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]

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[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).

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);

Federal Criminal Trial for Killing of George Floyd: Defendant Tou Thau’s  Testimony

At the end of the prosecution’s case on February 14, Attorneys for all three officers immediately moved to have charges dismissed, but Judge Magnuson denied their motions from the bench, though he said he would consider written briefs on the subject.

Then two of the three defendants —J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thau–said they intend to testify in their defense. The other defendant—Thomas Lane—at the start of the trial through his attorney said he also so intended, but on February 14, his attorney said Lane wanted to think about it overnight.[1]

Here then is a summary of the testimony of the first defendant, Tou Thao.

Tou Thao[2]

Thao said he first encountered police when he was 7 or 8 years old and his father beat him and a younger brother with an extension cord to break up their fight and when their mother intervened, the father beat her with the cord and retrieved a gun and threatened to kill them all. The three of them then fled to an aunt’s nearby house and called 911. When the police arrived, he accompanied them to the family home and unlocked the door so the police could arrest his father.

Years later after he flunked out of Anoka-Ramsey Community College and was working at Cub Foods, he decided to pursue his childhood interest in becoming a police officer. He is married  with three young children.

Thao testified that in his 2009 police training, pinning a suspect on the ground with a knee was presented as an appropriate technique in certain situations. Thao provided these photos from his training: (a) two recruits using their knees  in a “two-person prone handcuffing drill” with a person face-down on the ground; (b) two officers holding two “proned-out” (on their stomachs) people, one is handcuffed while the other is being handcuffed; (c) Thao and another classmate with an actor-suspect prone, hands behind his back, and Thao said the two classmates both were using their knees to restrain the “suspect;” (d) recruits marching in formation with sticks for riot control; (e) cops practicing with gas masks while being sprayed with tear gas; (f) trainees in Phalanx formation (V-shape). They also had cadence running when instructor would say something and the recruits would respond in chorus. Thao says he was never told it was improper to use knees to restrain except wrapping their legs around a suspect’s neck was prohibited.

After this training he was laid off and was unemployed before he was hired as a security guard at Fairview Riverside Hospital in Minneapolis for almost a year before he was re-hired by MPD. There he saw notations in hospital records for excited delirium. Sometimes a doctor or nurse asked him to restrain a patient.

On May 25, 2020, while eating dinner with his partner Derek Chauvin they were called to respond to an out-of-sector forgery call. It was a “Priority 1 call—get there fast, suspect still on scene.” While going there in a squad car with Chauvin, they were told over the phone or radio that there was a struggle with the suspect (Floyd) so they activated their car’s lights and siren, but after being told the scene was OK, they turned them off. Dispatch called them off the call, but they continued to Cup Foods because it had a reputation of being hostile to police as a well-known Bloods gang hideout.

Thao  said when he and Chauvin arrived, the other officers were struggling with Floyd to put him in a squad car and for Thao it was obvious Floyd “was under the influence of some kind of drugs” and in a state of “excited delirium.” Although Thao heard Floyd saying, “I can’t breathe,” he could not see anything that would have interfered with his breathing.

While at the scene, Thao pulled out of his squad car a hobble device to help restrain Floyd, but the officers decided not to use it because it would have complicated the work of the ambulance crew on their way there. Thao also called Dispatch to speed up the EMS response because he knew it was a matter of “life or death.”

Thao said he had “no idea” something serious had happened to Floyd until Minneapolis firefighters arrived on the scene after Floyd had been taken away in an ambulance. Until then, he testified, he had no idea something serious had happened to Floyd. In all of this, Thao never touched Floyd.

Under cross examination, Thao admitted that Floyd appeared unconscious at the scene, that officers have a duty to intervene when colleagues break the law and delaying CPR for even a minute can greatly diminish a person’s chances of survival.  He also said “it was a possibility” that when he was looking down at Floyd on the pavement, he knew what was going on. Thao testified that he was taught that it sometimes was OK to use neck restraints to help handcuff someone. But Thao agreed that using a knee to get someone under control is different from using it to restrain someone who’s already handcuffed — and that the neck should be avoided once someone is under control. Asked if what Chauvin was doing was a trained neck restraint, Thao replied, “I don’t believe so.”

Thao said he took a position on the street to serve as a “human traffic cone” to keep human traffic away from the other officers. He heard onlookers becoming more anxious about Floyd’s condition and calling on them to check his pulse. He, however, did not see any of the other officers roll Floyd over and perform CPR and presumed that meant Floyd was breathing and not in cardiac arrest. Thao also explained his body cam video at the scene.

At four minutes into restraint, Thao admits Floyd’s pleas were getting weaker. But, he says, that is a sign that the restraint was working. If Floyd had excited delirium, he needs to be kept on the ground. During the fifth minute, he admits no bystanders have stepped off the curb or taken steps toward him, but we’re trained not to underestimate a crowd. He refuses to admit that he could check on Floyd’s status. He did not tell his partners what bystanders were saying. Nor did he tell them that Floyd had “stopped speaking, went unconscious and that [he] had gotten requests from the crowd to check his pulse.”

