Federal Criminal Trial for George Floyd Killing: Prosecution Witnesses (Part I)

Here is a summary of the testimony of prosecution witnesses on January 24-28, 31 and February 1-2. On February 2 at 10:00 a.m. the trial was recessed until Monday, February 7, 9:30 a.m. because Defendant Thomas Lane has COVID.[1]

Kimberly Meline.

As the first trial witness, Meline established foundation for various videos of the police encounter with George Floyd on May 25, 2020, near Cup Foods in south Minneapolis. This included synchronizing some videos to play side by side.

A 34-minute video showed officers Kueng and Lane walking into Cup Foods and then walking to the car outside where Floyd is at the steering wheel. Lane points his gun at him and asks him to put his hands on the steering wheel. He does not comply and one of the officers says, “When you’re moving around like that, that makes us think way more is going on than we even know.”

This video then shows Lane and Kueng cuff Floyd and take him to a squad car and try to put him inside. Floyd objects, “I’m not that kind of guy. I’m claustrophobic.” He also says “I can’t breathe.” After Floyd is placed on the pavement near a police vehicle, the video captures him saying, “I can’t breathe. Mama, I love you.”

Another video, this from Kueng’ body-worn camera, was fixed on the passenger-side rear tire of a squad car, as bystanders can be heard shouting from the sidewalk and Floyd is unresponsive. A bystander, Donald Williams, says, “You think that’s cool, bro? You’re a bum for that.” This video also shows Thao holding back a group of bystanders on the sidewalk.

Charles McMillian

McMillian, a 71-year -old neighbor, was the first witness on the scene on May 25, 2020, and told Floyd to get in the back of the squad car and make it easy on himself because “You can’t win.” With tears, McMillian said, “I knew something bad was going to happen to Mr. Floyd . . . that he was going to die.”

Jena Scurry

A 911 dispatcher, Scurry testified that the officers asked for a “Code 2” ambulance without lights and sirens for a “mouth injury.” They did not report that Floyd was having trouble breathing. If they had, she could have sent “rescue” medical help from the fire department which could get to the scene faster than from Hennepin County EMS. A few minutes later she “grew concerned” that the officers appeared so long on a city surveillance camera that she called and reported this to a Third Precinct sergeant

Christopher Martin

At 19 years of age, Martin was working the evening shift at Cup Foods in May 2020 and accepted a blue-hued, obviously counterfeit $20 bill from Floyd to pay for a pack of cigarettes. At the instruction of the store manager, Martin went outside to bring Floyd back inside. Floyd, he testified, looked high and did not want to return to the store so the manager had another employee call 911.

A few moments later Martin saw a crowd outside the store and went outside to see a police officer with his knee or his body weight on Floyd’s neck, who appeared “dead . . . not moving.”

Derek Smith

A paramedic for Hennepin Healthcare, Smith testified that he and his partner arrived at the scene on a Code 2 non-emergency call. He immediately noted that Floyd had large pupils, no pulse and a chest not rising and falling and then told his partner “I think he’s dead. I’d like to provide patient care away from the scene” because “I knew I would have to work cardiac arrest, probably taking off his clothes.” They removed the body to the ambulance and started to set up lifesaving equipment while officer Lane attempted CPR. Yes, Lane was helpful to the paramedics.

Genevieve Hansen

An off-duty Minneapolis firefighter, while on a walk, Hansen came upon the scene near Cup Foods on May 25, 2020, and observed the lights of a squad-car,  “a woman was yelling that they were killing him” and “the amount of people that were on top of one person.” She also noticed “there were no medics or fire [department personnel] there, so there was no medical attention available.” The man on the ground wasn’t moving, his face was really swollen and smashed to the ground. She saw fluid coming from his general body and thought he could have emptied his bladder, which” is a sign of death or near death.” (Later, she says she learned the fluid was runoff from vehicle exhaust.) She was “concerned that he needed help.”

Hansen offered to help and urged one of them (Thao) to check the man’s pulse only to be rebuffed and told to get back on the sidewalk. This officer said something like, “If you’re really a Minneapolis firefighter then you should know better than to get involved.” This prompted Hansen to yell and swear at the officers because the man on the ground needed help immediately and he wasn’t not getting it, so I was just trying everything.”

Jeremy Norton

Norton, a Minneapolis fire captain, arrived at the scene to provide EMS and heard someone yell, “You all killed that man,” to the officers. In the Cup Foods store Norton met and talked with Hansen, who said she thought the officers had killed Floyd. Yet Norton said the officers did not seem concerned. In response to a question by Robert Paule, Thao’s attorney, about “excited delirium,” Norton said it was part of firefighters training, but the American Medical Association had concluded that it lacked scientific evidence as a legitimate diagnosis.

At the end of the day on the 26th, Plunkett for the third time called for a mistrial, but the Judge denied the motion while telling the prosecution to be careful with leading questions.

