The proceedings will test the question of what responsibility other police officers have in reining in the behavior of colleagues. It is the first of two trials scheduled for the former officers. Kueng, Lane and Thao also face state charges of aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s killing. That trial is scheduled to take place in June.
Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, died May 25, 2020, after he was restrained face down and handcuffed on a South Minneapolis street. Chauvin, the senior officer at the scene, pressed his knees into Floyd’s neck and back for 9 ½ minutes. Kueng and Lane restrained Floyd’s back and legs even as the man cried out repeatedly that he could not breathe and ultimately lost consciousness. Thao, who had arrived at the scene with Chauvin, stood nearby pushing back bystanders who urged the officers to get off Floyd and to check his pulse.
What led to Floyd’s encounter with police?
Kueng, 28, and Lane, 38, were on only their third and fourth shifts as full-time officers on the force when they responded to a 911 call about the passing of a counterfeit bill. They were the first to encounter Floyd outside Cup Foods in South Minneapolis.
Police body-camera video filed as evidence in the state case showed Lane pulling a gun on Floyd within 15 seconds as Floyd sat in a parked car. Floyd reacted by begging the officer not to shoot him.
Chauvin, 45, a 19-year officer who had been Kueng’s field trainer and had occasionally advised Lane, arrived on the scene a few minutes later with Thao, 36, an officer with 8 years’ service. They came upon Kueng and Lane struggling to put a handcuffed Floyd inside a squad car as the man complained of being claustrophobic.
The struggle ended up with Floyd on the ground, where body-camera video shows that Thao suggested they “just leave him” as they waited for an ambulance that Lane had called to the scene after noticing that Floyd had an abrasion on his face after the scuffle in the car. While Thao stood nearby pushing back a crowd of bystanders, Lane held Floyd’s legs, Kueng held him down by his back and Chauvin pressed a knee into Floyd’s neck and back as the man complained of difficulty breathing, then went limp.
Who is on trial and what charges are they facing?
A federal grand jury indicted Chauvin, Kueng, Lane and Thao in May 2021 on charges they violated Floyd’s constitutional rights during the fatal encounter. The indictment came days after Chauvin was convicted on state charges of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in Floyd’s death.
Federal prosecutors alleged that Chauvin violated Floyd’s constitutional rights to be free from unreasonable seizure and from unreasonable force by a police officer. Kueng and Thao were charged with violating Floyd’s right to be free from unreasonable seizure by not intervening as Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck. All four officers were charged with failing to render medical aid to Floyd. The four former officers pleaded not guilty to the charges in September.
In December, Chauvin, who is serving a 22½-year state sentence, pleaded guilty to the federal charges. He is awaiting sentencing in the case. Prosecutors said they will recommend a sentence of 25 years that they said could be served concurrently with Chauvin’s state conviction.
Federal civil rights violations that result in death are punishable by up to life in prison or even the death penalty, but those sentences are rare. Legal experts say the former officers, if convicted, probably would receive a less-severe sentence.
Kueng, Lane and Thao also face trial on state charges of aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter. Those proceedings had been scheduled for March, but the judge in that case granted a joint request from the defense and prosecution to delay that trial until June.
What is the evidence against the officers?
Evidence in the federal case includes much of the same material presented in Chauvin’s state trial, including extensive bystander video and police body-camera video as well as medical evidence about what caused Floyd’s death. Prosecutors presented training records they said show the three officers had been trained on the department’s policies on the duty to intervene and use of force, which instructs officers to stop using force when someone is no longer resisting and to reposition a handcuffed person into a “side recovery” position to alleviate breathing issues. Prosecutors also presented the jury with records showing the officers had been trained to “immediately” perform CPR if someone in their custody lost a pulse.
Prosecutors had disclosed 48 potential witnesses in the case but called just 21 before resting their the case on Feb. 14. Many of the witnesses had previously testified in Chauvin’s state murder trial — including Genevieve Hansen, an off-duty Minneapolis firefighter who was blocked by Thao when she asked to check Floyd’s pulse and perform CPR. Three Minneapolis police officers testified that Kueng, Lane and Thao’s behavior was “inconsistent” with their training on medical and intervention policies. The final prosecution witness was Darnella Frazier, the teenager who filmed the video of Floyd’s death, who broke down on the stand before testifying about how she asked the officers why they were continuing to hold Floyd down when he was telling them he couldn’t breathe.