In his prior interview by the MBCA, Thao said, “I could tell the officers on the ground were getting tired. Everyone’s breathing hard.”

Seng Yang.

Thao’s wife, Seng Yang testified briefly that her husband was law-abiding.

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[1] Olson & Xiong, At least two ex-officers plan to testify in federal civil rights trial as defense prepares to present its case, StarTribune (Feb. 14, 2022); Forliti & Karnowski, Prosecution rests in 3 cops’ trial in George Floyd killing. AP News (Feb. 14, 2022); Bailey, Prosecution’s case against former officers charged in George Floyd’s death ends with teenage witness, Wash. Post (Feb. 14, 2022);

[2] Vera & Kirkos, First of the officers involved in George Floyd’s death testifies during federal civil rights trial, CNN.com (Feb. 15, 2022); Xiong & Olson, Ex-officer Tou Thao takes the stand in civil rights trial for Floyd death, StarTribune (Feb. 15, 2022); Karnowski & Webber, Officer in George Floyd’s killing testifies about training, AP News (Feb. 15, 2022); Karnowski & Webber, Officer says he assumed fellow cops were caring for Floyd, AP News (Feb. 15, 2022); Barrett, Former Minneapolis Police Officer Takes Stand in Federal Trial Over George Floyd’s Killing, W.S.J. (Feb. 15, 2022); Olson & Mannix, Thao testifies he didn’t convey crowd’s concerns about George Floyd to Chauvin, Kueng takes the stand, StarTribune (Feb. 16, 2022); Karnowski & Webber, 2 officers testify at federal trial in George Floyd killing, AP News (Feb. 16, 2022).

 

 

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

On Monday morning (February 7) the federal criminal trial of former Minneapolis policemen (J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thau) resumed in the federal courthouse in St. Paul before U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson and a jury of 12 and 6 alternates. During the first phase of the trial (January 24-28, 31 and February 1-2), the prosecution presented 11 witnesses.[1]  The following is a summary of the testimony of the eight prosecution witnesses who testified in this resumption of the trial through February 11.[2]

Dr. David M. Systrom, Jr.

A physician at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital and assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and an expert witness for the prosecution, Dr. Systrom first described how the lungs and diaphragm work: breathing in compresses the stomach, spleen and liver with carbon dioxide being the waste product of cellular metabolism, and if it does not leave the body, it will build up in blood and tissue (acidosis.)

In his opinion, George Floyd died of asphyxia due to compression of his upper airway and inadequate breathing caused by being held in prone position. Yet this “was an eminently reversible respiratory failure right up until the time he lost consciousness.” It “was quickly reversible if the impediments to breathing were removed.” But they were not removed, and the “fatal combination” of “obstruction and restriction” of his breathing ultimately caused him to lose consciousness and his heart to stop.

Dr. Systrom noted how “Floyd’s position on the ground with his arms cuffed behind his back and the officer on top of him was problematic” as the arms and shoulders work as “adjunct respiratory  muscles” to help create space for full diaphragmatic breathing.  This restricted breathing resulted in low lung volume and inability to draw sufficient breathe leading to complaints about “shortness of breath” followed by Floyd’s loss of consciousness.

Also supporting Systrom’s opinion was Floyd’s end-tidal carbon dioxide level of 73 milliliters of mercury, twice the normal level and “life threatening” and often associated with an increase in the hydrogen ion concentration in the blood and low oxygen. In addition, he testified that there was no evidence suggesting a heart rhythm disorder or effects of methamphetamine or fentanyl.

Even after Floyd’s heart stopped, Dr. Systrom testified, there was still a chance to save him if CPR had been started immediately, but that did not happen.

Nicole Mackenzie

MPD’s medical support coordinator, Mackenzie testified that Kueng and Lane recently were in her MPD academy “emergency medical responder” class. They were taught about the need to roll subjects into the “side recovery position” so they could breathe instead of keeping them prone on their stomachs. They also were taught that responders have a duty of care to people in medical emergencies.

Kueng and Lane, she testified, acted inconsistently with that training when they continued to restrain Floyd after he became compliant and showed clear signs of needing help, including struggling to breathe.

When Mackenzie was asked about Thao, his attorney’s objection was sustained because Thao was not present in the video shown by Mackenzie.

That attorney presented PowerPoint training materials used by MPD until last year showing officers pinning a man down by his neck when responding to an excited delirium call and another showing a nude man punching through a wooden fence and fighting off a horde of police officers trying to subdue him. Under those circumstances, Mackenzie said, “your normal techniques for compliance might not work” and restraining someone, even with a knee, might be a life-saving measure.

