One of the three former Minneapolis Police officers who helped Derek Chauvin restrain George Floyd in May 2020 plans to testify in his own defense at his federal trial, his attorney said in opening statements Monday.
Thomas Lane, the rookie officer who held down Floyd’s legs during the fatal restraint, plans to take the stand during the trial, attorney Earl Gray said in a St. Paul, Minnesota, federal courtroom.
The ex-officers – Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao – are each charged with deprivation of rights under color of law for allegedly failing to give Floyd medical aid as Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck and back for 9 minutes and 29 seconds. Thao and Kueng are also charged with failing to intervene in Chauvin’s use of unreasonable force.
The three have pleaded not guilty to the federal charges and are being tried together. Chauvin admitted guilt in December as part of a plea deal.
In opening statements Monday, a federal prosecutor spoke for about 30 minutes, saying the three committed federal crimes when they ignored Floyd’s repeated pleas of “I can’t breathe.”
“Each made a conscious choice over and over again,” said Samantha Trepel, special litigation counsel from the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. “They chose not to intervene and stop Chauvin as he killed a man. They chose not to protect George Floyd, the man they handcuffed.”
The defendants’ attorneys each spoke for about 35 minutes, making many of the same arguments that Chauvin did in his state murder trial. They argued that Floyd was on drugs and resisting arrest, that the officers had insufficient training and that there was more to the story than the viral bystander video showed.
“The fact that something ends tragically does not mean a crime has been committed,” Thao’s attorney Robert Paule said.
The trial comes about 20 months after Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, was handcuffed and pressed to the pavement on his stomach until he fell unconscious and stopped breathing. The four officers on scene called for medical services but did not render aid to Floyd, and he remained in the same position until paramedics arrived and lifted his limp body into an ambulance. He was declared dead later that night.
The incident was captured on harrowing video taken by a bystander that showed Floyd desperately gasping for air and pleading that he couldn’t breathe.
The video of his final moments sparked widespread protests and fiery unrest in a societal movement against police brutality and racial injustice. Less than two years later, the killing remains particularly difficult for Floyd’s family to continue reliving.
“This trial will be another painful experience for the Floyd family, who must once more relive his grueling death in excruciating detail,” Floyd family attorneys Ben Crump, Antonio Romanucci and Jeff Storms said in a statement. “On behalf of the legal team and the family, we trust and expect that an impartial jury representative of the community will be seated to do this important work.”
A jury of five men and seven women was selected for the case on Thursday.
The federal case is separate from the state charges for Floyd’s death. Chauvin was convicted last year on state charges of murder and manslaughter. Kueng, Lane and Thao have pleaded not guilty to state charges of aiding and abetting in a trial tentatively set for June.
What this trial will focus on
The evidence at the federal trial will likely be broadly similar to Chauvin’s murder trial in Minnesota state court last year. Federal prosecutors have said in court filings they plan to seek testimony from witnesses who watched the officers restrain Floyd, police use-of-force experts and medical experts.
Unlike in that case, though, the proceedings are not being televised because federal court does not allow cameras.
The three ex-officers’ actions during Floyd’s arrest in May 2020 were shown in detail during Chauvin’s state trial in videos from bystanders, police body cameras and surveillance footage.
Chauvin, the most senior of the four officers, placed Floyd on his stomach on the street and knelt on his neck and back. Kueng held down Floyd’s torso and Lane held his legs, while Thao stood nearby and blocked concerned bystanders from getting close or intervening.
The officers kept Floyd in that position, handcuffed and prone on the ground, for 9 minutes and 29 seconds, prosecutors said during Chauvin’s trial. The officers at no point moved Floyd into a side recovery position to help with his breathing.
During the restraint, Lane is heard asking, “Should we roll him on his side?” and Chauvin responded, “No, staying put where we got him,” according to body camera videos. Minutes later, Lane again said, “Want to roll him on his side?” the videos show. Kueng checked for Floyd’s pulse but could not find one.
All four officers were fired in the wake of the bystander video’s release, and they were arrested and charged days later.
Thao had been an officer for more than eight years, while Lane and Kueng were rookie officers with only a few days of experience, according to a criminal complaint.
Chauvin pleaded guilty in December to federal civil rights charges for violating Floyd’s rights during the arrest. He also pleaded guilty in a separate federal case in which he was accused of depriving the rights of a 14-year-old in 2017 for kneeling on the back and neck of a handcuffed, non-resisting teenager.
As part of that plea agreement, Chauvin faces a sentence of between 20 and 25 years in prison to be served concurrently with his current 22.5-year sentence on the state murder charges.
CNN’s Jason Kravarik contributed to this report.