Ex-Minneapolis police officers now face federal charges in death of George Floyd

(Left to right) Derek Chauvin, J Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane, Tou Thao
(Left to right) Derek Chauvin, J Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane, Tou Thao

Federal grand jury indicts them for violating Floyd's constitutional rights.

Posted: May 7, 2021 9:24 AM
Updated: May 7, 2021 11:48 AM

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A federal grand jury has indicted the four former Minneapolis police officers involved in George Floyd’s arrest and death, accusing them of willfully violating the Black man’s constitutional rights as he was restrained face-down on the pavement and gasping for air.

A three-count indictment unsealed Friday names Derek Chauvin, Thomas Lane, J. Kueng and Tou Thao. Specifically, Chauvin is charged with violating Floyd’s right to be free from unreasonable seizure and unreasonable force by a police officer. Thao and Kueng are also charged with violating Floyd’s right to be free from unreasonable seizure, alleging they did not intervene to stop Chauvin as he knelt on Floyd’s neck. All four officers are charged for their failure to provide Floyd with medical care.

Floyd’s May 25 arrest and death, which a bystander captured on cellphone video, sparked nationwide complaints about the police treatment of Black people and protests calling for an end to police brutality and racial inequities.

Chauvin was also charged in a second indictment, stemming from the use of force and neck restraint of a 14-year-old boy in 2017.

Lane, Thao and Kueng made their initial court appearances Friday via videoconference in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis. Chauvin was not part of the court appearance.

Chauvin was convicted last month on state charges of murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death and is in Minnesota’s only maximum-security prison as he awaits sentencing. The other three former officers face a state trial in August, and they are free on bond. They were allowed to remain free after Friday's federal appearance.

Floyd, 46, died after Chauvin pinned him to the ground with a knee on his neck, even as Floyd, who was handcuffed, repeatedly said he couldn’t breathe. Kueng and Lane also helped restrain Floyd — state prosecutors have said Kueng knelt on Floyd’s back and Lane held down Floyd’s legs. State prosecutors say Thao held back bystanders and kept them from intervening during the 9 1/2-minute restraint.

Chauvin’s attorney, Eric Nelson, argued during his murder trial that Chauvin acted reasonably in the situation and that Floyd died because of underlying health issues and drug use. He has filed a request for a new trial, citing many issues including the judge’s refusal to move the trial due to publicity.

Nelson had no comment on the federal charges Friday. Kueng's attorney also had no comment. A message left for Thao's attorney wasn't immediately returned, and a call to Lane's attorney disconnected when he was reached by The Associated Press.

Ben Crump and the team of attorneys for Floyd's family said the civil rights charges reinforce “the strength and wisdom" of the Constitution. “We are encouraged by these charges and eager to see continued justice in this historic case that will impact Black citizens and all Americans for generations to come,” the attorneys said in a statement.

The Rev. Al Sharpton said the federal charges against the officers show the Justice Department “does not excuse it nor allow police to act as though as what they do is acceptable behavior in the line of duty.”

“What we couldn’t get them to do in the case of Eric Garner, Michael Brown in Ferguson, and countless others, we are finally seeing them do today,” Sharpton said.

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, whose office is prosecuting the state charges, said the federal government is responsible for protecting the civil rights of every American and “federal prosecution for the violation of George Floyd’s civil rights is entirely appropriate," particularly now that Chauvin is convicted of murder.

To bring federal charges in deaths involving police, prosecutors must believe an officer acted under the “color of law,” or government authority, and willfully deprived someone of their constitutional rights, including the right to be free from unreasonable seizures or the use of unreasonable force. That’s a high legal standard. An accident, bad judgment or simple negligence on the officer’s part isn’t enough to support federal charges, and prosecutors have to prove the officers knew what they were doing was wrong in that moment but did it anyway.

Conviction on a federal civil rights charge is punishable by up to life in prison or even the death penalty, but those stiff sentences are extremely rare and federal sentencing guidelines rely on complicated formulas that indicate the officers would get much less if convicted.

In Chauvin’s case, if the federal court uses second-degree murder as his underlying offense, he could face anywhere from 14 years to slightly more than 24 years, depending on whether he takes responsibility, said Mark Osler, a former federal prosecutor and professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law.

Osler said the guidelines clearly state that any federal sentence would be served at the same time as a state sentence. Chauvin is due to be sentenced on the state charges June 25.

The indictment in Floyd's death says Thao and Kueng were aware Chauvin had his knee on Floyd's neck, even after Floyd became unresponsive, and "willfully failed to intervene to stop Defendant Chauvin's use of unreasonable force." All four officers are charged with willfully depriving Floyd of liberty without due process — for their alleged deliberate indifference to Floyd’s medical needs.

The other indictment, against Chauvin only, alleges he deprived a 14-year-old of his right to be free of unreasonable force when he held the teen by the throat, hit him in the head with a flashlight and held his knee on the boy’s neck and upper back while he was prone, handcuffed and unresisting.

According to a police report from that 2017 encounter, Chauvin wrote that the teen resisted arrest and that after the teen, who he described as 6-foot-2 and about 240 pounds, was handcuffed, Chauvin “used body weight to pin” the boy to the floor. The boy was bleeding from the ear and needed two stitches.

That encounter was one of several mentioned in state court filings that prosecutors said showed Chauvin had used neck or head and upper body restraints seven times before dating back to 2014, including four times state prosecutors said he went too far and held the restraints “beyond the point when such force was needed under the circumstances.”

Bob Bennett, an attorney for the teenager, said the “familiar behavior” from Chauvin showed Floyd wasn't his first victim. “Obviously he wasn't restricted to adult males,” Bennett said, adding that using force a neck restraint against a 14-year-old boy “is troubling in its own right.”