Vik Bebarta

Another prosecution expert witness was Vik Bebarta, professor of emergency medicine, toxicology and pharmacology at the University of Colorado in Denver. She testified that Floyd died from “a lack of oxygen to his brain” when he was “suffocated and his airway was closed [and] he could not breathe.” “When the airway is blocked, you pass out, stop breathing and your heart stops.”

In addition, he said that the amounts of methamphetamine and fentanyl were too low to have caused his death. Videos of Floyd in Cupp Foods before the encounter with the police outside showed him carrying a banana and talking to clerks and other customers. Floyd was alert. “There is no sign that he was showing any signs of an imminent drug overdose.”  In contrast, someone “heavily impaired would not laugh or smile or have a conversation.” In addition, Floyd subsequently was able to walk handcuffed with police from his car to the police car across the street.

Bebarta also said Floyd did not display any symptoms typically associated with the excited delirium condition, such as high pain tolerance, superhuman strength and endurance and he did not die from what would be referred to as that condition.

Under cross examination, Bebarta admitted that police officers do not have the education and experience of medical doctors, but they learn basic life support and “have the ability to check a pulse and check for breathing.”

Bebarta also noted the three-minute lag between (a) paramedic Derek Smith’s arriving on the scene and checking Floyd’s carotid artery for a pulse  and (b) the start of chest compressions in the ambulance when every minute of delay in starting CPR reduces a patient’s chances of survival by 10%.

Under cross-examination by Paule, Bebarta says the slang “speedball” refers to Heroin and cocaine. Sometimes people “rectally” take drugs that sometimes is referred to as “hooping.” “Excited delirium” is not a diagnosis and does not have a good list of symptoms, but often shows as agitation with psychosis. Floyd did not exhibit delirium.

McKenzie Anderson

A scientist with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, Anderson was in charge of processing Floyd’s car and one of the squad cars on May 25, 2020. She testified that pills found in his car tested positive for methamphetamine.

Under cross-examination by Gray, Anderson says on 5/27/20 she seized from Floyd’s car: shoes, strap and blood stains. She did not see or seize any pills. This search was looking for blood evidence, counterfeit money and a cell phone.

She also said that a lab determined that a pill from the squad backseat contained methamphetamine and Floyd’s saliva and thus probably came from his mouth. From Floyd’s car she seized $20 bills that turned out to be counterfeit, which are illegal to possess.

In a December 2020 search of Floyd’s car, she collected two pills that later were identified as a “mixture of fentanyl and methamphetamine.”

Richard Zimmerman

A MPD Lt. and its most senior officer, Zimmerman sais if an officer (from lowest in rank to chief) sees another officer using too much force or doing something illegal, you need to intervene and stop it.

On 5/25/20 at home, he received call to go to 28th & Chicago because an arrestee had to go to hospital. There he met officers outside Cup Foods about 90 minutes after Floyd died. He asked Lane and Kueng what’s going on.

Thomas Lane’s body cam video showed him telling Zimmerman that they did not know Floyd’s condition and that Floyd seemed like he was on something, “just kind of paranoid.” Nor did Lane say that Floyd had been pinned under Chauvin’s knee for more than nine minutes or that the officers could not detect Floyd’s pulse or that he had appeared to stop breathing.

Zimmerman testified, “The knee on the neck—the officers should have intervened at that point and stopped it. . . . It can be deadly.”  And “rank and seniority don’t change the duty to intervene.” Moreover, Zimmerman admitted he had thought poorly of Chauvin and “I think it’s pretty much known throughout the department that he’s a jerk.”

Kelly McCarthy

McCarthy, the Mendota Heights Police Chief, testified in his role as Chair of the Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training, which licenses all officers in Minnesota. He said, Once someone is in your custody [as an officer], they are essentially your baby. You have restricted their freedom of movement. . . so there are things they can no longer do for themselves, so because you’re the one who took them into custody, you are now responsible for those things.” These officers’ training includes learning about “positional asphyxia” and the risk of handcuffing someone, use-of-force and civilians’’ constitutional rights. Training on use-of-force and firearms is annually required.

Alyssa Funari

On May 25, 2020, Ms. Funari, then 17 years old, was at Cupp Foods and observed the police restraining George Floyd on the pavement. His distress, she testified, was obvious to several bystanders, as they observed the policemen ignore pleas to relent and render aid. She said she “instantly knew Floyd was in distress. . . He was moving, making facial expressions that  he was in pain. He was telling us he was in pain.” She warned the officers that Floyd was near unconsciousness. At one point, she “observed that over time he was slowly becoming less vocal and he was closing his eyes. He wasn’t able to tell us he was in pain anymore and he was just accepting it.” She said, “Is he talking now? He’s about ready to knock out.” Yet she did not see any of the officers provide aid to Floyd.

Under cross examination by Thao’s attorney, Robert Paule, Funari said, I “believe he [Thao] did look” at the other officers restraining Floyd. “He might not have been watching the whole time, but he knew what was going on.” He turned around “a few times” to observe the other officers and Floyd .

Matthew Vogel

A FBI special agent, Vogel presented snippets of bystander and police video with timelines and transcripts to help the jurors sort out sometimes confusing videos. It included video of Kueng and Lane talking to Sergeant David Pleoger about what had happened, but saying incorrectly that Floyd was still breathing when paramedics arrived and not saying anything about their inability to find Floyd’s pulse.

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[1] Federal Criminal Trial for Killing of George Floyd: Prosecution Witnesses (Part I), dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 2, 2022).

[2] Olson, Pulmonologist says officers could have saved George Floyd’s life, StarTribune (Feb. 7, 2022); Karnowski & Webber (AP), Lung expert: Officers could have saved George Floyd’s life, AP News (Feb. 7, 2022); Mannix & Olson, Officers ‘inconsistent’ with medical training when they detained George Floyd, says police trainer, StarTribune (Feb. 8, 2022); Karnowski (AP), Police trainer testifies: Officers failed to aid Floyd, Twin Cities Pioneer Press (Feb. 9, 2022); Olson, Second physician testifies George Floyd died of asphyxia, not drugs or heart attack, StarTribune (Feb. 9, 2022); Karnowski (AP), Toxicologist: Drugs, ‘excited delirium’ didn’t kill Floyd, Assoc. Press (Feb. 10, 2022); Xiong & Olson, New footage played in federal trial shows officers did not tell superior that Floyd had no pulse, appeared to stop breathing, StarTribune (Feb. 10, 2022); Karnowski (AP), Lieutenant: Officers should have intervened in Floyd killing, AP (Feb. 10, 2022); Bailey, Officers charged in George Floyd’s killing omitted key details from the scene, Minneapolis officer testifies, Wash. Post (Feb. 10, 2022); Olson & Xiong, New body camera video: Officers didn’t tell second supervisor about restraint of Floyd, StarTribune (Feb. 11, 2022); Forliti & Karnowski, Teen bystander: Knew instantly Floyd was ‘in distress,’ Asoc. Press (Feb. 11, 2022); Live: Federal trial of 3 former Minneapolis officers in George Floyd death, StarTribune.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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)

 

 

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).

 

 

 

 

 

Court Sustains Most Charges in George Floyd Criminal Cases  

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.[1]

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)

Conclusion

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.

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[1] 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).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Preview of  the 9/11/20 Hearing in George Floyd Criminal Cases

This preview will follow the Agenda for the 9/11/20 hearing in the four George Floyd criminal cases that has been set by the Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill.[1]

State’s Motions

  1. Motion for Joint Trial[2]

On August 12, the State asked the court to consolidate all four of the cases for one trial on the grounds that the charges and evidence in all four cases are similar; that there would be less negative impact on witnesses and family members; the defenses of the four ex-officers were not antagonistic; and the interests of justice would be advanced.

Unsurprisingly all of the four defendants are opposing this motion. Here is a summary of their arguments: Chauvin: other defendants likely to blame Chauvin, whose defenses are likely to blame the others and thus they are mutually antagonistic; trying Chauvin first is the sensible approach which would dictate the need for, and scope of, any other trials. Kueng: different evidence on whether and how the defendants worked in close concert; no particularly vulnerable witnesses; antagonistic defenses; interests of justice do not favor joinder. Lane: likely antagonistic defenses with each defendant having different version of what happened and who is to blame, forcing jury to choose between defendants’ testimonies. Thao: Minnesota has favored separate trials; unknown if “overwhelming majority” of evidence will be same in all the cases; Thao did not work in close concert with the others; impact on Floyd family is not a factor; nature of Floyd’s death does not favor joinder; antagonistic defenses are highly likely; COVID-19 favors separate trials with smaller gatherings at each.

  1. Motion to Submit Aggravating Factors to Jury (Blakely)[3]

Under Blakely v. Washington, 542 U.S. 2996 (2004), the U.S. Supreme Court held that the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial can be violated any time the court imposes a sentence greater than that called for in the guidelines, even when the sentence imposed is below the maximum punishment permitted by the legislature.

On August 28, the State gave notice of its intent to seek an upward sentencing departure for Chauvin on the grounds that Floyd was particularly vulnerable and was treated with particular cruelty by Chauvin, that Chauvin abused his position of authority, committed the crime as part of a group of three or more offenders who actively participated in the crime and in the presence of multiple children.

  1. Motion for Expert Witness Disclosure[4]

On August 28, the State moved for establishing deadlines of disclosure of expert witnesses with the following suggestions: Initial Expert Disclosures (12/08/20) and full Expert Disclosures (01/08/21).

Defendants’ Motions

  1. Motions for Change of Venue[5]

All four defendants have moved for change of venue with the following arguments: Chauvin (excessive pretrial publicity in Twin Cities); Lane (transfer to Washington or Dakota County because fair trial impossible in Hennepin County); Thao (fair trial impossible In Hennepin County; change to St. Louis, Clay or Crow Wing County); Kueng (prejudicial publicly in Hennepin County; change to  another county “outside the seven-county metro area, such as Stearns County or another county with appropriate facilities and demographics”).

