Completion of Federal Criminal Cases Over Killing of George Floyd

The federal criminal cases over the May 2020 Minneapolis killing of George Floyd started with the May 2021 grand jury indictment of the four ex-Minneapolis police officers who were involved (Derek Chauvin, J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao). The significant subsequent events in those cases were the December 2021 guilty plea of Chauvin; the January-February 2022 federal jury trial of the other three defendants and their guilty verdict; and the July 2022 sentencing of all four defendants. Here are some of the details of those events.

The Criminal Indictment[1]

On May 7, 2021, the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota unsealed the federal grand jury indictment of four ex-Minneapolis police officers (Chauvin, Lane, Kueng and Thao) for allegedly using the “color of the law” on May 25, 2020 to deprive  George Floyd of his constitutional rights to be “free from the use of unreasonable force” when Chauvin held Floyd down by the neck for more than nine minutes while the others did nothing to stop Chauvin. In addition, all four were charged with failing to help provide medical care to Floyd and “thereby acting with deliberate indifference to create a substantial risk of harm.”

Chauvin’s Guilty Plea[2]

On December 15, 2021, at the St. Paul federal courthouse Derek Chauvin pleaded guilty to two counts of depriving George Floyd of his federally-protected civil rights by pinning his knee against Floyd’s neck and by failing to provide medical care for Floyd on May 25, 2020, ultimately causing his death. Chauvin also pleaded guilty to separate federal charges for holding down with his knee a 14-year-old boy in 2007 and failing to provide medical care to the boy and thereby causing non-fatal injuries.

On May 4, 2022, U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson issued an Order accepting Chauvin’s plea agreement and stating that the court “will sentence Defendant in accordance with the terms of the plea agreement,” which provided that both sides agreed he should face a sentence from 20 to 25 years.

Federal Criminal Trial of the Other Three Defendants[3]

Lane , Kueng and Thao went to trial on these charges in January 2022. On February 24, 2022, the jury rendered its verdict that all three were guilty of all charges.

Federal Sentencing of Chauvin[4]

On July 7, 2022, in accordance with that approved plea agreement, Judge Magnuson  sentenced Chauvin to 245 months (20.4 years) in federal prison for these crimes. Said the Judge, ““I really don’t know why you did what you did. But to put your knee on another person’s neck until they expire is simply wrong and for that conduct you must be substantially punished. Your conduct is wrong and it is offensive. To put a knee on another person’s neck is unconscionable.” In addition, the Judge said that Chauvin’s taking control of the Floyd arrest had “absolutely destroyed the lives of three other young officers [Lane, Kueng and Thao].”

Federal Sentencing of Lane[5]

On June 29, 2022, federal prosecutors in a written brief asked the federal court to impose a sentence of up to 6.5 years for Lane’s conviction.

At the July 21st hearing on Lane’s sentencing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Manda Sertich argued, “It is fair and reasonable for a police officer to act when they both appreciate the seriousness of the situation and have the training to make a difference. But there has to be a line where blindly following a senior officer’s lead even for the newest officers cannot be acceptable and that line is surely crossed when someone is dying slowly in front of the new officer.” Moreover, she said, Lane’s decision not to provide Floyd with medical aid was a “catastrophic lapse” that resulted in Floyd’s death.

In response, Lane’s attorney, Earl Gray, argued that Lane should receive downwards departures from the sentencing guidelines because he was “substantially less culpable” than the other defendants and had accepted responsibility for the crime with his guilty plea to the state criminal charges.

Others who made comments at the hearing were George Floyd’s brother, Philonise Floyd, who asked the judge to impose the maximum sentence on Lane, and George Floyd’s girlfriend, Courtney Ross, who said she did not believe Lane was a bad guy, but still had to pay his dues while hoping that he would find his “inner hero” when he gets out of prison.

U.S. District Court Judge Paul Magnuson then sentenced Lane to 30 months (2 ½ years) in federal prison followed by two years of supervised release. The Judge noted the Court’s receipt of 145 letters with favorable comments on Lane and his being less responsible for Floyd’s killing as favoring a lesser sentence even though this was “a very serious offense wherein a life was lost. The fact that you did not get up and remove Mr. Chauvin from Mr. Floyd when Mr. Floyd became unresponsive is a violation of the law.”

Judge Magnuson also said he would urge the federal Bureau of Prisons to send Lane to a facility in Duluth and set a self-surrender date of October 4th after Lane’s September 21st state court sentencing on his guilty plea.

Afterwards a retired Bloomington, MN police officer, Richard Greelis, expresses his belief that Lane, a four-day officer, “should never have been charged with a crime” because “rookie officers are impressed . . . to follow the advice and example of both the FTO [here, Chauvin] and all veteran officers on the street. . . . Rookies would be totally out of their league without their FTO there to guide them. Believe me, all the training in the world does not and cannot prepare you for that first day in uniform.”

Federal Sentencing of Kueng and Thao[6]

On July 22, 2022, Judge Magnuson held a hearing to announce that he would calculate the offense levels for the sentences on Kueng and Thao on the involuntary manslaughter charge, not the second-degree murder charge. This was because the Judge said, “the evidence showed that Kueng genuinely thought that Mr. Floyd was suffering from excited delirium with a drug overdose, and Thao genuinely believed that the officers were dealing with a drug overdose with possible excited delirium.” As a result, said the Judge, these facts precluded the element of “malice aforethought” necessary to prove second-degree murder.

At this hearing, the Judge also rejected the two men’s claims that they were entitled to lesser sentences because they were acting under “color of law” because their positions in law enforcement were addressed in their criminal convictions.

Kueng. At a July 27th hearing Judge Magnuson sentenced Kueng to three years in prison. According to the Judge, there was no question that Kueng violated Floyd’s rights by failing to get off him when Floyd became unresponsive. But there was “an incredible number “ of letters supporting Kueng from other police officers that emphasized his rookie status. The prison term will begin this coming October.

Thao. At a second July 27th hearing, Thao spent over 30 minutes reading aloud several Biblical passages. Judge Magnuson sentenced Thao to 3 ½ years, to begin this coming October.

Conclusion

Absent an appeal by either or both Kueng and Thao from their convictions and/or sentences, the four federal criminal cases over the death of George Floyd have been concluded.

Both Kueng and Thao, however, still face an October 24th trial in Minnesota state court on charges of aiding and abetting both second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Now, however, there is an incentive for these two men to seek a guilty plea to the state charges for sentences not exceeding these federal sentences, to be served concurrently in federal prison. [7]

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[1] Federal Criminal Charges Against Ex-Minneapolis Policemen Over George Floyd Killing, dwkcommentaries.com (May 7, 2021).

[2] Derek Chauvin Pleads Guilty to Federal Criminal Charges Over Killing of George Floyd, dwkcommentaries.com (Dec. 16, 2021); Comment: Federal Court Accepts Chauvin’s Plea Agreement, dwkcommentaries.com (July 7, 2022);

[3] Federal Criminal Trial for Killing George Floyd: Jury Deliberations and Verdict, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 25, 2022). Further details of this criminal prosecution are provided in posts listed in the “Federal Criminal Cases Against Ex-Minneapolis Policemen Over Killing of George Floyd (and Against Derek Chauvin over Excess Force Against Teenager)” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: George Floyd Killing.

[4] Federal Court Sentences Derek Chauvin to 245 Months (20.4 years) for Depriving George Floyd (and John Pope) of Their Federal Civil Rights, dwkcommentaries.com (July 8, 2022).

[5] Federal Prosecution Proposes Criminal Sentences for Ex-Officers Lane, Kueng and Thao’s Convictions for Involvement in the Killing of George Floyd, dwkcommentaries.com (July 2, 2022); Montemayor, Ex-officer Thomas Lane sentenced to 2 ½ years in prison for violating George Floyd’s civil rights, StarTribune (July 21, 2022); Kummer & Bogel-Burroughs, Ex-Officer Who Held George Floyd’s Legs Sentenced to 30 Months in Prison, N.Y. Times (July 21, 2022); Collins, Ex-cop Lane gets 2 ½ years for violating George Floyd’s civil rights, MPRnews (July 21, 2022); Judgment in a Criminal Case, U.S. v. Lane, Case No. 0:21-CR-00108 (4), U.S. Dist. Ct., D. MN (July 21, 2022); Greelis, George Floyd murder: Reduced sentence for rookie officer makes sense, StarTribune (July 25, 2020).

[6] Montemayor, Kueng sentenced to 3 years, Thao 3 ½ years for violating George Floyd’s civil rights, StarTribune (July 27, 2022) Forliti (AP), Ex-cops Kueng, Thao sentenced for violating Floyd’s rights, Wash. Post (July 27, 2022); Kummer & Bogel-Burroughs, Last 2 Officers Involved in George Floyd’s Death Are Sentenced to Prison, N.Y. Times (July 27, 2022) .

[7] Judge agrees to move trial of two former Minneapolis officers to October in George Floyd’s death, StarTribune (June 21, 2022). Resetting State Criminal Trial Date for Kueng and Thao for Killing of George Floyd, ddwkcommentaries.com (June 21, 2022). [Comment:] District Court Order Regarding New Trial Date, dwkcommentaries.com (June 24, 2022).

 

 

Federal Court Sentences Derek Chauvin to 245 months (20.4 years) for Depriving George Floyd (and John Pope) of Their Federal Civil Rights

On July 7, 2022, in the U.S. District Court in St. Paul, Minnesota, Judge Paul A. Magnuson sentenced Derek Chauvin to 245 months (20.4 years) in federal prison for (a) his depriving George Floyd of his federal civil rights by pinning his knee against Floyd’s neck and by failing to provide medical care for Floyd on May 25, 2020, ultimately causing his death and (b) Chauvin’s holding down with his knee John Pope, then  a 14-year old boy in 2007, and failing to provide medical care to the boy and thereby causing non-fatal injuries. [1]

At the hearing, Judge Magnuson said, “I really don’t know why you did what you did. But to put your knee on another person’s neck until they expire is simply wrong and for that conduct you must be substantially punished. Your conduct is wrong and it is offensive. To put a knee on another person’s neck is unconscionable.” In addition, the Judge said that Chauvin’s taking control of the Floyd arrest had “absolutely destroyed the lives of three other young officers [Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao].”

Other Comments at the Hearing

Before the Judge announced the sentence, the federal prosecutor, LeeAnn Bell, said the sentence “needs to reflect the intentionality. He wasn’t a rookie. He’d been a police officer for years. He knew what his training was. He knew what he was doing was wrong and he did it anyway.” The prosecution’s request for the longer sentence of 25 years reflected that fact that Chauvin’s crime against John Pope was not part of the state case over the killing of George Floyd, for which Chauvin previously was convicted and sentenced by the state court.

George Floyd’s brother, Philonise, said, “I haven’t had a real night’s sleep since this happened. Hearing my brother beg and plead for his life again and again, screaming for our mom.” His family had received a “life sentence. We will never get George back.”

Courtney Ross, Floyd’s girlfriend, in a written statement read by the Judge said, “I don’t hate you, Mr. Chauvin. I’m working on forgiving you because that’s what George Floyd would want me to do.”

John Pope told the court that his encounter with Chauvin had changed him from a “happy’ person to someone who saw his dreams “slip from my hands.” Pope hopes Chauvin takes this time to think about what he could have done differently and what he did to others,” noting that Chauvin’s actions against him had gone unchallenged until Floyd’s killing.

Chauvin’s attorney, Eric Nelson, told the court that Chauvin had received over 1,000 letters of support, evidencing his good “character and qualities as a human being,” that Chauvin had already been punished by [the State of Minnesota] for the offenses [against Mr. Floyd] and that Chauvin had accepted his wrongdoing and had expressed remorse for the harm that has flowed from his actions.

Chauvin himself said that he wanted “to wish [Floyd’s children] all the best in their life and have excellent guidance in becoming great adults.” To John Pope, Chauvin said, “I hope you have a good relationship with your mother and also your sister, and I hope you have the ability to get the best education possible to lead a productive and rewarding life.” But Chauvin did not apologize.

Chauvin’s mother, Carolyn Pawlenty, thanked his supporters and denounced the “misinformation” in media that her son is a racist and has no heart. Everyone in Minnesota needs to heal and realize that all lives matter, no matter the color of your skin. Every life matters.” She then asked for federal prison placement in Minnesota or Iowa to be close to his family.

Background for the Hearing[2]

On December 15, 2021, Chauvin pleaded guilty to two counts of depriving Mr. Floyd of his federally-protected civil rights and ultimately causing his death and to the charges for his 2017 misconduct with Mr. Pope, and under the negotiated Plea Agreement the prosecution and Chauvin agreed that the court could impose imprisonment of 20 to 25 years for these crimes.

This plea agreement was approved by Judge Magnuson on May 4, 2022, when he said the federal sentence would be in accordance with that plea agreement.

Conclusion[3]

Since his conviction on the state criminal charges, Chauvin has been in “administrative segregation” in Minnesota’s maximum security prison in Oak Park Heights, MN and largely confined to a 10-by-10-foot room with about one hour a day outside for exercise.

Now he will be transferred to a federal prison. The federal Bureau of Prisons will decide where Chauvin will be assigned, after evaluating his medical or programming needs, separation and security measures to ensure his protection and proximity to his release residence. Experts speculate that he probably will start in a medium-security facility. Former U.S. Attorney Tom Heffelfinger observed, “It’s dangerous to be an officer in any prison. It’s even more dangerous in state prison because of the nature of the inmate population. There are gangs, for example. And police officers just don’t do well there. Those risks are reduced in a federal prison.”

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1  U.S. Sentencing Memorandum, U.S. v. Chauvin, Criminal No. 21-108(01), U.S. Dist. Ct. MN (June 22, 2022); Defendant’s Position Regarding Sentencing, U.S. v. Chauvin, Criminal No. 21-108(01), U.S. Dist. Ct. MN (June 22, 2022); Montemayor, Derek Chauvin’s federal sentencing scheduled for Thursday, StarTribune (July 5, 2020); Karnowski (AP), Derek Chauvin to be sentenced Thursday in St. Paul on federal charges in George Floyd killing, Pioneer Press (July 5, 2022); Almasy, Derek Chauvin to be sentenced Thursday on  federal charges, cnn.com (July 7, 2022); Bailey, Derek Chauvin faces federal sentence for Floyd’s killing, Wash. Post (July 7, 2022); Collins & Sepic, George Floyd killing: Derek Chauvin sentencing underway in federal court, MPRNews (July 7, 2022); Karnowski (AP), Chauvin gets 21 years for violating Floyd’s civil rights, AP News.com (July 7, 2022); Bailey, Chauvin sentenced to 20 years for violating Floyd’s civil rights, Wash. Post (July 7, 2022); Sepic & Collins, Ex-cop Chauvin gets 20-plus years for violating George Floyd’s civil rights, MPRNews (July 7, 2022); Senter & Dewan, Killer of George Floyd Sentenced to 21 Years for violating civil rights, N.Y. Times (July 7, 2022).

