Although I think justice triumphed when former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was jailed for the murder of George Floyd – Chauvin pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for 9 1/2 minutes as Floyd pleaded for air before shutting up – I feel bad for former police officers J. Alexander Kueng (who is African American), Thomas Lane (who is Caucasian) and Tou Thao (who is Hmong American). They were recently found guilty of violating Floyd’s civil rights by depriving him of his right to medical care. Kueng and Thao were also found guilty of failing to intervene to arrest Chauvin during the May 25, 2020 killing that sparked global protests — many violent and destructive — and a re-examination of policing and racism.
Defense lawyers argued that the officers were too inexperienced – Kueng and Lane were rookies – that they had not been trained properly or did not intend the charges required. They reported to Chauvin as the senior officer at the scene. All three officers testified in their own defense.
Lane testified that he suggested rolling Floyd onto his side so he could breathe better, but Chauvin rejected Lane’s suggestion twice during the episode. Records of what happened confirm that Lane made these suggestions. Lane tried to help revive Floyd after the ambulance arrived.
Kueng testified that he looked up to Chauvin, who was his former field training officer. He relied on the experience of Chauvin. Chauvin was in charge. The police were not sufficiently trained to intervene against the actions of a senior officer.
Thao testified that he believed Floyd was on drugs at the time – an autopsy report confirmed Thao was right – and should be restrained until medical assistance arrived. He increased the urgency of an ambulance call for Floyd, who had previously fought with officers as they tried to put him in a police SUV.
As for the jury’s determination that greater intervention by the three officers would have prevented Floyd’s death, an autopsy report from the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office concluded that Floyd did not die of asphyxiation but of death. heart failure, complicated by pressure on his neck. . Other contributing factors to Floyd’s death were that he tested positive for fentanyl (a leading cause of drug overdose death), methamphetamines and cannabis. He was also positive for Covid when he died.
When the jury that rightfully held Chauvin responsible for Floyd’s death deliberated, the prosecution was only required to prove that Chauvin’s actions contributed to Floyd’s death. The prosecutor was not required to prove that Floyd would have survived had Chauvin not forcefully pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck. In my view, at the trial of the other three officers, there was not enough evidence to support the jury’s decision that Floyd would not have died had not Kueng, Lane and Thao been so passive.
In the wake of Floyd’s death, Minneapolis police officers are now required to forcibly intervene and report to the department when they see other officers using excessive force. I don’t believe the three former agents should be held accountable for a policy issued after they were fired from their jobs. In this case, I’m not convinced that the three men were aware of the full extent of the pressure Chauvin was putting on Floyd’s neck. And Chauvin ignored Lane’s suggestion that Floyd should be rolled to his side.
Chauvin pleaded guilty to civil rights violations in the federal case last December, following his conviction for murder and manslaughter. Kueng, Lane and Thao will face a separate trial in June on state charges of aiding and abetting Chauvin.
In the best of all possible worlds, fellow Chauvin officers should have done more to help Floyd. Sitting in his jail cell, Chauvin now probably wishes they had. But in the unwritten police culture, officers are expected to follow orders, not to “report” other officers or otherwise challenge police conduct that they might question. Remember the ordeal Frank Serpico endured when this police officer exposed the rampant brutality and corruption within the New York City Police Department decades ago.
In my January 17 FLT essay “Video Evidence Matters”, I wrote that justice prevailed when a mostly Caucasian jury convicted Gregory McMichael, Travis McMichael and William Bryan of the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, an African American man. (In February, they were also justly convicted of hate crimes in federal court.) I also supported filing criminal charges against the first prosecutor to look into this case, who had worked with Gregory McMichael and who had tried to clear these men of all charges. I also spoke about the horrific abuse of mentally ill inmates at Dade Correctional Facility in Florida, where Darren Rainey, an African-American schizophrenic inmate, died a painful death after being locked in a cubicle shower for over an hour with water 180 degrees on full blast. destroy. I condemned both the actions of the correctional officers involved in these incidents and the inaction of the Florida correctional superiors who concluded that no crime was committed against the inmates of the prison.
Just as I have spoken in cases where corrections and police officers or officials responsible for all aspects of our criminal justice system have betrayed our trust, I also feel compelled to speak out when I believe they are the victims of false or exaggerated accusations or otherwise treated unfairly. For these reasons, I do not believe that Kueng, Lane and Thao received justice.
Canandaigua resident Joel Freedman contributes essays and book reviews to the Finger Lakes Time frequently.