  1. Jury Sequestration and Anonymity Motion[6]

On August 28, Thao moved for jury sequestration and juror anonymity due to “the notoriety of the case.”

  1. Motion to Disqualify HCAO [Hennepin County Attorney’s Office][7]

The only apparent motion to disqualify the HCAO was filed on August 6 by the attorney for Kueng on the ground that the County Attorney had made prejudicial comments about the defendants, and the very next day (August 7) Judge Cahill denied the motion.

Thus, this must be an erroneous agenda item.

  1. Rule 404 Evidence Motions[8]

On August 27, Kueng gave notice that he may offer at trial evidence regarding  (1) the circumstances of (a) Floyd’s 05/06/19 arrest by MPD; (b) Floyd’s 05/06/19 medical intervention at Hennepin County Medical Center; and (c) Floyd’s 08/09/07 arrest and subsequent conviction in Texas for Aggravated Robbery with a Deadly Weapon.

  1. Discovery Motions[9] On August 24, Thao filed a motion to compel discovery of the following regarding the investigation and death of Floyd; (1) complete Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office file; (2) any and all reports and autopsies performed by Dr. Michael Baden; (3) any and all reports and autopsies performed by Dr. Allecia Wilson; and (4) entire Office of the Armed Forces Medical examiner file.

On August 28, Chauvin filed a motion for the State’s disclosure of (1) body worn camera/audio from MPD CN-201 9-127538 from Floyd’s arrest; (2) files pertaining to Floyd’s cooperation as an informant for the MPD, FBI or any other state or federal law enforcement agency; (3) files documenting Floyd’s activity as a gang member or affiliate within the past five years; (4) information regarding Floyd’s 05/06/19 drug possession/sale investigation; (5) training materials with active imbedded links to video portions; and (6) index to State’s document disclosures.

Administrative Matters

  1. Jury Selection
  • Method
  • Preemptory Challenges
  1. In-Court Presence/COVID-19 Restrictions
  2. Overflow rooms/Audio-Visual Coverage
  3. Overnight/Special Transcript Requests
  4. Trial Length/Daily Schedule

Substantive Matters

The Judge already has announced that the only substantive matters—the four defendants’ motions to dismiss for alleged lack of probable cause for the criminal charges—will be decided on the briefs and factual record without argument at the hearing.[10] The only new details on these motions is the State’s recent opposition to Defendant Kueng’s dismissal motion and its future opposition to the recent Chauvin motion. [11]

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[1] Agenda for Court’s 9/11/20 Hearing in George Floyd Criminal Cases, dwkcommentaries.com (Sept, 2, 2000); Comment: More Informed Reaction to Agenda, dwkcommentaries.com (Sept. 7, 2020).

[2] Prosecution Requests One Trial for the Four Former Policemen Charged with Floyd Killing, dwkcommentaries.com (Aug. 13, 2020); Chauvin’s Memorandum of Law Opposing the State’s Joinder Motion, State v. Chauvin, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12646 (Hennepin County Dist. Ct. Sept. 8, 2020); Lane’s Defense Objection to State’s Motion for Joinder, State v. Lane, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12951 (Hennepin County Dist. Ct. Sept. 8, 2020); Kueng’s Objection to the State’s Motion for Joinder, State v. Kueng Court File No. 27-CR-20-12953 (Hennepin County Dist. Ct. Sept. 8, 2020); Thao’s Memorandum in Opposition to State’s Motion for Joinder, State v. Thao, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12949 (Hennepin County Dist. Ct. Sept. 8, 2020);  Xiong, Attorneys for former officers in George Floyd murder case want separate trials, StarTribune (Sept. 8, 2020).

[3]  State’s Notice of Intent To Seek an Upward Sentencing Departure, State v. Chauvin, et al.,Court File No. 27-CR-20-12646 (Hennepin County Dist. Ct. Aug. 28, 2020).

[4] State’s Notice of Motion and Motion for Expert Disclosure Deadlines, State v. Chauvin, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12646 (Hennepin County Dist. Ct. Aug. 28, 2020).

[5] Chauvin’s Notice of Motions and Motions To Change Venue and Reserve Ruling, State v. Chauvin, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12646 (Hennepin County Dist. Ct. Aug. 28, 2020); Lane’s Notice of Motion and Motion To Change Venue, State v. Lane, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12951 (Hennepin County Dist. Ct. Sept. 8, 2020);  Thao’s Notice of Motion and Motion for Change of Venue, State v. Thao, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12949 (Hennepin County Dist. Ct.Aug. 28, 2020); Defendant Kueng Moves for Dismissal and Change of Venue in George Floyd Case, dwkcommentaries.com (Aug. 28, 2020).

[6] Thao’s Notice of Motion and Motion To Sequester Jurors, State v. Thao, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12949 (Hennepin County Dist. Ct.Aug. 28, 2020).

[7]  Court Denies Ex-Officer Kueng Motion To Remove County Attorney from George Floyd Criminal Case, dwkcommentaries.com (Aug. 7, 2020).

[8] Kueng’s Notice of Additional Evidence, State v. Kueng, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12953 (Hennepin County Dist. Ct. Aug. 27, 2020).

[9] Thao’s Motion to Compel Disclosure, State v. Thao, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12949 (Hennepin County Dist. Ct.Aug. 24, 2020); Chauvin’s Notice of Motion and Motion for Disclosure, State v. Chauvin, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12646 (Hennepin County Dist. Ct. Aug. 28, 2020).

[10] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Ex-Officer Lane Moves for Dismissal of Criminal Charges for George Floyd Killing (July 9, 2020);  Comment: Prosecutors Oppose Ex-Cop Thomas Lane’s Dismissal Motion (Aug. 12, 2020); Prosecution Opposes Lane’s Dismissal Motion (Aug. 21, 2020); Lane’s Reply to Prosecution’s Opposition to Dismissal of Complaint (Aug. 22, 2020); Ex-Officer Thao Moves for Dismissal of Criminal Charges for George Floyd Killing  (July 30, 2020); Defendant Thao’s Dismissal Motion (Aug. 25, 2020); Prosecution Opposes  Defendant Thao’s Dismissal Motion for George Floyd Killing (Aug. 27, 2020); Defendant Kueng Moves for Dismissal and Change of Venue in George Floyd Case (Aug. 28, 2020); Chauvin Motion To Dismiss Criminal Complaint (Sept. 9, 2020).

[11] State’s Response Opposing Defendant’s Motion To Dismiss for Lack of Probable Cause, State v. Kueng, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12953 (Hennepin County Dist. Ct. Sept. 8, 2020); Exhibits to State’s Response Opposing Defendant’s Motion To Dismiss for Lack of Probable Cause, State v. Kueng, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12953 (Hennepin County Dist. Ct. Sept. 8, 2020). See generally List of Posts to dwkcommentaries–Topical: George Floyd Killing.

 

Chauvin Moves To Dismiss Criminal Complaint 

On August 28, former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin filed a motion to dismiss the criminal complaints against him.[1] Here is a summary of this motion.

Dismissal of Count I–Second Degree Unintentional Murder

 Count I of the Amended Complaint alleges Chauvin is guilty of Second Degree Unintentional Murder by reason of his allegedly committing a Third Degree Assault. But it does not even “allege that Mr. Chauvin possessed the intent to inflict bodily harm upon Mr. Floyd.” And “the State has offered no evidence to support the intent element of third-degree assault.” (Chauvin Memo at 9.)

Instead, the evidence shows that Floyd “was struggling in and around the squad [car] at a busy Minneapolis intersection. He was handcuffed and acting erratically. Continued struggle posed a risk of injury to Mr. Floyd and, potentially, to officers. The decision to use MRT allowed officers to restrain Mr. Floyd without injury until EMS arrived on scene. Mr. Chauvin, who arrived at the scene as officers were already struggling with Mr. Floyd, checked to ensure that EMS had been called.” (Id. at 9-10.)

“The Medical Examiner found no bruising on Mr. Floyd’s neck or on any neck muscles or any injury to neck structures. There was no bruising on Mr. Floyd’s back or evidence of blunt trauma to his back. If Mr. Chauvin had intended to inflict harm to Mr. Floyd’s back and neck with his knee, surely there would be evidence of bruising. But clearly, Mr. Chauvin was cautious about the amount of pressure he used to restrain Mr. Floyd—cautious enough to prevent bruising. Video evidence shows Mr. Chauvin was calm and professional throughout the application of MRT” or Maximal Restraint Technique that was a technique approved by the Minneapolis Police Department. (Id. at 10.)

Dismissal of Count II–Third-Degree, Depraved Mind Murder

“Count II of the Amended Complaint charges Mr. Chauvin with Third Degree Murder— Perpetrating Eminently Dangerous Act and Evincing Depraved Mind, in violation of Minn. Stat. § 609.195(a). Under Minnesota law, however, ‘[d]epraved mind murder cannot occur where the defendant’s actions were focused on a specific person.’ State v. Barnes, 713 N.W.2d 325, 331 (Minn. 2006) (citing State v. Wahlberg, 296 N.W.2d 408, 417 (Minn. 1980)).” (Id. at 11.)

“As the Minnesota Supreme Court has explained, ‘We have made clear that the statute covers only acts committed without special regard to the effect on any particular person or persons.’ State v. Zumberge, 888 N.W.2d 688, 698 (Minn. 2017). ‘[T]he act must be committed without a special design upon the particular person or persons with whose murder the accused is charged.’ Id. (appellant’s claims that he shot “toward” not “at” the decedent precludes a third degree murder instruction) (citation omitted). Third degree murder is reserved to cover cases where the act was ‘reckless or wanton,’ such as firing a gun into a bus or driving a vehicle into a crowd. Wahlberg, 296 N.W.2d at 417. That is simply not the case here.” (Id. at 11.)

