could move forward first. Cahill said he felt the need to put some distance between their trial and Chauvin’s conviction given the intense public interest.
Chauvin, who first appeared on federal charges in June, is also expected to return to federal court on Thursday for a separate charge alleging he knelt on the neck of a 14-year-old boy in 2017.
Drastic changes could happen to police in Minneapolis after Floyd’s death is calculated.
The Justice Department has launched a civilian investigation into the city’s policing practices, which will determine whether there is an unconstitutional or illegal policing model or practice and may result in major changes.
Meanwhile, residents of Minneapolis will vote in November on a ballot question that would change the city’s charter and replace the police department with a public safety department.
Contribution: The Associated PressFirst court appearance:Chauvin, convicted of George Floyd’s murder, appears on federal charges