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Three ex-Minneapolis police officers guilty of violating George Floyd's civil rights

Updated February 24, 2022 at 10:07 PM ET

A federal jury found three former Minneapolis police officers guilty of depriving George Floyd of his civil rights when they helped with the restraint that led to his death.

The jury found that Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao all deprived Floyd of his right to medical care, and that two of them failed to intervene as Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd's neck.

The three former officers each faced federal civil rights charges over their conduct on May 25, 2020, when they joined Derek Chauvin in holding Floyd to the ground for about nine minutes and keeping bystanders away.

"Today's verdict recognizes that two police officers violated the Constitution by failing to intervene to stop another officer from killing George Floyd, and three officers violated the Constitution by failing to provide aid to Mr. Floyd in time to prevent his death," Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement.

"The Justice Department will continue to seek accountability for law enforcement officers whose actions, or failure to act, violate their constitutional duty to protect the civil rights of our citizens. George Floyd should be alive today," he added.

Philonese Floyd, George's brother, called it a good but sad day, according to Minnesota Public Radio.

"This is just accountability," Philonese Floyd said after the convictions. "It can never be justice because I can never get George back. I can't get my brother back."

Lane and Kueng were the first officers on the scene after workers at the Cup Foods convenience store called 911 to report that someone had tried to use a counterfeit $20 bill. As the two confronted and handcuffed Floyd, they were joined by Thao and Chauvin. Chauvin was the most senior officer present.

After officers struggled to place Floyd into a squad car, three restrained Floyd on the ground for about nine minutes as bystanders begged them to stop. Floyd was later pronounced dead.

It was Chauvin who pressed his knee into Floyd's neck. He was convicted of murder in a state trial last year, and in December he pleaded guilty to a single charge of violating Floyd's civil rights.

Instead, this federal civil rights trial — the second of what will likely be three total trials over Floyd's death — focused on the actions of the other three ex-officers, all of whom assisted in the deadly restraint: Lane held Floyd's legs down, Kueng knelt on Floyd's back, and Thao stopped bystanders from intervening.

All three were charged with willfully and without due process depriving Floyd of his right to liberty. Prosecutors say the former officers saw that Floyd needed medical care but failed to provide it. Thao and Kueng each faced an additional charge of willfully depriving Floyd of his right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure when they failed to intervene to stop Chauvin.

"They chose not to intervene, they chose not to aid George Floyd as the window to save Mr. Floyd's life slammed shut," prosecutor Manda Sertich told jurors during closing arguments Tuesday. "This is a crime."

The statutory maximum sentence for violating Floyd's civil rights resulting in his death is life in prison.

A sentencing date has not yet been scheduled.

Prosecutors faced the challenge of convincing the jury that the three officers had "willfully" deprived Floyd of his civil rights, a legal standard that has often served as a high bar in civil rights prosecutions.

They focused on the officers' training, saying the officers knew they had a duty to provide medical care and that they had been trained to turn handcuffed suspects on their side to allow for breathing. A training expert for the Minneapolis Police Department had testified that officers were trained to intervene if they witnessed a fellow officer using excessive force.

Defense lawyers argued the former officers were following Chauvin's lead

Of the three defendants, Lane appeared to have the strongest defense, legal observers agreed. Lane twice asked if they should turn Floyd onto his side so he could breathe, but he was rebuffed by both Chauvin and Kueng. Lane also called for an ambulance and body camera footage shows that he later assisted paramedics in their attempt to resuscitate Floyd.

"Even though he recognized and even gave voice to the mortal danger George Floyd was in, he did nothing to give George Floyd the medical aid he knew that Mr. Floyd so desperately needed," Sertich said Tuesday. "When the need was the greatest, he did the least."

Lawyers representing the ex-officers argued that their training had not been sufficient and that they were following the lead of Chauvin, the senior officer on scene. Lane and Kueng were both rookies, a fact their lawyers turned to repeatedly.

"I'm not trying to say he wasn't trained," said Thomas Plunkett, a defense lawyer representing Kueng. "I'm saying the training was inadequate to help him see, perceive and understand what was happening here."

Lane's attorney Earl Gray criticized the prosecution and blamed "mob rule and politics" for the trial.

The three ex-officers also face state charges of aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter. All three have pleaded not guilty. That trial is scheduled to begin on June 13.

Chauvin's state trial took place last year, and he was convicted of murdering Floyd. He is currently serving a 22-year prison sentence. In December, he pleaded guiltyto two federal civil rights charges — one related to Floyd's death, and the second from a separate incident that took place in 2017. Sentencing has not yet taken place.

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Becky Sullivan has reported and produced for NPR since 2011 with a focus on hard news and breaking stories. She has been on the ground to cover natural disasters, disease outbreaks, elections and protests, delivering stories to both broadcast and digital platforms.