Dismissal of Count III—Culpable Negligence Manslaughter

 This charge requires proof of the actor’s “objective gross negligence” and “subjective recklessness.” (Id. at 12.)

Under Minnesota cases, “objective gross negligence” is an act that was “a gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would observe in the actor’s situation.” Here, Chauvin as a police officer in an emergency situation under Minnesota case law had ‘significant independent judgment and discretion’ . . . ‘precisely because a more stringent standard could inhibit action.’ (Id. at 12-13.)

Chauvin’s attorney then argues,  “Such discretion often comes into play when an officer must gauge how much force to use in order to effect an arrest. The amount of force authorized is dependent on the subject being arrested, the circumstances of the arrest, and the ever-developing fact pattern of any arrest scenario.” (Id. at 13.)

Here, “Chauvin was acting within his duties to execute a legitimate legal process—assisting other officers with effecting their arrest of George Floyd,” who was actively resisting arrest when Chauvin arrived on the scene. Quoting Minnesota cases, in such cases, an ‘officer may use all necessary and lawful means to make the arrest’ and is authorized “to escalate their use of force, short of deadly force, as necessary.” Here, under MDP policy, the use of MRT was authorized because Floyd was ‘handcuffed, . . .combative and still pose a threat to themselves, officers or others, or could cause significant damage to property if not properly restrained.” (Id. at 14-19.)

Moreover, the evidence shows Chauvin performed the MRT in accordance with MPD training materials and manuals and did not actually and consciously disregard the risks associated with MRT. And the Hennepin County Medical Examiner found no bruising on Floyd’s neck or muscles or neck structures or on his back. (Id. at 14-20.)

Dismissal of All Counts—Chauvin Did Not Cause Floyd’s Death

According to the relevant Minnesota statutes and cases, conviction for homicide requires that ‘the act of the defendant [was] the proximate cause of death of [the victim] without the intervention of an efficient independent force in which the defendant did not participate or which he could not reasonably have foreseen” or that “the defendant’s conduct was a ‘substantial causal factor’ in bringing about the victim’s death.” (Id. at 21.)

Chauvin’s attorney then asserts, “Mr. Chauvin was not the proximate cause of Mr. Floyd’s death, because an ‘independent force’ . . . in which Mr. Chauvin ‘did not participate’ and which ‘he could not reasonably have foreseen’ intervened: Fentanyl.” (Id.)

“It is clear from the evidence that Mr. Floyd was under the influence of narcotics when he encountered the officers and that he most likely died from an opioid overdose. . . . His body contained a lethal dose of fentanyl—[1ng/ml—as well as methamphetamine, at the time of his death.” Indeed, Chauvin quotes the Hennepin County Medical Examiner, Dr. Andrew Baker, telling the prosecutors on June 1, ‘If he were found dead at home alone & no other apparent causes, this could be acceptable to call an OD [overdose].’ [2] But Chauvin’s attorney does not quote the next note: “Baker. I am not saying this killed him.” (Emphasis added.)

Moreover, Chauvin’s attorney does not quote Dr. Baker’s actual autopsy report (5/26/20) that was titled “Cardiopulmonary Arrest complicating Law Enforcement Subdual, Restraint, and Neck Compression” or the County Medical Examiner’s Press Release (05/26/20) with the same statement for “Cause of Death” plus ‘How injury occurred: Decedent experienced a cardiopulmonary arrest while being restrained by law enforcement officer(s)’ and ‘Manner of death: Homicide.’[3]

Also not quoted by Chauvin’s attorney were the June 10 report by the Defense Health Agency concurring with the ‘autopsy findings and the cause of death certificate’ by the Hennepin County Medical Examiner. Or the findings of Dr. Michael Baden and Dr. Allecia Wilson, who were retained by the attorneys for the Floyd family, that found that Floyd ’died of traumatic asphyxia due to the compression of his neck and back during restraint by police’ and ‘Manner of Death’ was ‘homicide.’ State v. Chauvin, Court file No. 27-CR-20-12646 (Hennepin County District Court Aug. 28, 2020).[4]

Chauvin’s attorney admits in this brief that Floyd “told officers that he had suffered from COVID-19.” Moreover, Chauvin arrived at the scene with fellow ex-officer Thao, who testified during an interview by the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) and FBI, that when he and Chauvin were driving to join Lane and Keung at the scene they were told on the phone that someone who had appeared to be intoxicated had passed a fake bill at Cup Foods and after arrival Thao had heard Floyd say he had had COVID-19 while he was in the back seat of a squad car before he went to the pavement outside the car and Thao had been worried that Floyd was on drugs.