[2] Federal Criminal Trial for Killing George Floyd: Jury Deliberations and Verdict, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 25, 2022); Derek Chauvin Pleads Guilty to Federal Criminal Charges Over George Floyd Killing and Excess Force Against Teenager, dwkcommentaries.com (Dec. 16, 2021); Comment: Federal Court Accepts Chauvin’s Plea Agreement, dwkcommentaries.com (July 7, 2022); Order, U.S. v. Chauvin, Criminal No. 21-108(01), U.S. Dist. Ct. MN (May 4, 2022).

[3]   EXPLAINER: Chauvin heads to federal prison for Floyd’s death. StarTribune (July 7, 2022).

Federal Prosecution Proposes Criminal Sentences for Ex-Officers Lane, Kueng and Thao’s Convictions for Involvement in the Killing of George Floyd

On June 29 , federal prosecutors asked the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota to impose a sentence of up to 6.5 years for Thomas Lane’s conviction for his involvement in the May 2020 killing of George Floyd. The prosecutors also asked on June 29 and 30 for higher sentences for ex-officers J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao, who also have been convicted for their involvement in that killing.[1]

The prosecution’s reasons for these recommendations were very detailed in compliance with the requirements of the federal statute for the imposition of sentences (18 U.S.C. sec. 3553).

All of these convictions are based upon a February 2022 federal jury’s verdict of guilty for these three men for violating Floyd’s civil rights by failing to give Floyd medical care while Kueng also was found guilty of not trying to stop Derek Chauvin from using excessive force. [2]

Reasons for Proposed Sentence of Lane[3]

According to the prosecution, a “within guideline range sentence of 63 months (5.25 years) to 78 months (6.5 years) [for Lane] is reasonable and appropriate in light of the serious consequences of . . . Lane’s criminal omissions and in consideration of the 18 U.S.C. sec. 3553(a) factors.”

“As the jury necessarily found, . . . [Lane] recognized that  . . . Floyd was suffering from a serious medical need and failed to provide him with the basic medical aid and that . . .[Lane] was trained and duty-bound to give such aid at a time when that would have made a difference. . . . . [Lane’s] failure to provide medical aid had serious consequences for Mr. Floyd, Mr. Floyd’s family, . . . Lane’s fellow law enforcement officers, and the broader community. . . . [This proposed sentence] is justified by the gravity and impact of his inaction.”

The prosecution then rejected, with appropriate legal citations, the following Lane objections to this proposed sentence:  (1)  the victim was lawfully restrained; (2) Lane was a minimal participant in the restraint; (3) there was double counting of Lane’s status as someone acting under color of law; and (4) Lane’s guilty plea justifies a downward adjustment because it came after conviction at trial.

Next the prosecution argued that the section 3553(a) factors justified a within-guidelines sentence for Lane: the nature and circumstances of the offense (Lane was well placed to save Floyd’s life) and Lane had information about Floyd’s condition and information and training of how to respond to this condition. In addition, a guideline-range sentence will most appropriately capture the significance of Lane’s inaction, the lasting harm his inaction inflicted on Floyd, the other officers and the larger community.”

Lane’s being a police officer is another reason justifying a higher sentence, and his relative inexperience as an officer is undermined by Lane’s recognition of Floyd’s condition and Lane’s initial training and knowledge.

A within-guidelines sentence of Lane “will remind other officers of their constitutional obligations as law enforcement officers, including an affirmative obligation to protect the lives and safety of those in their custody and thus serve to protect the American public by promoting respect for the law.

Therefore, Lane “should be sentenced to a within-guidelines sentence of 63 months (5.25 years) to 78 months (6.5 years).”

This statement by the prosecution also constitutes a rejection of Lane’s motion for a downward sentencing variance.

Reasons for Proposed Sentence of Kueng[4]

The prosecution argued that a sentence of Kueng should be “significantly more “ than the proposed sentence of 63 to 78 months for Lane because (1) Kueng abused state powers to cause the death of . . . Floyd; (2) Kueng lacked “acceptance of responsibility , including his (at time obstructive and incredible) trial testimony;” (3) the need to promote respect for the law and deter other police officers from standing by as their fellow officers inflict abuses on unresisting arrestees,” and (4) “the need for consistency with respect to other cases in which officers have been convicted of failing to intervene to protect an arrestee from abuse.” The prosecution also argued that Kueng’s sentence should be less than the expected sentence of 240-300 months of imprisonment for Derek Chauvin.

Reasons for Proposed Sentence of Thao[5]

The prosecution argued that Thao’s sentence would be less than the 240-300 months’ anticipated sentence for Chauvin and “significantly more that the Guidelines range applicable to . . . Lane . . . of 63 to 78 months’ imprisonment. Such a sentence is sufficient, but not greater than necessary, to comply with the requirements of 18 U.S.C. sec. 3553(a).”

This proposal, said the prosecution, was justified by the following: (1) ‘the offense resulted in the death of . . Floyd, and thus caused the gravest of harms;” (2) “Floyd was in [Thao’s] custody and care and [he] knew he had a duty to protect . . . [Floyd];” (3) Thao “had the knowledge, opportunity, information and time to recognize the need for action to stop the unreasonable force and to provide medical aid—and yet he failed to act;” (4) Thao’s “lack of acceptance of responsibility, including his (at times incredible)  trial testimony merits a significant sentence;” and (5)  “a significant sentence is needed to promote respect for the law and to deter other police officers from standing by as their fellow officers commit a crime.”

Thao, on the other hand, stated he believes the appropriate calculated Guidelines Range for him is 24-30 months  and requested the Court to impose a sentence of 24 months imprisonment. “This sentence would be sufficient, but not greater than necessary to achieve the goals outlined in [section] 3553.”

Conclusion

We all now wait to see if these defendants offer any other contrary arguments and the decisions on the sentences by Judge Magnuson.

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[1] Montemayor, Federal prosecutors seek up to 6 ½ years for ex-officers for violating George Floyd’s civil rights, StarTribune (June 29, 2022); Karnowski (AP), Prosecutors seek prison for 3 ex-cops in Floyd killing, StarTribune (June 29, 2022); Montemayor, Feds ask for up to 6 ½ years  in prison for ex-MPD officer Thao for failing to help George Floyd, StarTribune (June 30, 2020).

[2] Federal Criminal Trial for Killing George Floyd: Jury Deliberations and Verdict, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 25, 2022).

[3]  United States’ Sentencing Memorandum, U.S. v. Lane, Case 0:21-cr-0018, U.S. Dist. Ct., D. MN (June 29, 2022); Ex-Officer Thomas  Lane Pleads Guilty State Charge of Aiding and Abetting Manslaughter of George Floyd, dwkcommentaries.com (May 18, 2022).

[4]  Government’s Position with Respect to Sentencing, U.S. v. Kueng,, Case 0-21-cr-00188, U.S. Dist. Ct. MN (June 29, 2022); Defendant Kueng’s Motion for a Sentencing Variance, U.S. v. Kueng,, Case 0-21-cr-00188, U.S. Dist. Ct. MN (June 29, 2022).

