Officers Who Watched Chauvin Murder George Floyd Found Guilty
Three former Minneapolis police officers were convicted on Thursday on federal charges of violating George Floyd's civil rights by showing deliberate indifference to his medical needs during the nine minutes Derek Chauvin was on his neck as well as not providing medical assistance to Floyd after he lost a pulse. Two of the officers were also charged with failing to stop Derek Chauvin from killing him.
During the murder, two of the officers, both rookies — J. Alexander Kueng, 28, and Thomas Lane, 38 — actually held Floyd down and kept him restrained so that Chauvin could more easily kneel on his neck while the third, Tou Thao, 36, kept bystanders at bay. Lane, because he twice suggested putting Floyd on his side, avoided the second charge.
All three will remain free on bond until sentencing next week — and because these men violated Floyd's civil rights during the course of their duty as cops, they could be facing some very serious penalties.
According to the Department of Justice, "Section 242 of Title 18 makes it a crime for a person acting under color of any law to willfully deprive a person of a right or privilege protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States" and the punishment for doing so is "a range of imprisonment up to a life term, or the death penalty." It seems unlikely that they'll get the death penalty, but it's equally unlikely that they will get a slap on the wrist.
At trial, the ex-officers all took the stand in their own defense, all pretty much telling the same story. Derek Chauvin was their senior officer and they trusted his judgment in that situation. They did not feel like they could say anything. They trusted him to administer medical care if necessary. They didn't receive the right training.
Thao testified that he thought the other officers had the situation handled and it was just his job to manage crowd control. When asked why he did nothing to stop Chauvin, he replied "I think I would trust a 19-year veteran to figure it out." Kueng said he was too stressed out during the situation to understand how much pressure Chauvin was putting on Floyd's neck with his knee, and that he thought Floyd was still breathing when medical assistance arrived.
This is all actually very believable. The kind of people who become cops are not the kind of people who tend to question authority. It's also incredibly messed up and not any kind of an excuse for standing there and watching a man die while doing nothing. "Just following orders" is not a good excuse for anything.
The verdict is a big deal, as it certainly sends a message that not only will police officers be punished for killing unarmed Black people, but that other officers who stand by and watch as they do so will be held accountable as well. People are done with this shit. Or at least the members of that jury were.
Legally speaking, police have no legal obligation to protect someone from harm. For instance, if you have a restraining order against your ex and he kidnaps your children, the police have the right to use their "discretion" to just ignore that until he shows up at the police station with the bodies of your three daughters in his car. What they don't have the right to do, however, is to help restrain said children while your ex murders them and then not bother to provide any medical aid afterwards.
Kueng, Lane, and Thao will all also be facing trial for aiding and abetting a murder in June.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse