Federal Criminal Trial for Killing George Floyd: Closing Arguments

On February 22, 2022, the United States for the prosecution and the attorneys for the defendants Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane presented their closing arguments to the jury. [1]

The Charges Against the Defendants

Thao and Kueng are charged with failing to intervene on Floyd’s behalf while the two of them and Lane are charged with with failing to provide medical aid to Floyd while Derek Chauvin was using unreasonable force.

Prosecution’s Closing Argument

Assistant U.S. Attorney Manda Sertich emphasized the length of time that Mr. Floyd had suffered while the officers did not provide aid. They watched and listened, but did not help as Chauvin killed a man “in broad daylight on a public street.” They knew Floyd needed aid. They had been trained that every second counted to start life-saving procedures for an unresponsive man. They had the ability to help, but they didn’t.

Thao had “done nothing” for 4 minutes and 40 seconds as Floyd called out for help. Instead he “mocked” Floyd by telling bystanders that this is “why you don’t do drugs, kids.” During that same time, Kueng ignored Floyd’s pleas as he crouched “shoulder to shoulder” with Chauvin, never urging him to let up. Kueng also laughed when Chauvin said the dying man talked a lot for someone who said he couldn’t breathe. Lane, who was holding Floyd’s legs, had chosen “not to stop the horror unfolding under his nose, only suggesting that Chauvin roll Floyd onto his side, but  “doing nothing to give Floyd the medical aid he knew he so desperately needed.”

Even as Floyd said he could not breathe for a 27th time, the officers “were only halfway through their crime.”

The falsity of the defense is proved by ordinary citizen bystanders, including a nine-year old, who cried out for the officers to intervene. “These civilians didn’t have a badge. They didn’t have other officers who could back them up. They knew these officers had more power than they did, more authority than they did and could cause trouble for them. And they still insisted.”

“These defendants knew what was happening, and contrary to their training, contrary to common sense, contrary to basic human decency,” they “chose not to aid George Floyd, as the window into which Mr. Floyd’s life could have been saved slammed shut. This is a crime. The defendants are guilty as charged.”

Defendants’ Closing Arguments

The three defense counsel collectively argued that their clients had deferred to the judgment of Chauvin, the senior officer on the scene; that their attention had at times been diverted from Floyd’s deteriorating condition; and that restraining Floyd was necessary because he had taken fentanyl and earlier had refused to get into the back of a squad car after being accused of using a counterfeit $20 bill to buy a package of cigarette.

Defense counsel also argued that the prosecution had made misleading arguments and that this case had been brought because of political pressure.

Lane’s attorney noted that he had asked Chauvin if they should roll Floyd onto his side and thus had not been charged with failure to intervene. In addition, when paramedics had arrived, Lane told them that Floyd was unresponsive and then Lane rode with Floyd in the ambulance and applied chest compressions.

Kueng’s attorney said the crowd of bystanders had created an unusual and hostile situation.

Prosecution Rebuttal

Another Assistant U.S. Attorney, LeeAnn Bell, emphasized that the key to the case was a police officer’s duty: “In your custody, in your care.”

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[1] Mannix & Olson, In closing arguments at trial of three former Minneapolis officers, attorneys spar over ‘willful intent,’ StarTribune  (Feb. 22, 2022); Mannix, Defense of former officers puts Minneapolis ‘paramilitary’ training on trial, StarTribjne (Feb. 22, 2022); Barrett, Prosecutor Says Ex-Officers ‘Chose to Do Nothing’ in Floyd arrest, W.S.J. (Feb. 22, 2022);