[5] Government’s Position with Respect to Sentencing, U.S. v. Thao, U.S. Dist. Ct. MN, Case No. 0:21-cr-00108 (June 30,2022); Defendants’ Position with Respect to Sentencing, U.S. v. Thao, U.S. Dist. Ct. MN, Case No. 0:21-cr-00108 (June 30,2022).

 

U.S. 2021 Report on International Religious Freedom

On June 2, 2022, the U.S. State Department released its 2021 Report on International Religious Freedom. It “describes the status of religious freedom in every country. The report covers government policies violating religious  denominations and individuals, and U.S. policies to promote religious freedom around the world. The U.S. Department of State submits the reports in accordance with the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.”[1]

The Report includes these sources on the subject: (a) Universal Declaration of Human Rights; (b) International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; (c) Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief; (d) Religious Freedom Provisions, Commitments, and Obligations from Regional Bodies and Instruments; (e) Department of State Training Related to the International Religious Freedom Act-2021; (f) Department of Homeland Security and the International Religious Freedom Act; and (g) Overview of U.S. Refugee Policy—2021.

There is no overall summary of this freedom in 2021 throughout the world. Instead, as the above summary indicates, the report has separate reports for “every country” in the world. After a summary of its report on Cuba, which is chosen because a Minneapolis church, Westminster Presbyterian, has had partnerships with the island’s Presbyterian-Reformed Church since 2002, there will be general comments from that Cuban church and Westminster.

State Department Report on Cuba

Cuban Religious Demography

According to the Report, “The U.S. government estimates the total population at 11 million (midyear 2021).  There is no independent, authoritative source on the overall size or composition of religious groups.  The Catholic Church estimates 60 percent of the population identifies as Catholic.  Membership in Protestant churches is estimated at 5 percent.  According to some observers, Pentecostals and Baptists are likely the largest Protestant denominations.  The Assemblies of God reports approximately 150,000 members; the four Baptist conventions estimate their combined membership at more than 100,000.”

“Jehovah’s Witnesses estimate their members at 95,000; Methodists 50,000; Seventh-day Adventists 36,000; Presbyterians 25,000; Anglicans 22,500; Episcopalians 10,000; Anabaptists 4,387 (mostly Iglesia de Los Hermanos en Cristo, the Brethren of Christ); Quakers 1,000; Moravians 750; and the Church of Jesus Christ 357 members.  There are approximately 4,000 followers of 50 Apostolic churches (an unregistered, loosely affiliated network of Protestant churches, also known as the Apostolic Movement) and a separate New Apostolic Church associated with the New Apostolic Church International.  According to some Christian leaders, evangelical Protestant groups continue to grow in the country.  The Jewish community estimates it has 1,200 members, of whom 1,000 reside in Havana.  According to a representative of the Islamic League, there are approximately 4,000 Muslims in the country, of whom fewer than half are native-born.  The representative also said that the majority of the Muslim population is Sunni.  Immigrants and native-born citizens practice several different Buddhist traditions, with estimates of 6,200 followers.  The largest group of Buddhists is the Japanese Soka Gakkai; its estimated membership is 1,000.  Other religious groups with small numbers of adherents include Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, and Baha’is.”

“Many individuals, particularly Afro-Cubans, practice religions with roots across Africa, including Yoruba groups often referred to by outsiders as Santeria, but by adherents as the order of Lucumi or Orisha worship.  Bantu-influenced groups refer to themselves as Palo Monte.  These religious practices are commonly intermingled with Catholicism and other forms of Christianity, and some require Catholic baptism for full initiation, making it difficult to estimate accurately their total membership.  Rastafarian adherents also have a presence on the island, although the size of the community is unknown.”

Religious Freedom in Cuba

According to the Report’s Executive Summary, “The country’s constitution contains written provisions for religious freedom and prohibitions against discrimination based on religious grounds.  According to the religious freedom advocacy organization Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), the Cuban Communist Party (CCP), through its Office of Religious Affairs (ORA) and the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), continued to control most aspects of religious life.  In its annual Watch List, Open Doors reported a continued rise in persecution of Christians in the country.  According to media, on July 11, security forces (a general term covering military, police, and vigilante forces) committed acts of violence against, detained, and harassed religious leaders from multiple faith communities who were participating in peaceful demonstrations across the country.  According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), security forces beat Roman Catholic priest Jose Castor Alvarez Devesa when he offered aid to an injured person at a protest in Camaguey on July 11.  CSW reported Pastor Lorenzo Rosales Fajardo faced up to a 10-year sentence for participating in a march the same day.  Rosales Fajardo was found guilty of charges in December and awaited sentencing at year’s end.  Sissi Abascal Zamora, a member of the Ladies in White opposition group, received a six-year sentence for participating in the July protests.  Authorities continued to subject members of the Association of Free Yorubas of Cuba (Free Yorubas) to arbitrary detentions, threats, physical violence, and verbal harassment.  The U.S.-based nongovernmental organization (NGO) Global Liberty Alliance reported four members of Free Yorubas faced extended pretrial detention after their arrests following the July protests and prison sentences of up to 10 years.  The Spanish NGO Cuban Observatory of Human Rights registered at least 30 acts against leaders and laypersons from multiple faith communities as the government attempted to suppress public support for peaceful protests called for November 15.  According to NGO and media reports, those actions included the orchestration of demonstrations (acts of repudiation) in front of the homes of Catholic priests, police surveillance, internet cuts, and the harassment of a nun as she left her residence in Havana to meet a friend.  In August, security service officials arrested Apostolic Church pastor Alain Toledano Valiente for ‘propagating the COVID pandemic’ when he held what he said was a socially distanced service.  Religious groups reported the ORA and MOJ continued to deny official registration to certain groups, including to several Apostolic churches, or did not respond to long-pending applications, such as those for the Jehovah’s Witnesses and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ).”

“Some religious groups and organizations, such as the Catholic charity Caritas, continued to gather and distribute relief items, providing humanitarian assistance to individuals regardless of religious belief.  The Catholic-affiliated Community of Sant’Egidio continued to hold prayer and small group meetings in spite of COVID-19 restrictions.”

“Due to a lack of government responsiveness, U.S. embassy officials did not meet with or otherwise engage the ORA during the year.  In public statements and on social media, U.S. government officials, including the Secretary of State, continued to call upon the government to respect the fundamental freedoms of its citizens, including the freedom of religion.  Embassy officials met regularly with a range of religious groups concerning the state of religious freedom and political activities related to religious groups’ beliefs.”

“On November 15, 2021, in accordance with the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, as amended, the Secretary of State again placed Cuba on the Special Watch List for having engaged in or tolerated severe violations of religious freedom.”

Recent Devotion from Cuban Presbyterian-Reformed Church[3]

The Presbyterian Reformed Church in Cuba prepares daily devotions in Spanish (with English translations) that are available on the Internet. Here, for example, is their devotion for June 26, 2022, the 132nd Anniversary of the church: “Following Jesus (Luke 9:51-62).”

“Jesus replied, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.’”

“A new section of the Gospel of Luke begins with these verses, Jesus’ resolve to travel to Jerusalem.   The three candidates for discipleship illustrate the demands that are implied by following Jesus; they teach that emotional enthusiasm is not sufficient and neither are we capable of abandoning all to follow him.”

“Loyalty to Christ takes precedence over any other loyalties.   In one of the cases the man tried to excuse himself by saying that he had to care for his dead father.   The spiritually dead should bury their dead, but the followers of Jesus should fulfill the urgent work of proclaiming the good news.   This is not an argument in favor of insensitivity but is a lesson against delay in fulfilling an order.”

