On October 21, Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill, with one exception, denied the four defendants’ motions to dismiss all criminal charges for alleged lack of probable cause in the George Floyd criminal cases. The exception was the charge of third-degree murder against Derek Chauvin, which was dismissed. These orders and the reasons for same are contained in the Court’s 107-page Order and Opinion on the four defendants’’ motions to dismiss for lack of probable cause.
In so doing, the Court properly stressed that under Minnesota law its evaluation of these dismissal motions is “to assess whether the State has come forward with sufficient admissible evidence on each element of the charges . . .to warrant binding each of the Defendants over for trial . . . to accept as true all the allegations made by the State in its Statements of Probable Cause . . . [and to] draw in the State’s favor all inferences that may reasonably be drawn from those facts.” (Pp. 7-8.)
Here, we will review the main points in the court’s sustaining the charges of second-degree unintentional murder and second-degree manslaughter against Derek Chauvin and the charges against the other three defendants (Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thau) for aiding and abetting these charges. Discussion of the dismissal of the third-degree murder charge against Chauvin will be left to the newspaper articles that are cited below.
Finding Probable Cause for Charge of Second-Degree Murder Against Chauvin
Under the above standard for evaluating such dismissal motions, the court concluded that there was probable cause that the prosecution had established probable cause for the following requirements for this crime: (i) Floyd died; (ii) “Chauvin’s conduct was a substantial causal factor in Floyd’s death;” (iii) “Chauvin intentionally inflicted or attempted to inflict bodily harm on Floyd or intended to cause Floyd to fear immediate bodily harm or death;: and (iv) “Chauvin inflicted substantial bodily harm on Floyd.” (Pp. 35-53.)
In the process of reaching these conclusions, the Court said: (i) “Chauvin never relented and never lessened the pressure of his knee against Floyd’s neck even when Floyd pleaded: ‘I can’t breathe. Please, your knew in my neck’’” (p. 39); and (ii) “Notwithstanding Floyd having gone silent and motionless, the mounting evidence of his lost consciousness, the plaintiff cries and demands from the bystanders, and the obvious reality that Floyd was no longer resisting or non-compliant, Chauvin’s demeanor never changed, and he continued kneeling on Floyd’s neck applying constant pressure to pin Floyd’s face to the pavement for an additional two and a half minutes” (p. 41).
These statements followed the Court’s “Factual Background,” which stated, in part, the following:
- “The Critical Nine Plus Minutes between 8:19:18 and 8:28:42 P.M.: Floyd Is Subdued and Restrained Prone in the Street, with Chauvin Kneeling on the Back of Floyd’s Neck, Pinning His Face to the Street, Kueng and Lane Restraining and Pinning Floyd’s Back and Legs to the Street, and Thao Maintaining Bystander Watch.” (p. 22).
- “Floyd uttered his final words ‘Please,’ at 8:23:55 p.m., and ‘I can’t breathe,’at 8:23:59 p.m.. . . Floyd then fell silent.” (p. 25.)
- “Even after Floyd ceased talking and moving and went limp, Defendants maintained their positions.” (p. 25)
- “As Floyd lost consciousness and shortly before uttering his final words, Lane asked Chauvin and Kueng: ‘Should we roll him on his side?’ Citing concern ‘about the exited delirium or whatever . . .[and] Chauvin rejected Lane’s suggestion, stating that the ambulance was en route.” (p. 25)
- “Neither Lane nor Kueng did anything to challenge Chauvin’s answer. Instead, they remained in the same position and continued to hold down Floyd’s back and legs.” (p. 25)
- “After hearing the bystanders’ pleas to check Floyd for a pulse [8:25:40-8-8:26:05 p.m.], Lane asked Kueng if he could detect a pulse. After checking Floyd’s wrist for about ten seconds, Kueng reported: ‘I can’t find one [a pulse].[8:25:45-8:26:00].” (p. 27.)
- “Kueng continued to check Floyd for a pulse. About ten seconds later, Kueng sighed, leaned back slightly, and repeated: ‘I can’t find one.” [8:26:07-12.] (p. 27.)