The defense portion of the case began Feb. 15, as Thao testified in his own defense, emphasizing he never touched Floyd. Kueng took the stand the next day, claiming he was taking Chauvin’s lead at the scene. Lane is expected to testify this week.
Chauvin could be called as a witness in the case, though in recent days that seemed increasingly unlikely.
What are the ex-officers’ defenses?
Lawyers for Kueng and Lane have argued that their clients were following orders from Chauvin, their senior who they claim was calling the shots at the scene.
Lane, who was holding Floyd’s legs, twice asked Chauvin whether they should reposition Floyd — requests that his lawyer says prove that he tried to intervene with a senior officer but was rebuffed. Kueng later checked Floyd’s pulse — twice telling Chauvin that he couldn’t detect the man’s heartbeat. But Chauvin did not remove his knee from Floyd’s body until nudged by a responding paramedic.
Kueng testified that he had deferred to Chauvin, his former trainer, because senior officers were “always” in charge of a scene. He also said he wasn’t sure if Chauvin was violating policy on the use of neck restraints because hadn’t been trained on the maneuver. Kueng claimed he detected no “serious medical need” in Floyd even as he twice checked for his pulse and couldn’t find one and suggested he didn’t believe Floyd when he told the officers he couldn’t breathe or that he was in pain.
Thao, who said he never touched Floyd, testified that he was playing a “different role” at the scene and was more focused on crowd control — though he agreed with prosecutors that he was standing next to and often looking down at Floyd and the other officers for most of the time he was on the ground. Thao said he relied on the officers who were restraining Floyd to monitor his condition and believed that because they weren’t performing CPR that Floyd was “fine.”
Although it increasingly seems unlikely Chauvin will be called as a witness, prosecutors seemed to be preparing for that possibility, according to language in the plea agreement that Chauvin reached in December in the case. In that agreement, Chauvin admitted that he heard Kueng tell him Floyd no longer had a pulse. Chauvin also said he heard Lane ask him whether Floyd “should be rolled onto his side.”
But Chauvin also said he “did not observe” Kueng, Lane or Thao “do or say anything” to get him to lift his knee from Floyd’s neck — a claim that could prove pivotal as a jury considers whether the former officers “willfully” deprived Floyd of his rights and ignored his need for medical care.
How was the jury be picked?
Not unlike in Chauvin’s state murder case, the federal court summoned a larger jury pool than usual — about 300 people. But unlike that case, the federal jury pool included people from across the entire state of Minnesota, not just Hennepin County, where Floyd was killed.
In November, potential jurors were sent a long questionnaire similar to a survey mailed out ahead of Chauvin’s trial, according to the StarTribuneasking what they had heard about the case and the defendants, and soliciting their views on groups such as Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter.
Unlike Chauvin’s trial, where the prosecution and defense were able to question potential jurors, Magnuson elected to question jurors himself — a decision that dramatically sped up the process. On Jan. 20, the first day of jury selection in the case, a panel of 12 jurors and six alternates was seated after about five hours of questioning — a contrast to the two weeks it took to pick a jury in Chauvin’s state case.
The seated jury included seven women and five men. The six alternates included three men and three women. While the federal court did not release demographic information about the jury, pool reporters inside the courtroom said the panel appeared to be majority White. Most of the seated panel came from counties in and around the Twin Cities, but there were also jurors from all over the state, including Jackson County, Minn., along the state’s southwestern border with Iowa, and Olmsted County in southeastern Minnesota.
How long will the trial last?
Magnuson has repeatedly indicated that he wants to move the trial quickly, citing concerns about the spread of the novel coronavirus in a state where the positivity rate has increased sharply in recent weeks. Magnuson has repeatedly said he hoped to wrap up the trial in two weeks, but he told jurors the better estimate would be four weeks — though he said he hopes they’ll be finished before that. He suggested that if juror illness reduced the panel to fewer than 12, he could declare a mistrial in the case.
On Feb. 2, Magnuson abruptly recessed the trial, announcing that one of the defendants had tested positive for coronavirus. The court did not identify which of the former officers had tested positive, but when court resumed on Feb. 7, Magnuson said he had gotten a note from Lane’s doctor saying he was no longer contagious.
How can I watch the trial?
Unlike Chauvin’s state murder trial, which was live-streamed, the latest proceedings will not be televised because of a ban on cameras in federal courtrooms. The trial of Kueng, Lane and Thao will take place inside a heavily fortified federal courthouse in St. Paul, where access by the public has been limited for security reasons and to limit the spread of the coronavirus.