Katie Blackwell

As a Police Department Inspector, Blackwell oversees training, which includes a medical component and scenarios officers may face in the field. MPD core values: trust, accountability and professional service. The Field Training Handbook asserts these values: (1) public safety and justice, not just absence of crime; (2) being truthful; (3) holding each other accountable; and (4) not committing public or private conduct that would sully the department.” Phases of training: (1) being in the field with a field training officer, getting comfortable with the public and computer system; and (2) being in a different precinct with a different field training officer.

MPD Code of Conduct: all employees to obey the code of conduct, rules, ordinances, laws. “The integrity of police service is based on truthfulness.” Other sections talk about being fair, unbiased and professional. “Required to immediately report any violation of rules, including but not limited to unreasonable use of force—regardless of rank.” Use of force starts with police presence and escalates to use of force. Use the lowest level of force necessary to detain someone. Once there is compliance, force stops. “Sanctity of life and protection of the public should be the cornerstones of MPD’s use of force policy.” If a person has stopped resisting, the person is complying. This includes protecting persons suspected of violating the law from police use of unnecessary force. Officers have a duty “to stop or attempt to stop another officer when force is being inappropriately applied or is no longer required.”

The Department’s officers have “a duty to intervene because there is an obligation for sanctity of life to protect the public and fellow employees.” This includes a “duty to “stop or attempt to stop” another officer ”when force is being inappropriately applied or is no longer required.” It also includes “rendering medical aid consistent with training, including CPR, chest seal/tourniquet, administering Narcan, checking breathing. These requirements take into consideration an individual’s medical conditions, mental impairment, developmental disability, physical limitations, language barriers, drug or alcohol use and behavioral crisis.

MPD policy defines neck restraint as “restricting the blood flow” and “chokehold” can be used before shooting someone. Although policy says “neck restraint” can be used with a leg, officers are not trained to do so. “Conscious neck restraint” can be used when someone is actively resisting arrest and usually takes 15 seconds. Hobble is used to prevent someone from kicking and being combative. Prone position sometimes is used to get someone handcuffed, but then turn the person on his or her side so they can breathe easier.

“Sanctity of life and protection of public shall be the cornerstones of the MPD’s use of force policy. No matter what kind of force we’re using, we have to protect people.” “MPD employees shall only use the amount of force ‘objectively reasonable’ in light of circumstances: the amount and type of force that would be considered rational and logical to an objective officer on the scene, supported by facts and circumstances known to an officer at the time the force was used.”  Force can be used for “lawful arrest, execution of legal process, enforcing order of court, legal duties.”

MPD crisis intervention policy requires police to treat vulnerable people with compassion. Must call EMS and “render first aid until EMS gets there.” MPD policy for police to not stop people from videotaping police events.

Blackwell worked with Chauvin at third precinct for many years.

Blackwell reviewed Thao’s 2018 training–“Defensive Tactics In-Service.” It said, “Sanctity of life and protection of public. Based on 4th amendment reasonableness standard. Restraint is a form of force. Proportional force based on what the subject is doing. Need to use lowest level of force and justify any use of higher level.” Use of force: active aggression (being combative or trying to assault), active resistance, passive resistance and flight.

MPD academy tries to get officers comfortable correcting one another. “You will be held responsible for your actions and inactions.”

Blackwell also testified that the first officers on the scene, Lane and Kueng, under MPD policy, were in charge of the scene and should not have deferred to Chauvin, especially when Chauvin violated policy by putting his knee on Floyd’s neck and not removing it as Floyd was gasping for air and ultimately dying.

Initially Floyd showed active resistance and aggression when officers were trying to put him in back seat of squad car, which would have justified the officers using a taser on him.

Chauvin’s actions were inconsistent with policy when he had his knee on Floyd’s neck and pulled on his hand for “pain compliance.”

Three of the four officers who arrested and restrained Floyd did not act in accordance with use-of-force policy. Officers were not really communicating with each other. When Floyd went unconscious they were supposed to move him, but did not do so. Lane held Floyd’s legs. They did not move Floyd on his side as they were supposed to. Lane suggested doing so, but no one did so. When Floyd went unconscious, officers were supposed to render aid, but they did not do so. When Floyd had no pulse, they were supposed to perform medical aid, but they did not do so. MPD policy requires an officer to intervene to stop use of inappropriate force. The three officers failed in their duty to intervene.

There was a crowd of bystanders, but they were on sidewalk following orders and were not posing any threat to the officers.

Plunkett cross-examination: Blackwell disagrees with assertion that senior leadership establishes culture of organization and training. Instead recruits should mirror in field what they learned in training. Policy manual has 537 pages, and officers are supposed to know it. There are annual tests of some parts. DOJ is investigating pattern and practice of MPD, including alleged deficiency in officer training.

Paule cross-examination. The attorney for ex-officer Thao, Robert Paule, got Blackwell to agree that a MPD training slideshow cited a draft report by the city’s civil rights division that found a sharp rise in ketamine injections of detainees and examples of police asking emergency medical services for the sedative by name and joking about its powerful effects along with a footnote dismissing the report as a “reckless use of anecdote” that will “prevent the saving of lives.” Blackwell also testified, “If you’re dealing with somebody who is displaying signs of excited delirium, it can be very dangerous.”

Paule also identified other slides from the MPD course on its “excited delirium” training that had officers pinning down suspects with their knees, similar to the way Chauvin pinned down Floyd.