“Jesus focuses his attention on one truth: to serve his cause demands complete dedication. To not be suitable for the Reign of God means a discipleship through which God is unable to use us in the best way.”

“What does Jesus want of us?   Complete dedication, not half delivery.   We don’t have the right to follow him at our convenience; we should accept the cross together with the crown, judgment together with mercy.   One must take into account the cost and to be ready to abandon everything.   We should not allow anything to distract us from the path of living what he calls good and true.”

“Prayer: Lord, allow us to be alert to your call and not continually excuse ourselves.   In the name of Jesus, Amen”

Report from Westminster Presbyterian Church[4]

“For more than 20 years, Westminster has had a partnership with people and institutions in Cuba, making it our longest global partnership. Well over 100 Westminster members and staff have visited Cuba to experience the culture, welcome, and resilience of the Cuban people. The situation in Cuba remains dire due to food shortages, economic despair, and political unrest. Yet, as of January 1, our partner church, El Redentor/Versalles (Versalles) in Matanzas has welcomed a new pastor, the Rev. Anays Noda, and her family. They bring a renewed energy and new members into the church.”

“After building renovation and much hard work, our siblings at Versalles are eagerly readying for visitors from Westminster. A group of five Westminster members plan to travel in July to revisit the seven clean water installations Westminster currently sponsors [on the island] and to assess a potential new site, anticipating installation later this year. A highlight of the trip will be a chance to worship in person again at Versalles. A congregational trip is also being planned for early 2023 offering a unique experience to witness God’s love this whole world over.”

Conclusion[5]

Any discussion of Cuban religious freedom should expressly recognize its enormous economic problems associated with the worldwide COVID pandemic and the resulting severe negative economic impact on Cuba’s market for international tourism and hence Cuban opportunities for employment and entrepreneurial activities. These and other developments, including the continued U.S. embargo of the island, have caused increased numbers of Cuban seeking to flee the island and protests on the island over desperate conditions.

==============================

[1] State Dep’t, 2021 Report on International Religious Freedom (June 2, 2022).

[2] Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church’s Connections with Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 13, 2015}. See generally “Cuban Human Rights” section (with discussions of earlier U.S. reports on Cuban religious freedom) of  List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA [as of 5/4/20].

[3]   Daily Devotions of the Presbyterian Reformed Church of Cuba (June 26, 2022).

[4]  Our Global Partners in Cuba, Westminster News (July 2022). This blogger treasures his having been on three Westminster mission trips to Cuba and the friendships he has developed with Cubans. (Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church’s Connections with Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 13, 2015); Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church Celebrates U.S.-Cuba Reconciliation, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 4, 2015). See generally List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA [as of 5/4/20].

[5] See, e.g., Frank, Cuba sees slow economic recovery at 4% in 2022—Official, Reuters (Dec. 12, 2021); Cubans arriving in record numbers along Mexico border, Wash. Post (April 7, 2022); Cuba economic crisis and political crackdown pushes many to immigrate, Al Jazeera YouTube (May 2022); Cuban Migrants Arrive to U.S. in Record Numbers, on Foot, Not by Boat, N.Y. Times (May 3, 2022); With the world distracted, Cuba cracks down on dissident artists, Wash. Post (June 27, 2022)..

 

 

Resetting State Criminal Trial Date for Kueng and Thao for Killing of George Floyd

On June 6, Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill, in a well-reasoned opinion, postponed the date for the criminal cases against J. Peter Kueng and Tao Thao  to January 5, 2023.[1]

On June 21, Judge Cahill heard arguments on two motions for changing the date for the start of the trial.

Prosecution’s Motion[2]

The prosecution’s one-page letter merely stated, “On behalf of the family of George Floyd, the state requests a speedy trial as provided in the Victim’s Rights Act, Minn. Stat. sec. 611A.033(a), and Minn. R. Crim. P. 11.09(b).”

Kueng’s Motion[3]

Kueng’s motion requested a continuance to a date after April 3, 2023. For background, his motion stated, “On June 17, 2022 the State entered a speedy trial demand. . . . The State’s demand for a speedy trial followed a teleconference . . . [on June 27] wherein the instant continuance request was discussed [and] Counsel for Mr. Thao has informed the Court that he has no objection to this continuance request.” In addition, “On March 9, 2022 and May 27, 2022 the Court conducted chambers conferences with the parties to discuss plea negotiations, trial scheduling and other matters. During each of those meetings Counsel for Mr. Kueng informed the Court and parties that he was unavailable for trial from January through March 2023. Counsel’s unavailability is due a scheduling conflict of a personal nature.”

The Court’s Decision[4]

After hearing from the attorneys, Judge Cahill apologized to Thomas Plunkett, the attorney for Kueng, that he had forgotten that the attorney previously had told the Judge that he had a personal commitment ‘etched in stone’ in January and that he’d rather give up his law license than miss it. Judge Cahill then announced that he was changing the date for commencement of the trial to October 24, 2022 although he was still weighing the need for publicity from the federal trial and former officer Thomas Lane’s May guilty plea to aiding and abetting manslaughter to die down.

==============================

[1] State Criminal Trial for Thao and Kueng Postponed to January 2023, dwkcommentaries.com (June. 6, 2022); Walsh, State requests speedier start for state trial of ex-officers Thao and Kueng in George Floyd killing, StarTribune (June 20, 2022).

[2] Letter, Frank (Assist. Att. Gen.) to Judge Cahill, June 17, 2022).

[3] Defendant Kueng’s Notice and Motion for Continuance, State v. Kueng, Henn. Cty. Dist. Ct. File No. 27-CR-20-12953 (June 19, 2022).

[4] Olson, Judge agrees to move trial of two former Minneapolis officers to October in George Floyd’s death, StarTribune (June 21, 2022).

State Criminal Trial for Thao and Kueng Postponed to January 2023

On June 6, Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill granted motions byTou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng to postpone their criminal trials with a new date of January 5 for their commencement. The court also denied the defendants’ motion to change venue and the motion of the Media Coalition to reconsider the court’s previous barring of audio and video coverage of this trial.[1]

The Reasons for Changing the Trial Date

 The Minnesota Supreme Court has recognized that “continuance of a trial date has been recognized as an effective tool to diminish the effect of prejudicial pretrial publicity.” Here, the defendants have cited two such events.

  • First, on May 18, 2022 (less than four week prior to the scheduled start of the trial co-defendant Thomas Lane pled guilty to aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter. [2]
  • Second, on February 24, 2022, Thao, Kueng and Lane were found guilty by a federal jury of violating George Floyd’s civil rights “based largely on the same evidence as will be introduced in Defendants Thao’s and Kueng’s joint state trial.”[3]

“These two recent events and the publicity surrounding them are significant in they . . could make it difficult for jurors to presume Thao and Kueng innocent of the State charges.” A postponement of the trial for nearly seven months should “diminish the impact of this publicity on the Defendants’ right and ability to receive a fair trial from an impartial and unbiased jury.”

The Reasons for Denial of Change of Venue

Although there has been “saturation news coverage in the Twin Cities in print and broadcast media” of the George Floyd killing and subsequent court proceedings, the same is true “throughout the entire State of Minnesota—not to mention nationally.”