President Joe Biden's administration has made policing reform a major issue. Attorney General Merrick Garland has said he was refocusing the department around civil rights and does not believe there is equal justice under the law.

In late April, the Justice Department indicted three men on federal hate crime charges in the February 2020 death of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man who was running in a Georgia neighborhood when he was chased down and shot. At the time, it was the most significant civil rights prosecution undertaken by Biden’s Justice Department.

The Justice Department also recently announced it was opening a sweeping investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department. The investigation will examine whether there is a pattern or practice of unconstitutional or unlawful policing at the department, and it could result in major changes.

Garland announced a similar probe into policing in Louisville, Kentucky, over the March 2020 death of Breonna Taylor, who was fatally shot by police during a raid at her home.

Chauvin was convicted of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Experts say he will likely face no more than 30 years in prison when he is sentenced in June. The other officers face charges alleging they aided and abetted second-degree murder and manslaughter. All four officers were fired.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 603876

Reported Deaths: 7610
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin1247791772
Ramsey52449895
Dakota46780470
Anoka42709458
Washington27396290
Stearns22549224
St. Louis18123312
Scott17540134
Wright16404148
Olmsted13387102
Sherburne1200094
Carver1065948
Clay825492
Rice8186110
Blue Earth762343
Crow Wing681494
Kandiyohi667285
Chisago619252
Otter Tail585684
Benton582898
Goodhue483373
Douglas475381
Mower470733
Winona461151
Itasca458963
Isanti439664
McLeod429761
Morrison424462
Nobles407950
Beltrami407160
Steele397416
Polk389072
Becker386555
Lyon363853
Carlton352656
Freeborn346932
Pine335023
Nicollet330945
Mille Lacs311454
Brown307840
Le Sueur297125
Cass285632
Todd285632
Meeker263042
Waseca237823
Martin234932
Roseau210821
Wabasha20783
Hubbard196041
Dodge18773
Renville182446
Redwood176338
Houston174016
Cottonwood167124
Wadena162723
Fillmore157410
Faribault154319
Chippewa153938
Pennington153820
Kanabec146828
Sibley146810
Aitkin138637
Watonwan13589
Rock128719
Jackson122612
Pipestone116626
Yellow Medicine114920
Pope11296
Murray107010
Swift106918
Koochiching94917
Stevens92411
Clearwater89116
Marshall88717
Wilkin83112
Lake83020
Lac qui Parle75622
Big Stone6044
Grant5938
Lincoln5843
Mahnomen5669
Norman5479
Kittson49022
Unassigned48093
Red Lake4017
Traverse3755
Lake of the Woods3453
Cook1720

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 370654

Reported Deaths: 6041
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk58194638
Linn21186339
Scott20290246
Black Hawk16075312
Woodbury15231230
Johnson1461085
Dubuque13501211
Dallas1128599
Pottawattamie11218173
Story1070848
Warren583691
Clinton561493
Cerro Gordo553293
Sioux516974
Webster515194
Muscatine4876106
Marshall486476
Des Moines466970
Wapello4333122
Buena Vista426140
Jasper420972
Plymouth402881
Lee381956
Marion365976
Jones300857
Henry294137
Bremer287760
Carroll286852
Boone268334
Crawford267740
Benton259255
Washington256651
Dickinson249444
Mahaska232351
Jackson225242
Clay216527
Kossuth216166
Tama211771
Delaware210943
Winneshiek197935
Page194522
Buchanan193233
Cedar192123
Hardin187344
Fayette186443
Wright185940
Hamilton181851
Harrison179973
Clayton171057
Butler166035
Madison164419
Mills163324
Floyd163042
Cherokee159438
Lyon158841
Poweshiek156936
Allamakee152652
Hancock150134
Iowa149824
Winnebago144331
Cass139155
Calhoun138913
Grundy137133
Emmet135841
Jefferson133535
Shelby131437
Sac130820
Union129935
Louisa129749
Appanoose129049
Mitchell126643
Chickasaw124517
Franklin123323
Guthrie123032
Humboldt119526
Palo Alto113623
Howard104922
Montgomery103638
Clarke100924
Keokuk96432
Monroe96230
Unassigned9540
Ida91535
Adair87332
Pocahontas85822
Davis85225
Monona82931
Osceola79016
Greene78011
Lucas77923
Worth7598
Taylor66712
Fremont6269
Decatur6159
Ringgold56324
Van Buren56318
Wayne54423
Audubon52910
Adams3444
Rochester
Clear
63° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 59°
Feels Like: 63°
Mason City
Clear
58° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 58°
Albert Lea
Partly Cloudy
61° wxIcon
Hi: 89° Lo: 56°
Feels Like: 61°
Austin
Partly Cloudy
59° wxIcon
Hi: 88° Lo: 55°
Feels Like: 59°
Charles City
Partly Cloudy
61° wxIcon
Hi: 87° Lo: 56°
Feels Like: 61°
Tracking storm chances later this week
KIMT Radar
KIMT Eye in the sky

Latest Video

Image

Superintendent Muñoz says goodbye to RPS, shares update on boundary exceptions

Image

RPS Superintendent Muñoz says goodbye to RPS

Image

RPS updates plans for boundary changes

Image

Dangers with Drought

Image

Minnesota Emergency Declaration

Image

MAYO Heritage Hall Reopens

Image

Gates of Rochester Shooting

Image

Rochester selected as a finalist in the 2021 Global Mayors Challenge

Image

How to deal with Pondweed

Image

Motorcycle Awareness

Community Events