Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office via AP File
MINNEAPOLIS – Four former Minneapolis police officers accused of violating George Floyd’s civil rights pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to federal charges against them.
A federal grand jury indicted Derek Chauvin, Thomas Lane, J. Kueng and Tou Thao in May for allegedly depriving Floyd of his rights while acting under government authority on May 25, 2020, while Floyd, 46, , was being held face down, handcuffed and not resisting in a detention which was captured on a bystander video. His death sparked protests around the world and calls for a change in the police.
The four men appeared remotely at the hearing by videoconference. Chauvin appeared in a room in the state’s maximum security prison, where he is serving a 22-and-a-half-year sentence for murder in Floyd’s death. The other three men appeared from a distance alongside their lawyers.
Prosecutors and lawyers for the former officers are also defending their positions on around 40 preliminary motions on Tuesday.
Among them, Kueng and Thao demanded that their federal trials be separated from Chauvin’s, saying they would suffer unfair prejudice if they went to a trial alongside him. Lane has asked to join the request, which prosecutors are opposed to. US trial judge Tony Leung has said he will take oral arguments on this motion.
Keung’s attorney, Tom Plunkett, wrote in court documents that the evidence against Chauvin would confuse the jury and deprive Kueng of his right to a fair trial. He also said there was a conflict of interest due to Chauvin’s level of culpability in Floyd’s death, saying “jurors will not be able to follow the court’s instructions and compartmentalize the evidence regarding Mr. Kueng “.
Prosecutors have said in court documents that the four former officers should be tried together because the charges stem from the same event and the evidence is similar.
The federal indictment alleges that Chauvin violated Floyd’s right to be free from unreasonable seizure and unreasonable force by a police officer. Thao and Kueng are accused of violating Floyd’s right to be safe from unreasonable seizure by not intervening to stop Chauvin as he knelt on Floyd’s neck. The four officers are also accused of depriving Floyd of his rights when they failed to provide him with medical care.
During Floyd’s arrest, he repeatedly said he couldn’t breathe as Chauvin tackled him to the ground. Kueng and Lane helped restrain Floyd; Kueng knelt on Floyd’s back and Lane held Floyd’s legs, according to evidence in state court. Thao restrained passers-by and prevented them from intervening during the 9 and a half minutes of restraint.
The four officers were also charged in state court, where Chauvin’s trial was ultimately separated from the others due to space restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Chauvin was convicted in April of murder and manslaughter and was sentenced to 22 and a half years. The other three former officers will be tried by the state next March for complicity.
Chauvin is also indicted in a separate federal indictment alleging that he violated the civil rights of a 14-year-old boy in 2017.
Meanwhile, the federal government is investigating police practices in Minneapolis. The investigation known as the “model or practice” – examining whether there is an unconstitutional or illegal policing model or practice – includes a thorough examination of the entire police service. This could lead to major changes in policing in the city of Minnesota.