Moreover, “a prospective juror’s exposure to pretrial publicity does not alone create a reasonable likelihood of an unfair trial. . . . Instead, the issue is whether a prospective juror can set aside his or her impressions or opinions based on pretrial publicity, be fair and impartial, and render an impartial verdict.” In addition, this court has taken extensive measures in the earlier Chauvin trial and is now implementing those same measures for the trial of Thao and Kueng.

In addition, postponing the trial to January 2023 will put more than two and one-half years since the killing of Mr. Floyd; more than 20 months since the jury verdict in the Chauvin case; [4] almost eleven months since the jury verdict against Thao and Kueng in the federal civil rights trial; and probably four to six months since their upcoming sentencing in that federal trial.

Finally, this court has continued to impose “appropriate steps to ensure the selection of an impartial jury” and Hennepin County is “the most populous and diverse county in the state.”

The Reasons for Denial of Audio/Video Coverage

“With the reduction in the number of defendants, . . . [the trial courtroom] can now be configured, with the relaxed COVID protocols, to accommodate at least eighteen seats for the public . . . [which] does not amount to a courtroom closure.”

However, “if there is a significant rule change in place by [the commencement of this trial next January], the court would reconsider allowing audio and video coverage.”

Another Consideration

Another consideration favoring the postponement of the trial not mentioned by Judge Cahill was providing additional time for these two defendants, especially after their federal sentencing, to consider attempting to negotiate an agreement with the prosecution for their pleading guilty to the state charges.

================================

[1] Walsh, State Trial for fired Minneapolis officers Thao, Kueng delayed until January, Star Tribune (June 6, 2022); Order and Memorandum Opinion Concerning Trial, State v. Thao & Kueng, Court Files Nos. 27-CR-20-12949 & 27-Cr-20-12953, Hennepin County District Court (June 6, 2022).

[2] Ex-Officer Thomas Lane Pleads Guilty to State Charge of Aiding and Abetting Manslaughter of George Floyd, dwkcommentaries.com (May 18, 2022). Comment: More Details on Lane’s Guilty Plea, dwkcommentaries.com (May 19, 2022).

[3]  Federal Criminal Trial for Killing George Floyd: Jury Deliberations and Verdict, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 25, 2022).

[4] Derek Chauvin Trial: Week Seven (Conviction), dwkcommentaries.com (April 21, 2021); Derek Chauvin Trial: Chauvin Sentenced to 22.5 Years Imprisonment, dwkcommentaries.com (June 28, 2021).

 

Derek Chauvin and City of Minneapolis Sued for Alleged Use of Excessive Force in 2017

On May 31, 2022, Derek Chauvin, the City of Minneapolis and certain other Minneapolis police officers were sued in two federal court cases for compensatory and punitive damages for Chauvin’s alleged use of excessive force in 2017.

John Pope Case[1]

In September 2017, John Pope, then 14 years old, alleges that he was alone in his bedroom on the floor using his cellphone when two Minneapolis police officers came into his room and said he was under arrest. When Pope asked why, one of the officers hit him on the head with a flashlight and choked him until he passed out. When he woke up, one of the officers had his knee on the back of Pope’s neck, and Pope asked the officer to move his knee to Pope’s lower back to help him breathe. The officer responded, “Are you going to flounce around,” before he moved his knee. At the time, Pope did not know the name of the officer, but after seeing photos of Chauvin after the killing of George Floyd, Pope believed that Chauvin was the officer in the encounter.

Thereafter Pope, now a soft-spoken bank supervisor and college student studying criminal justice, retained attorneys who investigated the case and with the aid of body-worn camera footage determined the following:

  • “That night Chauvin was acting as a field-training officer for officer Alexander Walls when the two responded to a domestic assault call at 8:45 p.m. to Pope’s home on the 5700 block of Chicago Avenue S. Pope was there with his sister and his mother, Deanna Jenkins.”
  • “Upon arrival, the officers called in a ‘Code 4,’ meaning the situation was under control and no assistance was needed. But Jenkins, who was obviously drunk, the lawsuit said, told Chauvin and Walls she wanted Pope and his sister arrested for using electricity to charge their phones.”
  • Jenkins “claimed Pope had grabbed her from behind, and with Chauvin watching, she filled out domestic assault paperwork.” The officers then went to talk to Pope in his bedroom, according to the lawsuit.
  • “The lawsuit said Chauvin held him down for 15 minutes while Pope was ‘completely subdued and not resisting,’ but crying out that he couldn’t breathe. Citing body-camera footage, the lawsuit said Jenkins asked Chauvin eight times to get off of Pope.”
  • “At least eight officers, including Walls and five others named in the lawsuit, saw Chauvin kneeling on an unmoving Pope but did nothing to stop the restraint. Chauvin was still on Pope when paramedics showed up, the lawsuit said.”
  • “Pope was taken to the hospital for stitches and then the Juvenile Justice Center where he was charged with fifth-degree domestic assault, a misdemeanor, and obstructing the legal process, a gross misdemeanor, but the charges were quickly dropped.”

In addition, the lawsuit alleges that the “kneeing maneuver” Chauvin used on Pope, Floyd and “likely many others” was Chauvin’s “calling card” despite officers knowing it posed serious risk of injury and death from positional asphyxia and that the MPD culture “encourages and enables racist, predatory police officers and unconstitutional force practices.”

Moreover, according to the lawsuit, “Chauvin’s treatment of Pope and [Zoya] Code [the plaintiff in the other new case] was available to MPD supervisors because the city maintains electronic storage of all body-worn camera footage through evidence.com. ‘But the city buried its head in the sand regarding such evidence or even worse, reviewed it and did nothing, in either case continuing to condone such actions by officers.’”

As a result, says the lawsuit, “Chauvin and six other officers violated . . . [Pope’s] constitutional right to be free from excessive force” and “that rather than discipline Chauvin for his treatment of Pope, the officer was “‘left free to prowl for more Black persons to subjugate and torture.’”

More specifically, the Complaint asserts the following claims:

  • Count I: Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment Violations against Chauvin individually for compensatory and punitive damages plus costs, including reasonable attorneys’ fees.
  • Count II: Race Discrimination—Fourteenth Amendment Violation against Chauvin individually for compensatory and punitive damages plus costs, including reasonable attorneys’ fees.
  • Count III: Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment Violations against six other officers individually for compensatory and punitive damages plus costs, including reasonable attorneys’ fees.
  • Count IV: Civil Rights Violations (Monell v. Dept. of Social Services) against the City of Minneapolis for compensatory damages plus costs, including reasonable attorneys’ fees.
  • Count V: Violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 against the City of Minneapolis for compensatory damages plus costs, including reasonable attorneys’ fees.

Zoya Code Case[2]

Code, a 39-year-old mother of five alleges that in 2017 Chauvin held his knee on her back and traumatized her. She said, “I didn’t know his name. All I knew was he was a police officer with Minneapolis Police Department. I didn’t know what precinct he was at. All I knew was his face. [Chauvin] haunted me until I seen him on top of George [Floyd].” The legal bases for the five counts of this Complaint and the claimed relief are the same as the Complaint by Mr. Pope, except the latter’s Count III is only against one other officer.

Plaintiffs’ Attorneys

Mr. Pope and Ms. Code are represented by the prestigious Minneapolis law firm of Robins Kaplan LLP and three of its partners (Robert Bennett, Andrew Noel and Kathryn Bennett) along with Counsel Marc E. Betinsky and Associate Greta Wiessner.

The skills of these attorneys are demonstrated by the obviously well researched and written complaints. They are ready for battle if that is needed.

