SAINT PAUL | They “watched a man die and decided to do nothing”: three police officers who remained passive during the murder of African-American George Floyd were strangled by the prosecution on Monday at the opening of their trial in federal justice .
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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 police officer,” she added. But, “for 9 minutes and 29 seconds, the defendants ignored their training”, their responsibility and their oath.
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”.
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 therefore appear without him. 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 being criticized for not having intervened to dissuade Derek Chauvin from “exerting unreasonable force”. Thomas Lane, who had twice suggested positioning the African-American on his flank, is not targeted by this charge.
Each defendant has his own lawyer and should unfold his own arguments. It is likely that the two youngest insist on the ascendancy exercised by Derek Chauvin, employed for 19 years by the Minneapolis police.
Tou Thao should say that he was concentrating on passers-by and did not pay attention to the distress of George Floyd. “A tragedy is not a crime,” said his lawyer Monday.
The trial could last four weeks.