Dr. Bradford Wankhede Langenfeld

Langenfeld went into stabilization room for most critical patients to await Floyd’s arrival as a cardiac arrest patient. Floyd arrived at 8:55 p.m. Upon arrival, paramedics said no one at scene had started CPR before they arrived, and a minute’s delay in CPR reduces chances of success from cardiac arrest by 10-15%. But paramedics in ambulance tried resuscitation for about 30 minutes before arrival at hospital, but never found a pulse.

At hospital they continued compressions with Lucas device and gained additional IV access for more medications. Replaced windpipe tube with a more secure tube for better venting and arterial line. Dr. Langenfeld believes most likely cause of this cardiac arrest was “mechanical asphyxia” (inability to expand chest wall) and “excited delirium” or “severe agitated state.” There was a mouth injury which made him think the patient had been pinned down in prone position. Fentanyl by itself is a depressant, shows down breathing, but would not lead to severe agitated state.

After Dr. Langenfeld had worked on Floyd for about 30 minutes, cardiac arrest had come to near standstill; no clinical improvement; so doctor declared Floyd dead. When the heart stops, tissues and brain start to die, and irreversible brain damage occurs within 4-6 minutes of cardiac arrest.

Cross-examination by Paule (Thau’s attorney). Dr. Langenfeld says excited delirium is controversial because it is used almost exclusively when law enforcement is restraining an individual and predominantly people of color, thus raising concerns about bias and most often it is a pre-hospital diagnosis, which is condemned by  AMA and which typically is used for someone who is delirious, erratic, unable to be verbally de-escalated, sweaty.

If Floyd had been using illegal drugs and sweating profusely, this possibly could have been cause of cardiac arrest.

Cross examination by Plunkett (Kueng’s attorney). If someone had consumed methamphetamine and fentanyl and then was struggling hard, that possibly could kill someone.

Redirect by prosecution. Cardiac arrest from acidosis can be reversed by prompt chest compressions and CPR ventilation. After reviewing video of Floyd’s arrest, Dr. Langenfeld believes Floyd was not subject to severe agitation that would lead to cardiac arrest.

Andrew Baker

A medical examiner, Baker examined Floyd at HCMC and testified that his heart and lungs stopped due to restraint by law enforcement. “ I view his death as being multifactorial” due to the duration of his “interaction with law enforcement” for 9.5 minutes along with his already enlarged heart and hardened arteries. However, he denied that the fentanyl and methamphetamine found in Floyd’s body and carbon monoxide poisoning were contributory factors.

Under cross examination by attorney Paule, Baker testified that he and his office were targets of protests after Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman had published Baker’s preliminary autopsy findings that highlighted Floyd’s cardiovascular disease and “potential intoxicants” in his body. These protests included threatening phone calls, some of which targeted specific employees in his office and their families and included their home addresses. But Baker said the final conclusions on Floyd’s death were neither partisan nor driven by outside pressure. Baker also testified that excited delirium was not a cause of death.

Kueng’s attorney, Thomas Plunkett, showed Baker a photo of Kueng restraining Floyd, and Baker said that that position “wouldn’t impair his ability to breathe.” Baker gave the same answer to a question by Lane’s attorney (Earl Gray) about Lane’s position on Floyd.

Christopher Douglas

Attorney Gray objected to having Douglas testify because he trained Lane as a corrections officer in 2017 and, therefore, is not relevant. The objection, however, was overruled.

Douglas works for the Hennepin County Department of Community Corrections as the lead safety trainer for the County’s Juvenile Detention Center, where Lane worked before joining MPD. Douglas testified regarding the training about positional asphyxia that Lane would have received at that Center in 2017 and 2018. It emphasized getting “control of the subject quickly,” using arms instead of body weight while avoiding putting pressure on the torso and neck and monitoring the subject for medical issues and claiming inability to breathe. The trainees also learn de-escalation and physical restraint techniques, which aim to keep someone vertical and on their feet making it easier to transport someone and less likely to cause injury.

Comment

According to Holly Bailey, a Washington Post reporter, defense cross examination of Katie Blackwell suggests that a major defense argument will be that “Minneapolis officers are not given adequate scenario training on intervention policies and they operate in a militarized environment where younger officers are strongly discouraged from disagreeing with senior officers.” Thomas Plunkett, Kueng’s attorney, has argued that Kueng had received “inadequate training” and that the U.S. Justice Department currently is investigating the MPD, including its training programs.