City of Minneapolis’ Reactions

In a statement, Minneapolis City Attorney Peter Ginder called the accounts of Pope and Code “disturbing. “We intend to move forward in negotiations with the Plaintiffs on these two matters and hope we can reach a reasonable settlement. If a settlement cannot be reached on one or both lawsuits, the disputes will have to be resolved through the normal course of litigation.”

==========================

[1]  Complaint, Pope v. Chauvin, U.S. Dist. Ct., D. MN, No.0:22-cv-01434 (May 31, 2022); Olson & Robiou, Chauvin, Minneapolis police named in two federal excessive-force lawsuits dating to 2017, involving teenager, woman, StarTribune (May 31, 2022); Vancleave, [Videotape]: Minneapolis teen recalls violent arrest by Derek Chauvin years before George Floyd, StarTribune (May 31, 2022).

[2]   Complaint, Code v.  Chauvin, U.S. Dist. Ct., D. MN, No. 0:22-cv-01438 (May 31, 2022); Olson & Robiou, Chauvin, Minneapolis police named in two federal excessive-force lawsuits dating to 2017, involving teenager, woman, StarTribune (May 31, 2022).

 

 

 

Remaining Ex-Cops in Criminal Case Over Killing of George Floyd Ask for Delay and Change of Venue for Trial

On May 31st Defendants Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng asked Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill to postpone their criminal trial now scheduled to start on June 13 to after federal sentencing and to change the venue for the trial to another county outside the Twin Cities.[1] They contend that it will be impossible to select an impartial jury in light of the following recent developments: the recent guilty plea from their co-defendant, Thomas Lane;[2] the February guilty verdicts for all three former officers in federal court;[3] the settling of costly civil rights lawsuits and public comments from politicians like Attorney General Keith Ellison; and the May 31st premier of the PBS Frontline/StarTribune documentary of the George Floyd killing and its aftermath.[4]

The prosecution (State of Minnesota) opposes these motions.[5] It states that this is a belated attempt “to move this case to somewhere else in Minnesota or delay proceedings for yet another year. This newest motion—Defendant Kueng’s fourth such request—does not offer new facts that warrant this court revisiting its earlier decisions and changing course at this late hour. . . . [This] latest filing is nothing more than a last-ditch attempt to evade judgment.”

Conclusion

These motions, in the opinion of this blogger, will promptly be denied.

==========================

[1] Defendant’s Fourth Motion for Change of Venue or Continuance, State v. Kueng, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12953 (May 28, 2022); Notice of Motion and Motion for a Change of Venue or in the Alternative a Motion for Continuance, State v. Thao, Hennepin County District Court, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12949 (May 30, 2022); Mannix, Two former Minneapolis officers charged in George Floyd killing ask judge to delay, relocate trial, StarTribune (May 31, 2022).

[2] Ex-Officer Thomas Lane Pleads Guilty to State Charge of Aiding and Abetting Manslaughter of George Floyd, dwkcommentaries.com (May 18, 2022);

[3] Federal Criminal Trial for Killing of George Floyd: Jury Deliberations and Verdict, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 25, 2022).

[4] ‘Frontline’ teams up with StarTribune for documentary on Minneapolis police, StarTribune (May 31, 2022).

[5] State’s Opposition to a Change of Venue or a Continuance, State v. Kueng & Thao, Hennepin County District Court, Court File Nos. 27-Cr-20-12953 & 27-CR-20-12949 (May 30, 2022).

President Biden’s Executive Order on Policing

On May 25, 2022, President Joe Biden signed the Executive Order on Advancing Effective, Accountable Policing and Criminal Justice Practices to Enhance Public Trust and Public Safety.[1] This lengthy Order calls for the creation of national standards for the accreditation of police departments and a national database of federal officers with substantiated complaints and disciplinary records, including those fired for misconduct. It also will instruct federal law enforcement agencies to update their use-of-force policies to emphasize de-escalation. The Order also restricts tactics like chokeholds and no-knock warrants and grants incentives to encourage state and local agencies to adopt the same standards while also banning the transfer of most military equipment to police.[2]

The signing was done on the second anniversary of the killing of George Floyd in the presence of members of his family as well as Vice President Harris, members of his Cabinet and lawmakers.

President Biden’s Comments on the Order

This order is “a measure of what we can do together to heal the very soul of this nation; to address the profound fear and trauma, exhaustion that particularly Black Americans have experienced for generations; and to channel that private pain and public outrage into a rare mark of progress for years to come.”

“Two summers ago, in the middle of a pandemic, we saw protests [about the killing of George Floyd] across the nation the likes of which you hadn’t seen since the 1960s.They unified people of every race and generation.  Athletes and sports leagues boycotted and postponed games.  Companies and workers proclaimed ‘Black Lives Matter.’  Students staged solidarity walkouts. From Europe to the Middle East to Asia to Australia, people saw their own fight for justice and equality in what we were trying to do.”

“The message is clear: Enough!”

“[A]lmost a year later, a jury in Minnesota stepped up and they found a police officer guilty of murdering George Floyd, with officers and even a police chief taking the stand to testify against misconduct of their colleagues.  I don’t know any good cop who likes a bad cop.”

But for many people, including many families here, such accountability is all too rare.  That’s why I promised as President I would do everything in my power to enact meaningful police reform that is real and lasting. That’s why I called on Congress to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, to send it to my desk.”

“This is a call to action based on a basic truth: Public trust, as any cop will tell you, is the foundation of public safety.  If they’re not trusted, the population doesn’t contribute, doesn’t cooperate.”

“For the wheels of justice are propelled by the confidence that people have in their system of justice.  Without that confidence, crimes would go unreported.  Witness[es] fear to come forward; cases go unsolved; victims suffer in isolation while perpetrators remain free; and ironically, police are put in greater — greater danger; justice goes undelivered.”

“Without public trust, law enforcement can’t do its job of serving and protecting all of our communities.  But as we’ve seen all too often, public trust is frayed and broken, and that undermines public safety.”

“The families here today and across the country have had to ask why this nation — why so many Black Americans wake up knowing they could lose their life in the course of just living their life today — simply jogging, shopping, sleeping at home.  Whether they made headlines or not, lost souls gone too soon.”

“Members of Congress, including many here today . . . spent countless hours on the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act to find a better answer to that question. The House passed a strong bill.  It failed in the Senate where our Republican colleagues opposed any meaningful reform.”

“So we got to work on this executive order, which is grounded in key elements of the Justice in Policing Act and reflects inputs of a broad coalition represented here today. Families courageously shared their perspectives on what happened to their loved ones and what we could do to make sure it doesn’t happen to somebody else. Civil rights groups and their leaders of every generation who have given their heart and soul to this work provided critical insights and perspectives. The executive order also benefits from the valuable inputs of law enforcement who put their . . . lives on the line every single day to serve.”

“Here today, I want to especially thank the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the Fraternal Order of Police, as well as the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, the Federal Law Enforcement [Officers] Association, the Police Executive Research Forum, Major City Chiefs Association, and others who . . . stepped up and endorsed what we’re talking about today.”

“This executive order is going to deliver the most significant police reform in decades.  It applies directly, under law, to only 100,000 federal law enforcement officers — all the federal law enforcement officers.  And though federal incentives and best practices they’re attached to, we expect the order to have significant impact on state and local law enforcement agencies as well.”

