WASHINGTON – Four former Minneapolis cops were indicted Friday on unsealed federal charges for violating the civil rights of George Floyd, the black man whose murder last year sparked months of nationwide protests against violence policewoman.
The indictment came weeks after one of the officers, Derek Chauvin, was convicted of second degree murder in a public prosecution following Mr. Floyd’s death. The federal charges are another extraordinary censure of law enforcement officials, who have rarely been the subject of criminal charges for using lethal force, especially charges of violations of civil rights.
This is also a rare case where the Justice Department seeks charges after a local conviction, but before the rest of the case unfolds; the other three officers are awaiting a state trial in August. The ministry’s pursuit of an indictment by a grand jury even after Mr. Chauvin’s conviction also shows that officials believed that regardless of how the other cases are resolved, officers still had to be kept. responsible for violating the Constitution, former federal prosecutors have said.
The new charges also went beyond Mr. Chauvin’s conviction for Mr. Floyd’s death. A second federal indictment on Friday accused Mr. Chauvin of depriving a teenager of his civil rights during a meeting in 2017. Mr. Chauvin held the teenager by the throat, punched his head in repeatedly with a flashlight and pressed his knee to his neck and back while the minor was handcuffed, court documents show.
The Biden administration has repeatedly shown its intention to aggressively crack down on police misconduct, including announcing a broad investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department last month after Mr. Chauvin’s conviction.
“It is encouraging that the Department of Justice is using civil rights law in this case,” said Jonathan Smith, a former official in the department’s civil rights division. But, he added, it was too early to say whether the indictment indicated a willingness by the department to seek more such charges, noting that Mr. Chauvin’s murder conviction was also seen as an exception. to the norm in killings by the police.
Keith Ellison, the Minnesota attorney general who oversaw Mr. Chauvin’s prosecution of state charges, said it would be “entirely appropriate” for the Department of Justice to seek a federal conviction for the civil rights against him, “especially now that Derek Chauvin has been convicted of murder under Minnesota law for the death of George Floyd.” “
The indictment charges Mr. Chauvin, 45, and other former Minneapolis Police Department officers, Tou Thao, 35, J. Alexander Kueng, 27, and Thomas Lane, 38, of voluntarily depriving Mr. Floyd of his constitutional civil rights upon his arrest.
He alleged that Mr. Chauvin used unconstitutional and unreasonable force when he kept his knees on Mr. Floyd’s neck, back and arm while he was handcuffed and not resisting the ground, and that Mr. Thao and Mr. Kueng had deliberately failed to stop Mr. Chauvin from using unreasonable force.
The four men were charged with not willfully assisting Mr Floyd while he was lying in the field and clearly in need of medical attention, an act deemed to violate Mr Floyd’s constitutional right not to be deprived of his liberty without due process, including his right to be free from an officer’s willful indifference to serious medical needs.
Mr. Lane, Mr. Thao and Mr. Kueng appeared for the first time by video conference Friday before a magistrate judge of the United States District Court in Minneapolis. Mr. Chauvin, who is in prison, did not show up.
Under federal law, the Department of Justice can prosecute police officers for deliberately depriving individuals of their constitutional rights in the performance of their official duties. The statute is more regularly used in cases where officers are accused of raping people during traffic stops or guards of beating handcuffed prisoners, crimes for which it is fairly straightforward to prove that the officer had. the intention to violate the rights of the victim.
But federal prosecutors have been reluctant to lay the charge in high-level police killings because it is more difficult to meet the will standard of the law, which would mean proving that an officer intended to using excessive force to violate someone’s civil rights. The split-second nature of many police shootings, including those that are at the center of many of these cases, make them particularly difficult to prosecute.
“In a shooting incident in which an officer claims to have seen something that looked like a gun, where there was a fight going on, it is difficult to show that an officer intended to use force. excessive in violation of a person’s constitutional rights, ”Rachel said. Harmon, a former attorney in the Department of Justice’s civil rights division and director of the Center for Criminal Justice at the University of Virginia Law School.