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[1]  The above summary of witness testimony is based upon the following newspaper articles: Live: Federal trial of 3 former Minneapolis officers in George Floyd death, StarTribune; Mannix & Olson, Cup Foods clerk who interacted with George Floyd tells jurors of events leading to killing, StarTribune (01/25/22);  Olson & Mannix, Day 3 of testimony underway as paramedic describes how George Floyd was likely dead at scene, StarTribune (1/26/22); Mannix & Olson, ‘I think they killed him:’ Off-duty firefighter testifies of futile attempts to help unresponsive George Floyd, StarTribune (1/26/22); Mannix & Olson, Minneapolis police inspector testifies of training protocol in civil rights trial, StarTribune (1/27/22); Mannix & Olson, Kueng and Lane should have been in charge at George Floyd arrest, protocol not followed, StarTribune (1/28/22);  Mannix & Olson, Defense says poor training, paramilitary culture, stopped officer from intervening in George Floyd’s death, StarTribune (1/28/22); Bailey, Officers charged in George Floyd’s killing had been taught to intervene, police trainer testifies, Wash. Post (1/28/22); Jany & Furst, Minneapolis police training, policies under microscope in trial of 3 ex-cops in George Floyd’s death, StarTribune (1/30/22); Mannix & Olson, Testimony: Minneapolis police trained to ignore city’s civil rights report on ketamine, excited delirium, StarTribune (1/31/22); Olson & Mannix, Defense asks medical examiner about outside pressures during George Floyd death investigation, StarTribune (2/1/22); Olson & Mannix, Trial of ex-Minneapolis cops postponed by COVID diagnosis, StarTribune (2/2/22).

Federal Criminal Trial for George Floyd Killing: Opening Statements

The trial of J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao began on January 24 with the opening statements of the prosecution and defense attorneys.[1]

Prosecution’s Opening Statement

Assistant U.S. Attorney Samantha Trepel said that when police officers take a person into their custody, those officers are responsible for keeping that ensuring a person’s safety. “In your custody is in your care. It’s not just a moral responsibility, it’s what the law requires under the U.S. Constitution.” Then someone signs “up to carry a gun and wear a badge [it] comes with life or death duties.”

“Here, on May 25, Memorial Day 2020, for second after second, minute after minute, these three CPR-trained defendants stood or knelt next to officer Chauvin as he slowly killed George Floyd right in front of them” and each of them  “made a conscious choice over and over again not to act. They chose not to intervene and stop Chauvin as he killed a man slowly in front of their eyes on a public street in broad daylight.” Eventually  “the window to save Floyd’s life slammed shut.”

Defense Counsels’ Opening Statements

Before their opening statements, at least two defense counsel asked Judge Paul Magnuson to declare a mistrial due to the prosecution’s alleged “argumentative” opening statement, but the Judge denied the request.

Attorney Robert Paule, representing ex-officer Tou Thau, acknowledged “the tragedy” of Mr. Floyd’s death, but “a tragedy is not a crime.” He reminded the jury that the familiar video by a young woman at the scene did not show why the officers were at the scene in the first place– to investigate a report of a counterfeit $20 bill and Mr. Floyd’s erratic behavior and failure to follow officers’ directions.

Attorney Thomas Plunkett said his client, ex-officer J. Alexander Kueng, was a “rookie officer” who was deeply influenced by Chauvin, the most senior officer on the scene with 19 years on the street, a field training officer (FTO) in Third Precinct “for a very long time” and Kueng’s FTO. Such a FTO “has great control over a young officer’s future” in the Department and can recommend the termination of such a newcomer. In order for Kueng to be found guilty, the jury must conclude that he acted willfully, which requires proof that he acted with a bad purpose to disobey the law to deprive Floyd of his rights.

However, there is no such proof. Moreover, the Minneapolis Police Department’s “training on ‘intervention’ is little more than a word on a PowerPoint.” With senior officer Chauvin in charge, Kueng did not have the experience or proper training to deal with the situation as it unfolded or how to intervene. Nevertheless, he checked Floyd’s pulse twice and told Chauvin he could not detect a heartbeat.

The video taken by a bystander was not what Kueng saw. It is not what he perceived. It is not what he experienced.

Attorney  Earl Gray for ex-officer Thomas Lane, emphasized that Floyd at 6 foot four and 225 pounds “was all muscle” and when he reached around in the console of his vehicle, Lane feared he might be reaching for a gun. Later Lane did not put pressure on Mr. Floyd, but just had his hands on the suspect’s feet. Lane suggested to Chauvin they should “hobble” Mr. Floyd on his side, but Chauvin said “no” so it was not done. Lane also suggested that the officers should roll Mr. Floyd on his side, but Chauvin said, “no, he’s good where he is. Lane asked Chauvin if Floyd was experiencing “excited delirium,” when someone after fighting wakes up with super-human strength,” which he learned about at his police training, but Chauvin rejected the suggestion.  When the ambulance arrived, Lane asked to ride with Floyd and performed chest compressions on him and was “not deliberately indifferent at all.”

Finally the attorney said Mr. Lane would testify at the trial.

