They “watched a man die and decided to do nothing”: three police officers who remained passive during the murder of George Floyd were crushed by the prosecution on Monday, at the opening of their trial in federal justice.
Posted at 4:44 p.m.
Supporting roles in a drama that shook the whole world, Tou Thao, Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane appear free in federal court in Saint Paul, in the north of the United States, for “violation of civil rights” of the black forties.
On May 25, 2020, they “watched Mr. Floyd’s slow, painful agony,” prosecutor Samantha Trepel argued. The latter, who was suffocating under the knee of their colleague Derek Chauvin, “repeated 25 times ‘I can’t breathe’ to alert them”, but they knowingly “chosen” not to intervene, she asserted.
“’In your custody’ implies ‘under your responsibility’: this is a basic principle taught to every policeman,” she added. But “for 9 minutes and 29 seconds, the defendants ignored their training”, their responsibility and their oath.
Nothing decided, say the defendants
The lawyers for the three men, in turn, disputed that they had “deliberately” decided to let George Floyd die.
For them, they logically trusted Derek Chauvin, the “playmaker” with 19 years of career, in a “complex” situation.
On the day of the tragedy, Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane, two new Minneapolis police recruits, were called by a merchant who suspected George Floyd of having used a counterfeit $20 bill to pay for a pack of cigarettes.
As they struggled to get this imposing man into their vehicle, they were joined by two experienced agents.
The four had quickly tackled the African-American to the ground, handcuffed. Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck, the two newcomers at his side, while Tou Thao kept the panicked passers-by at a distance.
They hadn’t moved despite the groans of the forties and his loss of consciousness.
The scene, filmed and posted online, sparked huge protests against racism and police brutality across the United States and beyond, and continues to fuel reflection on America’s racist past.
In June, Derek Chauvin was found guilty of murder and sentenced to 22 and a half years in prison by a Minnesota state court. His three colleagues will be tried in this context from June 13 for “complicity in murder”.
“A tragedy, not a crime”
At the same time, federal prosecutors have charged the four officers with “violation of civil rights” of George Floyd, including freedom and security. These double prosecutions are authorized in the United States, but relatively rare, and reflect the importance of this extraordinary file.
In December, Derek Chauvin pleaded guilty in this federal part, admitting for the first time a share of responsibility in the drama.
His three colleagues pleaded not guilty. They are all accused of not having brought the necessary help to the forties despite the signs of medical distress.
Tou Thao and Alexander Kueng are also accused of not having intervened to dissuade Derek Chauvin from “exerting unreasonable force”. Thomas Lane, who had twice suggested positioning George Floyd on his side, is not targeted by this charge.
On Monday, their lawyers recognized the seriousness of the events. But “a tragedy is not a crime,” said Robert Paule, who defends Tou Thao.
They particularly insisted on the lack of experience of agents Kueng and Lang, deployed in the field for only a few days and who, in total, had not had five patrols to their credit.
Derek Chauvin had participated in the training of Alexander Kueng, added the latter’s lawyer. “The evidence will show that he took control of the scene on May 25, 2020,” added Me Thomas Plunkett, calling him a “playmaker”.
The trial could last four weeks.