During opening statements Monday, prosecutors said the three officers charged with violating George Floyd's civil rights during his fatal arrest ignored their training and consciously failed to protect him. File Photo by Jemal Countess/UPI | License Photo
Jan. 24 (UPI) -- Prosecutors said during opening statements Monday that the three former Minneapolis police officers charged with violating George Floyd's civil rights as he was killed by police ignored their training as they failed to intervene.
Fired Minneapolis police officers J. Alexander Kueng, 28; Thomas Lane, 38 and Tou Thao, 35, face federal civil rights charges as they failed to assist Floyd while former officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd's neck for more than 9 minutes as they sought to arrest Floyd.
Kueng and Thao both face an additional charge alleging they knew Chauvin, who was found guilty of second- and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, was kneeling on Floyd's neck but did not intervene.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Samantha Trepel cited a passage from Minneapolis Police Department's policy on how officers should treat people once in custody that reads "In your custody, in your care," stating that it is not just a moral responsibility to do so but required by law.
She said the officers made the "conscious choice over and over again" not to act to protect Floyd.
"Here on May 25, 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.
Trepel noted that videos from the scene showed Kueng kneeling on Floyd's back throughout the encounter as Chauvin knelt on the neck of Floyd, who repeatedly said he could not breathe.
Trepel also said Tao was heard telling witnesses, "This is why you don't do drugs, kids."
She added that despite being rookie officers, Lane and Kueng had been trained for a year and a half and were taught repeatedly to turn a subject on their side when they have trouble breathing.
"We will ask you to hold these men accountable for choosing to do nothing and watch a man die," Trepel told jurors.
Kueng's attorney, Thomas Plunkett, made a motion for a mistrial, stating some of what Trepel presented to the jury in her opening statement was more argumentative than a preview of the evidence prosecutors intend to present throughout the entirety of the trial.
U.S. District Court Judge Paul Magnuson denied the request.
Plunkett added that Kueng and Lane had only completed five shifts on the job on the day of Floyd's arrest and said the officers deferred to Chauvin, their field training officer, as the role granted him "great control over a young officer's future in the Minneapolis Police Department."
Lane's attorney, Earl Gray, said that his client would testify on his own behalf during the trial while calling the case against him a "perversion of justice."
Gray said Floyd put Lane in a "scary" scenario as he measured 6-foot-4, weighed 225 pounds and was "all muscle."
He said Lane, however, "was totally concerned and did everything he could possibly do to help George Floyd, noting he asked Chauvin and Keung if they should turn Floyd on his side to help him breathe but the other officers rejected the suggestion.
Thao's attorney, Robert Paule, called on jurors to consider that Floyd, who was alleged to have attempted to use a fake $20 bill at a convenience store, had resisted arrest and acted erratically when Kueng and Lane responded to the scene, while acknowledging that Floyd's death was a "tragedy."
"However, a tragedy is not a crime," he said.
The 18-member jury, including six alternates, is made up of 11 women and seven men, none of whom are Black.
Attorneys for Floyd's family issued a statement describing the trial as "another milestone in the long, slow journey to justice" for Floyd.
"This trial will be another painful experience for the Floyd family, who must once more relive his greuling death in excruciating detail," the statement said.