The latest charges against Mr. Chauvin differ from the state’s case against him which resulted in a guilty verdict last month. Mr Chauvin is set to be sentenced in June for the murder of Mr Floyd, a charge that could put him in jail for decades. Murder cases are generally prosecuted by state or local law enforcement officials, rather than the Department of Justice.
Mr. Thao, Mr. Kueng and Mr. Lane are accused by the state of aiding and abetting second degree murder and of aiding and abetting second degree manslaughter. Their trial on these charges is scheduled to begin in August.
Sentences for federal civil rights violations range from up to one year in prison if the victim is not physically injured to life imprisonment or the death penalty if the civil rights violation results in death. .
The Justice Department typically waits for state or local prosecutors to adjudicate cases before seeking indictments for any federal violation and will often refuse to press charges if federal law enforcement officials find that the The state has achieved a fair result.
Prior to Mr. Floyd’s murder on May 25, officers traveled to Cup Foods, a south Minneapolis convenience store, to answer a 911 call from a store clerk who said Mr. Floyd had used a fake $ 20 ticket to buy cigarettes.
Mr. Kueng and Mr. Lane, both new to the force, arrived first. Mr. Lane approached Mr. Floyd’s car with his gun raised and turned to the side, pointing Mr. Floyd through the window of his car. Mr Thao and Mr Chauvin arrived shortly after, as the first two officers attempted to get Mr Floyd into the back of a police car and he resisted, telling them he was claustrophobic and that he had recently had the coronavirus.
They eventually pulled Mr. Floyd from the back of the car and put him on the ground, where Mr. Lane held his legs and Mr. Kueng put his weight on his back. Mr. Chauvin rested his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck. Mr Thao stood guard nearby as Mr Floyd gasped and ordered passers-by – worried about his deteriorating health – to stay on the sidewalk.
After spectators shouted at the officers to take care of Mr. Floyd, Mr. Kueng checked his pulse and said he couldn’t find it. The three officers continued to detain him. After emergency responders arrived, Mr. Floyd was loaded into an ambulance. He was pronounced dead in a hospital shortly after.
A day after Mr Floyd’s death, Medaria Arradondo, the Minneapolis Police Chief, fired the four officers as video of a teenager of the encounter began to ricochet around the world. Protests devastated the city for days, in which dozens of businesses and a police station were set on fire.
The grand jury indictment, which was filed Thursday, contrasts with other high-profile police assaults and assassinations of blacks the Department of Justice has investigated in recent years, including the murders of Eric Garner in 2014 on Staten Island; Tamir Rice, 12, in Cleveland; and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.
Prosecutors have cleared Darren Wilson, the Ferguson police officer who shot Mr Brown, of civil rights violations after an investigation. The department also found in a thorough investigation that Ferguson police routinely violated black rights, and federal officials called on the city to make changes to its criminal justice system and abandon its approach to the police. The Justice Department and the city have reached agreement on a court-watched roadmap for an overhaul.
But in the deaths of Mr Garner and Tamir Rice, prosecutors ultimately concluded that they could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the officers intended to deprive them of their constitutional rights when they found them. killed, the standard for civil rights charges.
“There is a movement to change federal law to allow a lower than will standard,” said Smith, who is now executive director of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs.
The federal indictments were separate from the Justice Department’s ongoing civil investigation into whether the Minneapolis Police Department was engaging in unconstitutional or illegal police activity – the first of two investigations in this type that Attorney General Merrick B. Garland has announced in recent weeks.
The other is in the Louisville Metro Police Department, whose officers shot dead 26-year-old medical worker Breonna Taylor in a botched drug raid.
These surveys are often the precursors of consent decrees, which are court-approved agreements between the Department of Justice and local governments that create and implement a pathway for training and operational changes.