Federal Trial Begins for Ex-Mpls. Officers in George Floyd Case

Jan. 24, 2022
The three former Minneapolis police officers are accused of depriving George Floyd of his constitutional rights by failing to intervene in the May 2020 incident.

MINNEAPOLIS—Opening statements are underway in the federal trial in St. Paul of the three fired Minneapolis police officers who are accused of depriving George Floyd of his constitutional rights by failing to intervene when fellow officer Derek Chauvin killed Floyd in May 2020.

Attorneys for J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao will use their time to outline their respective cases, and the prosecution will do the same before the 12 jurors and six alternates who were chosen last week to be on the panel.


Assistant U.S. Attorney Samantha Trepel was first to address the jurors, saying that when police officers take a person into their custody, those officers are responsible for ensuring that person's safety.

"In your custody is in your care," Trepel said. "It's not just a moral responsibility, it's what the law requires under the U.S. Constitution."

Trepel continued by saying that "signing up to carry a gun and wear a badge comes with life-or-death duties."

"Here, on May 25, Memorial Day 2020, for second after second, minute after minute, these three CPR-trained defendants stood or knelt next to officer Chauvin as he slowly killed George Floyd right in front of them."

Trepel said they made a "conscious choice over and over again not to act." They chose not to protect George Floyd, the man they had handcuffed"

Signaling the contentious weeks to come, Thomas Plunkett, attorney for Kueng, already called for a mistrial, saying Trepel's opening statements wandered into "argumentative." Judge Paul Magnuson rejected the request.

Thao's attorney, Robert Paule, began opening statements for the defense by "acknowledging the tragedy," of Floyd's death. "However, a tragedy is not a crime," Paule said.

Paule reminded the jury why the officers were at the scene in the first place: to investigate a report of a counterfeit $20 bill.

"I think all of us are familiar with this incident; it's been on the news so much. I think all of us are also familiar with a video taken by a young woman, Darnella Frazier."

However, Paule said the video doesn't show what happened "before that," saying that Floyd acted erratically and did not follow directions from the officers.

Kueng's attorney, Thomas Plunkett, was next, saying that his client was deeply influenced by Chauvin, the most senior officer on the scene with 19 years on the street. Chauvin was a field training officer (FTO) in the 3rd Precinct "for a very long time." He was Kueng's FTO.

Plunkett said the FTO "has great control over a young officer's future in the Minneapolis Police Department." He said an officer can be terminated on the FTO's recommendation.

Plunkett said Lane should have been the person in charge because he was the senior officer in the first car. Instead, Plunkett said Chauvin was clearly in charge.

Plunkett turned his focus to the notion that Kueng acted "willfully," according to the charge against him. To act willfully, he said, it must be proven that Kueng acted with a bad purpose to disobey the law, specifically intending to deprive Floyd of his rights.

Chauvin pleaded guilty in December to the federal charges and is now serving a 22 1/2-year state sentence after being convicted in Hennepin County District Court of murder for kneeling on Floyd's neck for more than 9 minutes while detaining him on the pavement at 38th and Chicago.

Jury selection was completed in one day. Twelve jurors and six alternates were selected from a pool of 67 questioned in two groups by U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson. Because this is a federal trial, the jurors come from all over the state.

The identities of the jurors are not publicly known. Two of the jurors appeared to be Asian and the rest are white. The only Black man in the jury pool said he couldn't be fair and was excused by the judge. The jurors were selected based on responses to a questionnaire sent to randomly selected Minnesotans late last year.

Of the 12 set to decide the case, five are white men, six are white women and one appeared to be an Asian woman. Of the alternates, three are white women, two are white men and one appeared to be an Asian man. The court does not release their ages or their ethnicity.

Among the 12 main jurors, three are from Hennepin County, two live in Ramsey County and two live in Washington County. There is one juror each from Anoka, Blue Earth, Olmsted, Jackson and Scott counties.

Two of the alternates are from Ramsey County. The remaining four come from Anoka, Hennepin, Nicollet and Olmsted counties.

Thao, Kueng and Lane also are charged in state court with aiding and abetting murder in connection with Floyd's death. Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill on Wednesday moved that trial's start date from March 7 to June 13 after defense attorneys and prosecutors asked for a postponement.


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