Federal Criminal Charges Against Ex-Minneapolis Policemen Over George Floyd Killing     

On May 7, the federal court in Minneapolis unsealed a federal grand jury indictment of four ex-Minneapolis policeman—Derek Chauvin, J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thau—for allegedly using the “color of the law” 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 are charged with failing to help provide medical care to Floyd and “thereby acting with deliberate indifference eot a substantial risk of harm.” [1]

The latter three defendants, who are out on bail and scheduled for an August trial on the state charges,, appeared May 7  via Zoom before U.S. District Court Judge  Paul A. Magnuson. Chauvin, however, who is in a state prison as a result of his conviction in state court on charges of second and third degree murder and second degree manslaughter, apparently will appear separately via Zoom on the new federal charges.[2]

The federal statute authorizing the case against Chauvin carries a possible sentence of life in prison or the death penalty because Floyd died during the commission of the alleged offenses, but it is not yet known what penalty federal prosecutors would seek.

This indictment also charges Chauvin with two separate counts alleging he willfully deprived a 14-year-old Minneapolis boy of his civil rights during a 2017 arrest. Chauvin pinned the teenager down and struck him on the head with his flashlight, then grabbed him by the throat and hit him again, according to court documents.

Reactions to this Case

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison commented on these new federal charges, “”The federal government has a responsibility to protect the civil rights of every American and to pursue justice to the fullest extent of federal law.”  federal prosecution for the violation of George Floyd’s civil rights is entirely appropriate, particularly now that Derek Chauvin has been convicted of murder under Minnesota law for the death of George Floyd. The State is planning to present our case against the other three defendants to another jury in Hennepin County later this summer.”

The attorney for the Floyd family, Benjamin Crump, also commented as follows, “Today’s federal indictment for criminal civil rights violations associated with the murder of George Floyd reinforces the strength and wisdom of the United States Constitution. The Constitution claims to be committed to life, liberty, and justice, and we are seeing this realized in the justice George Floyd continues to receive. … We are encouraged by these charges and eager to see continued justice in this historic case that will impact Black citizens and all Americans for generations to come.”

Also supporting these new charges were Al Sharpton and Derrick Johnson:

  • Sharpton, a longtime civil rights figure who eulogized Floyd at his funeral last year and has been a visible supporter of the family, said this new case “shows we have a Justice Department that deals with police criminality and does not excuse it nor allow police to act as though as what they do is acceptable behavior in the line of duty. . . . This is a significant development for those of us who have been engaged in the struggle and police reform movement.”
  • Johnson, National President of the NAACP, called the indictments a “step in the right direction,” but said the case highlights the need for police reforms, including implementing a national registry of police misconduct data.” While Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd over 9 minutes and 29 seconds, no other police officer on the scene acted to save his life, The horrifying actions and inactions of all four police officers resulted in the preventable death of a loving father, son and brother. No police officer is above the law, nor should they ever be shielded from accountability. We need urgent reforms now.”

The Minneapolis Police and Peace Officers Association, which is providing legal representation for the four officers in their state cases, said it will be doing the same in federal court with the same attorneys.

This criminal case is unrelated to the recent U.S. Department of Justice investigation of the Minneapolis Police Department and to pending developments in the state criminal case against Chauvin—the prosecution’s request for enhanced sentencing of Chauvin, his sentencing hearing this June, his request for a new trial and his anticipated appeal—and the scheduled state court trial of the other three defendants in August. [3]

 

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[1] Indictment, U.S. v. Chauvin, Thao, Kueng and Lane, U.S. Dist. of Minn. (Case 0:21-cr-00108-PAM-TNL (May 6, 2021), https://int.nyt.com/data/documenttools/george-floyd-killing-civil-rights-charges/a0453a1c7b14ce33/full.pdf; Mannix, 4 ex-Minneapolis cops indicted on civil rights charges in George Floyd death, StarTribune (May 7, 2021); Nakamura, Justice Dept. charges ex-Minneapolis police officers with violating George Floyd’s civil rights, Wash. Post (May 7, 2021); Benner, Four former Minneapolis police officers are indicted on charges of violating George Floyd’s civil rights, N.Y. Times (May 7, 2021); Gurman & Barrett, Federal Grand Jury Indicts Former Minneapolis Police Officers in George Floyd Killing, W.S.J. (May 7, 2021).

[2] See Derek Chauvin Trial: Week Seven (Conviction), dwkcommentaries.com (April 21, 2021).

[3] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Department of Justice Starts Investigation of Minneapolis Police Department (April 22, 2021); Derek Chauvin Trial: Defense Motion for New Trial and Impeachment of Jury Verdict (May 6, 2021);Update on Status of Trial Dates in George Floyd Criminal Cases (Feb. 4, 2021).

 

 

 

 

 

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As a retired lawyer and adjunct law professor, Duane W. Krohnke has developed strong interests in U.S. and international law, politics and history. He also is a Christian and an active member of Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. His blog draws from these and other interests. He delights in the writing freedom of blogging that does not follow a preordained logical structure. The ex post facto logical organization of the posts and comments is set forth in the continually being revised “List of Posts and Comments–Topical” in the Pages section on the right side of the blog.

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