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[1] Mannix & Walsh, Opening Statements Monday in federal trial of 3 ex-cops implicated in George Floyd’s death, StarTribune (1/24/22); Live: Federal trial of 3 former Minneapolis officers in George Floyd death, StarTribune (1/24/22); Bailey, Opening statements to begin in federal trial over George Floyd’s killing, Wash. Post (1/24/22); Arango, George Floyd’s Civil Rights Are Focus in Opening Arguments of Federal Trial, N.Y. Times (1/24/22); Ajasa, Trial begins of three ex-police officers present at George Floyd murder, Guardian (1/24/22)

 

 

Court Denies Ex-Officer Kueng Motion To Remove County Attorney from George Floyd Criminal Case    

On August 6, Thomas Plunkett,the attorney for former Minneapolis police officer J. Alexander Kueng filed a motion to have Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman removed from the team of prosecuting attorneys.[1]

According to the motion papers, Freeman ‘cannot act to protect Mr. Kueng’s right to a fair trial as they have already proclaimed his guilt in numerous public statements. Mr. Freeman has called the death of Mr. Floyd a ‘senseless death’ and that he is sympathetic to the Floyd family.” In addition, Freeman allegedly “also commented that the video of the incident from a bystander ‘is graphic, and horrific and terrible, and no person should do that.” Therefore, these papers argue, “Mr. Freeman’s comments leave no doubt that justice is not his objective in the Kueng prosecution. Mr. Freeman has fomented public anger and now seeks to taint that anger with hatred through the prosecution of Mr. Kueng. He has abdicated his duties as a prosecutor and must be removed from the case.”

Kueng’s lawyer also asserted that Freeman’s office leaked information about potential plea negotiations, which he knew “would be widely reported and have a significant impact on the local community, potential jurors, and the nation.”

The very next day (August 7) without any response from the County Attorney and without a hearing, Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill denied the motion. The Judge said the attorney (Thomas Plunkett) had failed to establish that there was a conflict of interest and “failed to provide legal authority for the removal of a prosecutor by the Court, even if the allegations of improper conduct are true.”[2]

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[1] Browning, Motion seeks removal of Hennepin County Attorney from case of officer charged in Floyd killing, StarTribune (Aug. 6, 2020); Assoc. Press, Ex-Cop’s Lawyer Wants Prosecutor Dropped From Floyd Case, N.Y. Times (Aug. 6, 2020).

[2]  Assoc. Press, Judge: Mike Freeman will stay on ex-cop’s case in Floyd death, StarTribune (Aug. 7, 2020.

 

Developments in Criminal Cases Over Death of George Floyd

The four defendants in the criminal cases over the death of George Floyd last week made an unusual request for pretrial and trial audiovisual coverage which the court denied, in part. The issues in the cases were analyzed by criminal law experts. And some personal background information of the four defendants have been publicly discussed. After examining these developments, we will  await the results of the pretrial hearing in the four cases on June 29th.[1]

 Motion for Pretrial and Trial Audiovisual Recording [2]

On June 25 the attorneys for the four criminal defendants made a motion for audiovisual recording of pretrial and trial proceedings in the cases. Thomas Plunkett, the attorney for J. Alexander Kueng, on behalf of all defendants, asserted that such relief was “necessary to provide the Defendants with a fair trial in light of the State’s and other governmental actors multiple inappropriate comments and to assure an open hearing in light of the ongoing pandemic.” Those officials, said Plunkett, included “Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo.”

More specifically, Plunkett said, “this relief is necessary to blunt the effects of the increasing and repeated media attacks from the various officials who have breached their duty to the community. These State comments have crescendoed to an extraordinary volume this week with the Chief pronouncing that ‘[w]hat happened to Mr. Floyd was murder.’ The State’s conduct has made a fair and unbiased trial extremely unlikely and the Defendants seek video and audio coverage to let a cleansing light shine on these proceedings. Doing otherwise allows these public officials to geld the Constitution.”

Attorney General Keith Ellison responded by saying that although he supports a public trial, “Cameras could alter the way the lawyers present evidence. Cameras in the courtroom could subject the participants in the trial to heightened media scrutiny and thereby be distracting to conducting the trial.” The chances of  “creating more sensation than understanding” was “very high,” Ellison said.

The Hennepin County District Judge, Peter Cahill, immediately denied the motion for such pretrial coverage while reserving decision on the motion for such coverage of the trial. The Judge stated that Minnesota court rules require both the defense and prosecution to agree for such coverage for pretrial proceedings and that the prosecution did not so agree. In addition, said the Judge, such coverage “would risk tainting a potential Hennepin County jury pool.”

Analysis of Issues in These Criminal Cases[3]

A journalist reports, “Veteran defense attorneys say the prosecution’s case against Chauvin is strong, while a series of unique circumstances pose challenges to both prosecutors and defense attorneys.”

Several facets of these cases seem to favor the prosecution. These cases do not involve “split-second” decisions on use of force which often lead a jury to avoid second guessing such decisions. Moreover, “Floyd warned the officers of his own impending death after repeatedly telling them he couldn’t breathe,” and bystanders were making the same warning. Finally the three officers charged with “aiding and abetting” could cause a crack in the alleged “blue wall of silence” protecting officers.

Indeed, at their initial appearances, the attorneys for Lane and Kueng argued that their clients were rookies who relied on Chauvin, a 19-year veteran and their training officer, for guidance at the scene.

A prominent local criminal defense attorney, Joe Friedberg, thought that Lane’s twice suggesting turning Floyd over and later performing CPR on him was strong evidence he had no intent for Floyd to die.