Chauvin’s attorney boldly states that even though Lane and Keung may have observed signs of Floyd’s overdose and medical trauma, “none of this information was shared with Mr. Chauvin. Therefore, “Chauvin was unaware of the potential dangers of using MRT on Mr. Floyd.” (Chauvin Memo at 25-26 (emphasis in original).) This appears to be an unfounded overstatement of the record.

Conclusion

Given the recent filing of this Chauvin motion, as of noon on September 9, the State had not yet responded to this motion, but clearly it will oppose same before the court considers and rules on the four dismissal motions on the briefs and record.

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[1] Defendant’s Notice of Motions and Motions To Dismiss, State v. Chauvin, Court file No. 27-CR-20-12646 (Hennepin County District Court Aug. 28, 2020);  Memorandum of Law in Support of Defendant’s Motion To Dismiss, State v. Chauvin, Court file No. 27-CR-20-12646 (Hennepin County District Court Aug. 28, 2020); Defendant’s Exhibit List in Support of Motion To Dismiss for Lack of Probable Cause, State v. Chauvin, Court file No. 27-CR-20-12646 (Hennepin County District Court Aug. 28, 2020); Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s autopsy report (5/26/20) (Ex. 20),  State v. Chauvin, Court file No. 27-CR-20-12646 (Hennepin County District Court Aug. 28, 2020); Hennepin County Attorney’s Office memos of interviews of Dr. Andrew Baker (Hennepin County Medical Examiner) on 5/26/20, 5/27/20 & 5/31/20, (Ex.6), State v. Chauvin, Court file No. 27-CR-20-12646 (Hennepin County District Court Aug. 28, 2020); Notes from Hennepin County Attorney’s [6/1/20] interview with Dr. Andrew Baker{Hennepin County Medical Examiner], (Ex.6), State v. Chauvin, Court file No. 27-CR-20-12646 (Hennepin County District Court Aug. 28, 2020); Hennepin County Attorney’s Office summary of communications with Chief Tim Longo, University of Virginia Police Department (5/26/20-6/3/20) (Ex.6), State v. Chauvin, Court file No. 27-CR-20-12646 (Hennepin County District Court Aug. 28, 2020); Defense Health Agency autopsy summary report (6/10/20) (Ex. 19), State v. Chauvin, Court file No. 27-CR-20-12646 (Hennepin County District Court Aug. 28, 2020); Summary of autopsies of Floyd by Drs. Baden and Wilson on behalf of Floyd Family (7/2/20) (Ex.6), State v. Chauvin, Court file No. 27-CR-20-12646 (Hennepin County District Court Aug. 28, 2020). See also Raice & Ailworth, George Floyd’s Death Likely Caused by Drug Overdose, Argue Derek Chauvin’s Lawyers, W.S.J. (Aug. 28, 2020); Bailey, In new filing, Derek Chauvin previews his defense, but also seeks dismissal of charges, Wash. Post (Aug. 29, 2020); Olson, Chauvin lawyer: Restraint didn’t kill Floyd, ill health and drug abuse did, StarTribune (Aug. 29, 2020).

[2] Chauvin Memo at 22; Hennepin County Attorney’s Office, Notes from Notes from [6/1/20] interview with Dr. Andrew Baker{Hennepin County Medical Examiner], (Ex.6), State v. Chauvin, Court file No. 27-CR-20-12646 (Hennepin County District Court Aug. 28, 2020).

[3] Affidavit of Matthew Frank Exs. 4 & 5 (Aug 10, 2020), State v. Lane, Court file No. 27-CR-20-12951 (Hennepin County District Court Aug. 10, 2020).

[4] Summary of Dr. Michael Baden and Dr. Allecia Wilson’s findings (7/2/20), (Ex.6), State v. Chauvin, Court file No. 27-CR-20-12646 (Hennepin County District Court Aug. 28, 2020) (Exs. 6, 19)

 

Ex-Officer Thao Moves for Dismissal of Criminal Charges for George Floyd Killing

On July 29, attorneys for ex-officer Tou Thau filed a motion for dismissal of the criminal charges of aiding and abetting the May 25th killing of George Floyd. The attorneys argue the prosecutors had failed to show that Thao knew that Chauvin and the other officers were going to commit a crime and  that Thao’s presence or actions at the scene were done “to further commission of that crime.”[1]

The prosecution’s response is due August 17 with the hearing on the motion set for September 11. Also to be heard at that hearing is a similar dismissal motion by ex-officer Thomas Lane.[2]

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[1] Furst, Tou Thao seeks dismissal of charges in George Floyd’s killing, StarTribune (July 30, 2020); Assoc. Press, Ex-Minneapolis cop argues for dropped charges in Floyd death, mprnews.org (July 29, 2020).

[2]  Ex-Officer Lane Moves for Dismissal of Criminal Charges for George Floyd Killing, dwkcommentaries.com (July 9, 2020).