“Here are the key parts:

“First, the executive order promotes accountability.  It creates a new national law enforcement accountability database to track records of misconduct so that an officer can’t hide the misconduct. It strengthens the pattern-and-practice investigations to address  systemic misconduct in some departments.  It mandates all federal agents wear and activate body cameras while on patrol.”

Second, the executive order raises standards, bans chokeholds, restricts no-knock warrants, tightens use-of-force policies to emphasize de-escalation and the duty to intervene to stop another officer from using excessive force. . . .”

Third, “the executive order modernizes policing.  It calls for a fresh approach to recruit, train, promote, and retain law enforcement that [is] tied to advancing public safety and public trust.
Right now, we don’t systematically collect data, for instance, on instances of police use of force.  This executive order is going to improve that data collection.”

Other Comments on the Order

As an executive order, it is not as comprehensive as a federal statute on these subjects, but because of Republican opposition Congress has refused to adopt such legislation this term. Moreover, as a federal order it cannot and does not compel state and local law enforcement agencies to adopt the policies set forth in the order; instead, as previously noted, it provides incentives for state and local agencies to do so.

“Larry Cosme, president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, said the order will have the most direct impact on the nation’s 100,000 federal officers, given that Biden’s ability to act unilaterally on policies for local and state police is limited. But Cosme [also] said the document could serve as a ‘national role model for all law enforcement around the country. We’ve engaged in hundreds of hours of discussions, and this can inspire people in the state and local departments to say: ‘This is what we need to do.’”

“Cosme emphasized that the order will include sections aimed at providing more support for officer wellness, including mental health, and officer recruitment and retention at a time when many departments are facing low morale and staffing shortages. ‘No officer wants anyone, not the suspect or the victim, to lose their life. We want the maximum safety for everyone in the country.’”

The order also drew support from other leaders of major policing organizations.

Jim Pasco, the executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police, said he thought the order’s revised use-of-force language would “bring more clarity and better guidance to officers” but without causing them to become so risk-averse that they fail to protect themselves and others when necessary. “It’s not a question of stricter or less strict,” Mr. Pasco said. “It’s a question of better framed. And a better-constructed definition of the use of force.” He added: “It’s not a sea change.”

Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, “It’s the nature of American policing. We don’t have a national police force, no national standards and no way of making every department comply with national standards. What this does is, when you don’t have Congress acting on a police bill, you have the president of the United States setting the tone: ‘Here’s what I expect of federal agencies and, therefore, I think state and local will follow.’”

Another supporter of the order, the NAACP by its President, Derrick Johnson, said, ‘We know full well that an executive order cannot address America’s policing crisis the same way Congress has the ability to, but we’ve got to do everything we can. There’s no better way to honor George Floyd’s legacy than for President Biden to take action by signing a police reform executive order.’”

Marc Morial, a former New Orleans mayor who is president and chief executive of the National Urban League, called the order ‘a very important step. We recognize that this process is not going to be easy. This is a long fight. I’m going to accept this first important step by the president because it’s a powerful statement, and it reflects what he can do with his own executive power.’”

The American Civil Liberties Union by Udi Ofer, its deputy national political director, offered cautious support for the executive order, saying much would depend on how it was carried out. “Correct implementation of this standard will be pivotal for its success,” he said. “We have seen jurisdictions with strong standards where officers still resort to the use of deadly force, so just having these words on paper will not be enough. The entire culture and mentality needs to change to bring these words to life, and to save lives.”

Christy E. Lopez, a Georgetown University Law professor and expert on policing issues, [3] praised the order, but noted, that the order is not self-executing, but “will take an enormous amount of effort and focus, particularly by Attorney General Merrick Garland and the Justice Department, but by other federal agencies as well, to ensure that the mandated guidance, studies, grants, task forces and databases are not only created but remain faithful to the goals of the executive order. And that is going to require advocates to keep persistent pressure on the government.” This order “is not legislation. This means, for example, that those of us who support modifying qualified immunity for officials accused of violating a plaintiff’s rights, or creating direct municipal liability for police misconduct, must still push Congress to pass the necessary laws. An even bigger limitation is that while the executive branch can provide state and local governments support and incentives to reduce the harms of policing, it cannot direct them to do so. The bulk of that work must continue to be done in cities, counties and states across the country.”

======================

[1] White House, Executive Order on Advancing Effective, Accountable Policing and Criminal Justice Practices to Enhance Public Trust and Public Safety (May 25, 2022);

[2] White House, Remarks by President Biden and Vice President Harris at Signing of Executive Order to Advance Effective, Accountable Policing and Strengthen Public Safety (May 25, 2022); Biden Set to Issue Policing Order on Anniversary of George Floyd Killing, N.Y. Times (May 24, 2022); Biden signs executive order on policing on the anniversary of George Floyd’s death, Wash. Post (May 25, 2022); Biden signs police reform executive order on anniversary of George Floyd’s murder, Guardian (May 26, 2022); Lopez, Biden’s order is a good start on police reform, But Congress must also act, Wash. Post (May 27, 2022)

[3] See Importance of Pending Federal Criminal Case Over Killing of George Floyd, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 24, 2022).

Ex-Officer Thomas Lane Pleads Guilty to State Charge of Aiding and Abetting Manslaughter of George Floyd   

On May 18, 2022, former Minneapolis Police Officer Thomas Lane in state court pleaded guilty to the charge of aiding and abetting manslaughter of George Floyd on May 25, 2020. [1]

Before Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill, this guilty plea was part of a plea agreement which dismissed the separate charge of aiding and abetting second-degree murder and for a sentence of three years imprisonment in federal prison to be served concurrently with his upcoming sentence for his February 2022 conviction in federal court for violating Floyd’s civil rights. The state court sentencing is scheduled for September 21.[2]

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison issued a statement saying, “Today my thoughts are once again with the victims, George Floyd and his family. Nothing will bring Floyd back. He should still be with us today.” Ellison then said, “I am pleased Thomas Lane has accepted responsibility for his role in Floyd’s death. His acknowledgment he did something wrong is an important step toward healing the wounds of the Floyd family, our community, and the nation. While accountability is not justice, this is a significant moment in this case and a necessary resolution on our continued journey to justice.”  Lane’s attorney, Earl Gray, however, declined to comment on this development.

Two other ex-MPD officers, Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng still face state charges of aiding and abetting second-degree murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death. That trial is scheduled to commence on June 13. [3]

============================

[1] Olson, Ex-MPD officer Thomas Lane pleads guilty to manslaughter charge for role in George Floyd’s murder, StarTribune (May 18, 2022); Forlitti & Karnowski (AP), Ex-cop pleads guilty to manslaughter in George Floyd killing, Wash. Post (May 18, 2022); Ex-Minneapolis police officer pleads guilty to manslaughter in George Floyd’s death, NBC News (May 18, 2022); Minnesota Attorney General, ‘Pleased Thomas Lane has accepted responsibility ‘: Attorney general Ellison statement on guilty plea in death of George Floyd (May 18, 2022). Apparently in April, Lane, Kueng and Thao rejected a plea deal (details not publicly available) offered by the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office. (Jimenez, 3 former police officers charged in George Floyd’s death reject plea deal, CNN.com (April 13, 2022).

[2] Federal Criminal trial for Killing George Floyd: Jury Deliberations and Verdict, dwkcommentareis.com (Feb. 25, 2022).

[3] Hennepin County District Court Enters Order Regarding Trial of Three Former Minneapolis Policemen Over Killing of George Floyd, dwkcommentaries.com (April 30, 2022).