Another local criminal defense attorney, Robert Richman, had a different reaction. He thought that Chauvin “could direct the blame at Lane, who was holding down Floyd’s leg as Floyd lay stomach-down in the street, and Kueng, who was holding onto Floyd’s back. It seems that keeping someone … in a prone position on your stomach and having pressure placed on your back causes respiratory difficulties.” Perhaps “it was the other two officers holding him down that caused the breathing difficulties,” rather than Chauvin kneeling on the side of Floyd’s neck.

Another complication was the existence of two different autopsy reports. “The Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office found that Floyd died when his heart stopped  while he was being restrained, noting that the presence of fentanyl intoxication and recent methamphetamine were “other significant conditions” while the autopsy commissioned by the attorneys for Floyd’s family said he died of asphyxia. These provide bases for defense arguments that Floy had started to die before Chauvin put his knee on the neck.

New Rule for Use of Bodycam Footage[4]

On June 27 Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and Police Chief Medaria Arradondo announced a new rule for officers’ review of their body camera footage. Now the officer “as soon as practical” must write and submit his or her written report of the incident before looking at that footage and before talking with anyone other than the incident commander and the lead investigator. This new rule purportedly will provide a more accurate account of the officer’s recollection of the incident.

The Police Officers’ Backgrounds[5]

The police personnel files for the four officers and published articles reveal the following  details:

  • Derek Chauvin. He attended Park High School in Cottage Grove, Minnesota, but did not graduate. After getting his GED he attended Dakota County Technical College, Inver Hills Community College and Metropolitan State University, all in Minnesota. Previous jobs include working security, and food service including at a McDonald’s. Chauvin also had two periods of active service in the U.S. Army. From September 1996 to February 1997 he was stationed in Rochester, Minnesota with a job in military police. He served again from September 1999 to May 2000 in military police, at Hohenfels, Germany where his job duties as including criminal investigations, traffic enforcement and proactive patrol.

During his 19-year career with the Minneapolis Police Department, Chauvin was involved with several police shootings, includes both commendations and more than 15 conduct complaints. Almost all the complaints were closed without discipline, records show, suggesting the allegations weren’t sustained. The nature of the complaints wasn’t made public. The file includes a 2008 letter of reprimand Chauvin received for the two violations involving “discretion” and a squad car camera. “This case will remain a B violation and can be used as progressive discipline for three years,” the letter notes. Chauvin received a Medal of Commendation in 2008 for disarming a man outside the El Nuevo Rodeo club on E. Lake Street while working security off-duty in his uniform. He was also recommended for a Medal of Valor in 2006 related to the shooting death of Wayne Reyes, a stabbing suspect who fled in his truck with officers in pursuit. When Reyes stopped and climbed out of the truck, police said he swung his sawed-off shotgun toward the six officers, all of whom fired their weapons.

Chauvin his married , but immediately after his arrest for the Floyd death, she filed for divorce with her attorney saying, “She is devastated by Mr. Floyd’s death and her utmost sympathy lies with his family, with his loved ones and with everyone who is grieving this tragedy.”

  • Tou Thao. The 11-year veteran and native Hmong speaker from Coon Rapids, Minnesota first applied to the department as a community service officer following stints in food service and as a security guard. He was among those laid off three days before Christmas in 2009 as the police department faced a $13 million budget shortfall. In a termination letter, a supervisor assured him the action was not related to his job performance. Officials called him back to work almost exactly two years later.

Thao and another officer were the subjects of a 2017 police brutality lawsuit. Lamar Ferguson, a black man, alleged that in 2014 the two officers told him they were serving a warrant for his arrest, then beat him, breaking his teeth, while he was handcuffed. The city of Minneapolis paid $25,000 to settle the civil rights case.

  • Thomas Lane. A University of Minnesota graduate in sociology of law, criminology and deviance. He worked with at-risk youth as a juvenile detention guard and probation officer in the Twin Cities before applying as a police recruit at age 35. He also had volunteer work mentoring Somali youth and school kids.
  • Alexander Koenig. At age 26, he is the youngest of the four officers and is of mixed-race and identifies as African-American. In 2010 he and two siblings made several trips to Haiti to help at an orphanage, once after its 2010 earthquake.He was captain of the varsity soccer team at Patrick Henry High School in Minneapolis, where he graduated in 2012. He also played for the Cruz Azul Minnesota soccer club. He attended Monroe College, Minneapolis Community & Technical College and the University of Minnesota, graduating from the last in 2018 with a major in sociology of law, criminology and deviance and becoming conversational in the Russian language. His work history includes a job as security monitor at the University of Minnesota and working in loss prevention at Macy’s. He also worked at Target, and he coached youth baseball and soccer at the Brooklyn Center Community Center.

Kueng had seen a sibling arrested and treated poorly by sheriff’s deputies and had told friends he was joining the police to help protect people close to him from police aggression as the best way to fix a broken system.

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[1] This blog has published posts about the Floyd death and related issues of police reform. See List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: George Floyd Killing; List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: Police Reform.

[2]  Xiong & Montemayor, Judge denies audiovisual coverage of hearings for former officers charged in George Floyd killing, StarTribune (June 26, 2020).

[3] Xiong, In trial over George Floyd’s killing, both defense, prosecution face unique challenges, StarTribune (June 27, 2020).