- “[8:26:12-18] Upon learning that Keung could not find a pulse, Chauvin squeezed Floyd’s fingers. Floyd did not respond.” (p. 27/)
- “Even though Floyd remained unresponsive, the Defendants did not move from their positions. They continued to restrain Floyd—Chauvin with his left knee pressed firmly into Floyd’s neck, Kueng kneeling on Floyd’s back, and Lane holding Floyd’s legs—while Thao kept bystanders back on the sidewalk. They also ignored the off-duty firefighter’s urgent demands that they check Floyd for a pulse and begin chest compressions if he had no pulse. . . None of the Defendants ever attempted PR while Floyd was on the ground.” (pp. 27-28)
- “At 8:27 p.m., an ambulance arrived on the scene. . . . Still, Chauvin, Kueng, Lane, and Thao did not move from their positions. . . . Indeed, even as Lane explained to emergency personnel that Floyd was ‘not responsive right now,’ Chauvin kept his knee on Floyd’s neck (8:27:36-38).” (p. 28)
- “[F]or more than a minute after the emergency personnel arrived, Chauvin continued to press Floyd face-down into the pavement, Lane knelt over Floyd’s legs, and Thao continued to push back the crowd.” (p. 28)
- At 8:28:42 p.m., when the stretcher was ready, Chauvin finally stood up, removing his knee from Floyd’s neck. . . .Floyd remained unresponsive.” (p. 28)
- “In total, Floyd was subdued, pinned face-down in the street—with Chauvin’s knee pressing into his neck and Kueng and Lane restraining his back and legs—for more than nine minutes and twenty seconds.(8:19:18-8:28:42 p.m.) For over four minutes and forty seconds, Floyd did not speak. (8:24:00-8:28:42) For almost three and a half minutes, Floyd appeared not to be breathing. (8:25:15-8:28:42 p.m.) And for more than two and a half minutes, the Defendants were unable to locate a pulse. (8:25:10-8:28:42). Yet over that entire time period, Defendants remained in the same positions: Chauvin continued to kneel with his left knee pressed firmly down on Floyd’s neck pinning Floyd’s face into the street, Kueng and Lane remained atop Floyd’s back and legs, and Thao continued to prevent the crowd of concerned citizens from interceding.” (p. 29)
Finding Probable Cause for Charge of Aiding and Abetting Second-Degree Murder Against Other Defendants
Under the previously cited standard for evaluating such dismissal motions, the court concluded “the evidence the State relies upon is sufficient for probable cause purposes for the State’s charges that Thao, Lane and Kueng each independently aided and abetted Floyd’s second-degree unintentional murder by Chauvin.” (p. 79.)
The previously discussed evidence supports a potential jury conclusion “that Lane knew Chauvin was intentionally committing an assault that inflicted substantial bodily harm on Floyd” and that “Lane intended to aid Chauvin in the assault on Floyd.” (Pp. 79-91.) The same was true for Kueng (pp 91-94) and Thao (pp. 94-99).
Additional comments on Thao were required because “at no point was he involved in the efforts to physically restrain Floyd. Rather, his role was primarily to maintain watch over the growing crowd of bystanders.” (Pp. 94-99.) But “a jury could conclude, on the basis of the evidence, that Thao knew that Chauvin was intentionally inflicting substantial bodily harm on Floyd” and that Chauvin’s continuing to kneel on Floyd’s neck for minutes after he had ceased talking, moving, or breathing and knowing that Kueng had not been able to detect a pulse was contrary to MPD policy and could not be a considered a justifiable use of reasonable force.” Moreover, under Minnesota cases, “Active participation in the overt act that constitutes the substantive offense—here, the assault—is not a requirement for aiding and abetting liability” and that “’the lookout’ . . ‘is a classic example’ of an ‘aider and abetter.’”
Finding Probable Cause for Charge of Second-Degree Manslaughter Against Chauvin
Under the previously cited standard for evaluating such dismissal motions, the court concluded there was sufficient evidence for a jury to conclude that Floyd died and that Chauvin caused that death “by culpable negligence, whereby Chauvin created an unreasonable risk and consciously took a chance of causing death or great bodily harm.” (Pp. 67- 75.)
Finding Probable Cause for Charge of Aiding and Abetting Second-Degree Manslaughter Against Other Defendants
Under the previously cited standard for evaluating such dismissal motions, the court concluded that there was probable cause for the charge of aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter because there was sufficient evidence for (i) Chauvin’s causing Floyd’s death by culpable negligence, whereby he created and unreasonable risk and consciously took a chance of causing death or great bodily harm; (ii) the other three defendants “knew Chauvin by his culpable negligence, created an unreasonable risk and consciously took a chance of causing death or great bodily harm; “ and (iii) the other three defendants “intended that . . .[their] presence or actions aided Chauvin’s commission of that crime.” (Pp. 99-107)
To this retired lawyer bystander, this Order and Memorandum is exceptionally well reasoned, documented and written. Moreover, I think it implicitly signals that the Judge will deny the defense motions to change venue (unless the demonstrations and protests get further out-of-line) and grant the prosecution’s motion for a joint trial of the four cases. An implicit or explicit consideration for Judge Cahill’s deciding the change of venue motions by the four defendants would have to be not wanting to impose the immense burden that would be placed on another district court in the state in taking on this complex case in which so much already has happened.
If I were representing one of these defendants, I would be very worried about my chances for success at trial.
 Order and Memorandum Opinion on Defense Motions To Dismiss for Lack of Probable Cause, State v. Chauvin, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12646 (Hennepin County District Court (Oct. 21, 2020); Xiong, Ex-Minneapolis police charged in George Floyd’s killing will go to trial; one count against Derek Chauvin dropped, judge rules, StarTribune (Oct. 22, 2020); Assoc. Press, Judge Dismisses a Third-Degree Murder Charge in George Floyd’s Death, W.S.J. (Oct. 22, 2020); Ismay, Judge Dismisses Third-Degree Murder Charge in George Floyd Case, N.Y. Times (Oct. 22, 2020); Bailey, Judge dismisses third-degree murder charge against officer in George Floyd’s death: upholds more serious charge, Wash. Post (Oct. 22, 2020).