[4]] Klecker, Minneapolis mayor, police chief announce tighter body-camera rules, StarTribune (June 29, 2020).

[5] Bjorhus & Sawyer, Personnel records shed light on four Minneapolis police officers charged in George Floyd’s death, StarTribune (June 4, 2020); Bjorhus, A deeper look at the four officers fired after George Floyd death, StarTribune (June 1, 2020); Barker, Eligon & Furber, Officers Charged in George Floyd’s Death Not Likely to Present United Front, N.Y.Times (June 4, 2020); Barker, The Black Officer Who Detained George Floyd Had Pledged to Fix the Police, N.Y. Times (June 27, 2020); Wernau, The Other Police Officers Charged in George Floyd Killing, W.S.J. (June 29, 2020).

 

Judge Peter Cahill Appointed To Handle Criminal Cases Over Death of George Floyd     

On June 12, Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill was appointed to handle the four criminal cases against Minneapolis police officers over the death of George Floyd.[1]

Cahill was appointed to the bench in 2007 by Governor Tim Pawlenty (Rep.) and elected to continue in that position in 2008 and 2014. Known for being decisive and direct, Cahill has handled other significant criminal cases.

In 2019, he presided over the jury trial of Kenneth Lilly for shooting a school bus driver on a snowy winter day. After the jury’s guilty verdict, Cahill sentenced Lilly to seven years in prison, saying the judge accepted that the defendant was “not a monster,” but did not believe the defendant’s assertions that he feared for his life when his car was hit by the slow-moving bus and that he did not know a child was on the bus. Lilly was represented by Thomas Plunkett, who argued for a lower sentence because Lilly had Asperger’s syndrome and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder from two attempted robberies. Plunkett now represents one of the four Minneapolis policemen (J. Alexander Kueng) in the Floyd case.[2]

Last year Cahill also presided over the case of Thomas Incantalupo, a former ice skating coach with a local skating club. As the trial for nine counts of sexual assaults with a young girl skater was set to commence in June 2019, the defendant accepted a deal for pleading guilty to two counts in exchange for a prison sentence between 12 and 30 years. Thereafter Cahill sentenced him to 24 years in prison after saying that there was “overwhelming evidence” against the defendant, that the defendant’s apologies “ring hollow” and that the defendant’s actions were “not cheating on your wife. This is a crime against a child.” That defendant was represented by attorney Earl Gray, now the attorney for policeman Thomas Lane in the Floyd case.[3]

Plunkett and Gray and the other two attorneys in the George Floyd case now have 10 days from June 12 to move to replace Cahill, but without having any say on who might be the                replacement and without having the right to move to replace the successor judge.

Before becoming a judge, Cahill was an attorney in the Hennepin County Public Defenders Office, 1984-1987, an attorney in private practice in the Twin Cities, 1987-1997 and in the Hennepin County Attorney’s office, 1997-2007, when Amy Klobuchar was the County Attorney (1999-2007).  His J.D. degree was awarded, magna cum laude, in 1984 by the University of Minnesota Law School.

Cahill will replace his fellow judges Jeannice Reding and Paul Scoggin, who presided respectively at the initial hearings in the Chauvin case and the other case involving the other three policemen.[4] Cahill’s appointment was made by Hennepin County District Judge Toddrick Barnette, who will become the first African-American Chief Judge of the court on July 1, 2020.[5]

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[1] Olson, Judge Peter Cahill to oversee cases of four officers charged in Floyd killing. StarTribune (June 12, 2020); The judge assigned in Floyd’s murder trial is a former assistant to Amy Klobuchar, N.Y. Times (June 12, 2020).

[2] Walsh & Jany, Suspected gunman arrested after school bus driver shot in apparent road-rage incident near downtown Minneapolis, StarTribune (Feb. 7, 2019); Charges filed against man who shot bus driver, (Video), StarTribune (Feb. 7, 2019); Walsh, Charges: Man claims self-defense for shooting Minneapolis school bus driver with girl aboard, StarTribune (Feb. 8, 2019); Xiong, Shooter who wounded school bus driver sentenced to 7 years in prison, StarTribune (Sept. 15, 2019).

[3]  Stahl, Ice-skating coach charged with sexually assaulting 14-year-old student, StarTribune (Jan. 11, 2018); Walsh, Twin Cities skating coach admits sexually abusing girl he instructed, StarTribune (June 19, 2019); Xiong, Minneapolis-area figure skating coach gets decades in prison for girl’s sex abuse, StarTribune (Sept. 27, 2019).

[4] Initial Hearings in Criminal Cases for Killing George Floyd, dwkcommentaries.com (June 10, 2020).

[5] Xiong. First chief judge of color elected in Hennepin County, StarTribune (May 5, 2020).

Initial Hearings in Criminal Cases for Killing George Floyd

There are now four criminal cases against former Minneapolis police officers for the killing of George Floyd, all pending in the Hennepin County District Court in Minneapolis, and all four have had their brief initial hearings.

Derek Chauvin [1]

On June 8 Chauvin made his initial appearance by a video feed from a room at the Minnesota State Prison in Oak Heights, Minnesota. The only issue was the amount of his bail,  and the hearing lasted only 15 minutes without any comments by Chauvin or his attorney, Eric Nelson.

The prosecutor, Minnesota Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank, said that the “severity of the charges” and the strong public opinion against Chauvin made him a more likely flight risk if he were released and, therefore, requested the bail be increased from $1 million to $1.25 million. The attorney for Chauvin, Eric Nelson, did not object, and Hennepin County District Judge Jeannice Reding, increased the bail to $1.25 million without conditions and to $1.0 million with conditions.

Chauvin’s next hearing, when he is expected to enter a plea to the charges, will be on June 29.

Judge Reding was appointed to the bench in January 2006, by Governor Tim Pawlenty (Rep.) and was elected to continue in that position in 2008 and 2014. After graduating cum laude from the University of Minnesota Law School in 1990, she was an attorney in a private Minneapolis law firm for seven years, a Minnesota Administrative Law Judge for two years and a Hennepin County District Magistrate and Referee for eight years. She is a founding member and past treasurer of the Minnesota American Indian Bar Association and served as a guardian ad Litem for children of tribal members in the tribal court of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community.

J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane & Tou Thao

Each of these three officers has been charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. At their initial hearing on June 4, Hennepin County District Court Judge Paul Scoggin set bail for each at $1 million without conditions or $750,000 with conditions. [3]

The prosecutor, Minnesota Assistant Attorney General, Matthew Frank, argued for high bail amounts because the charges were “very serious” and due to intense public interest each of these defendants was a flight risk. Each of the attorneys for the defendants objected to such amounts and instead argued for bail between $50,000 and $250,000.

Lane’s attorney, Earl Grey, disputing the complaint’s allegation that Chauvin had pulled Floyd out of one of the squad cars, claimed instead that Floyd had reisited arrest, “asserted himself” and  “flew out” of the squad car. Gray also emphasized that on the day of the Floyd death Lane was only on his fourth day as a full-time officer. Therefore, Gray argued, ““What is my client supposed to do but follow what the [senior] officer says? What was [Lane] supposed to do … go up to Mr. Chauvin and grab him and throw him off?” Instead, Lane thought he was doing what was right because he twice asked Chauvin whether they should roll Floyd over. “The strength of this case,” said Gray, “is extremely weak.” As a result, Gray said he would move to dismiss the complaint for lack of evidence.

More generally, Grey said Lane previously had worked as a juvenile counselor at a few “juvenile places” in the Twin Cities and once received a community service award from Mayor Jacob Frey and Minneapolis Police Chief Arradondo for volunteering with children.

Keung’s attorney, Thomas Plunkett, made a similar argument. He said, “At all times Mr. Keung and Mr. Lane turned their attention to that 19-year veteran. [They] were trying to communicate that this situation needs to change direction.” In addition, Plunkett said that  Keung is a black man who grew up in north Minneapolis with a single mom who adopted four at-risk children from the community and that Keung has always lived within 10 miles of his childhood home, was captain of the soccer team at Patrick Henry High School, where he graduated, coached youth soccer and baseball, and volunteered to build a school in Haiti. “He turned to law enforcement because he wanted to make that community a better place,” his lawyer said.

Thao’s attorney, Robert Paule, had a different tack. He said Thao had given a statement to investigators from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) and that he is not a flight risk because he has deep roots in the community. He  is a lifelong resident of the metro area, is married and has children.

Judge Scoggin was appointed to the bench in 2015 by Governor Mark Dayton (DFL) and elected to continue in that office in 2016. His J.D. was awarded cum laude in 1984 by the University of Minnesota Law School, after which he was an Assistant Hennepin County Attorney through 2014 with a stint in 2009-10 as an International Prosecutor with the European Union External Action.

Conclusion

Subsequent posts will examine the  criminal complaints against the four officers and their second hearing scheduled for June 29.

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[1] Stanley & Xiong, $1.25M bail set for Derek Chauvin at his initial appearance Monday in George Floyd’s death, StarTribune (June 8, 2020); Karnowski, Officer charged in Floyd’s death held on $1 million bail, StarTribune (June 8, 2020); Bail Set for Up to $1.25 Million for Officer Charged With Murder in George Floyd Case, N.Y. Times (June 8, 2020).

[2] Xiong, Two ex-Minneapolis police officers charged in George Floyd’s death cast blame on more senior colleague, StarTribune (June 5, 2020); Gordon & Richmond, Duty to intervene: Floyd cops spoke but didn’t step in, StarTribune (June 7, 2020); Karnowski, Officer charged in Floyd death held on $1 million bail, StarTribune (June 8, 2020); Condon & Richmond, Duty to intervene: Floyd cops spoke up but didn’t step in, StarTribune (June 7, 2020).

[3] On June 10, Lane posted cash bail of $750,000 with conditions (surrendering firearms, remaining law-abiding and making all future court appearances) and was released from jail. (Walsh, Fired Minneapolis police officer, Thomas Lane, one of 4 charged in George Floyd’s death, posts bail and leaves jail, StarTribune (June 10, 2020).)