MINNEAPOLIS — Three former Minneapolis police officers charged with violating George Floyd's civil rights are asking that their federal trials be separated from the trial of Derek Chauvin, who has already been convicted on state murder charges for kneeling on Floyd's neck as the Black man pleaded for air.
Attorneys for J. Kueng and Tou Thao said in court filings Tuesday that their clients would be unfairly prejudiced if they went to trial alongside Chauvin. An attorney for Thomas Lane filed a motion asking to join in his co-defendants' request.
Keung's attorney, Tom Plunkett, said evidence against Chauvin would confuse the jury and deprive Kueng of his right to a fair trial. He also said there is a conflict of interest due to Chauvin's level of culpability in Floyd's death, saying "the jurors will not be able to follow the Court’s instructions and compartmentalize the evidence as it related to Mr. Kueng."
A Minnesota judge sentenced former police officer Derek Chauvin to 22-1/2 years in prison on Friday for the murder of George Floyd during an arrest in May 2020 on a Minneapolis sidewalk.
A federal grand jury indicted Chauvin, Kueng, Thao and Lane in May, alleging they violated Floyd’s rights while acting under government authority as Floyd was restrained face-down, handcuffed and not resisting.
The four officers were also charged in state court, where Chauvin's trial was eventually separated from the others due to space restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Chauvin was convicted of murder and manslaughter and was sentenced to 22 1/2 years in prison. The other three former officers face state trial next March on aiding and abetting counts.
Floyd, 46, repeatedly said he couldn’t breathe as Chauvin pinned him to the ground on May 25, 2020. Kueng and Lane helped restrain Floyd; Kueng knelt on Floyd’s back, and Lane held Floyd’s legs. Thao held back bystanders and kept them from intervening during the 9 1/2-minute restraint that was captured on bystander video and led to worldwide protests and calls for change in policing.
The federal indictment alleges Chauvin violated Floyd’s right to be free from unreasonable seizure and from unreasonable force by a police officer. Thao and Kueng are charged with violating Floyd’s right to be free from unreasonable seizure by not intervening to stop Chauvin as he knelt on Floyd’s neck. All four officers are charged for their failure to provide Floyd with medical care.
The requests to separate the trials were filed with several other routine requests on Tuesday.
In this Monday, May 25, 2020, file frame from video provided by Darnella Frazier, a Minneapolis officer kneels on the neck of George Floyd, a handcuffed man who was pleading that he could not breathe.
Bob Paule, an attorney for Thao, said he also wanted his client's trial separated from Chauvin's, but his filing suggests he wants to separate Thao's trial altogether, saying, “The jury will have insurmountable difficulty distinguishing the alleged acts of each defendant from the alleged acts of his co-defendants.”
Paule said Thao’s Fifth Amendment right to not incriminate himself would be in jeopardy if the trials were held together.
“Mr. Thao will obtain a fair and more impartial trial he is tried separately from his co-defendants,” Paule wrote.
The officers are scheduled to be arraigned on Sept. 14. A trial date has not been set.
Chauvin is also charged in a separate federal indictment alleging he violated the civil rights of a 14-year-old boy in 2017.
IN THEIR WORDS: Midwest law enforcement leaders react to Derek Chauvin trial
Bloomington, Illinois, Police Department Interim Chief Greg Scott
"We need to find effective ways to have conversations with residents. Those conversations will allow us to better understand our citizens and for the citizens to better understand the police. Trust will be built through those conversations and the concrete next steps that result from the understanding gained in talking with each other."
Interim Carbondale, Illinois, Police Chief Stan Reno
“There’s certainly a focus and a desire for law enforcement to adapt and make the necessary changes to make sure that we don’t have any more tragedies.”
Coles County, Illinois, Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy Tyler Heleine
"I believe we will continue to see changes around the world regarding policing. My hope is that there is an open dialogue between law enforcement and lawmakers in order to jointly come up with solutions to issues and ways to properly implement the change in laws and mandates when they occur. I believe with an open dialogue it allows for transparency between all involved and often will lead to better solutions."
Decatur, Illinois, Police Chief Jim Getz
"I think every agency needs to put training and hiring qualified people at the top of their priority lists; I know that is what we do in Decatur and I know that is what the Macon County Sheriff's Office does.
"No police department can be lazy when it comes to taking all the steps necessary to hire quality people and conduct the proper training. And, on a national level, I think everybody needs to step up their game (as regards police training.)"
Macon County, Illinois, Sheriff Tony Brown
"Of course, there are still areas that need to be fixed. But what makes me happy is that the culture of law enforcement needs to change and is changing. For years, and I've been doing this job for 30-plus years, we always had that kind of warrior mentality. But we need to realize that we're not at war, that we need to be protectors, and that is what we are."
Mattoon, Illinois, Police Chief Sam Gaines
"We (in the Mattoon Police Department) conduct business in accordance with state and federal laws. Should those laws change, we will adjust and follow those new laws. Should a concern ever be raised with how we conduct ourselves, I would immediately address the issue."
Rock Island County, Illinois, Sheriff Gerry Bustos
“I truly see George Floyd as the victim in all this. This should have been a relatively minor police contact. Derek Chauvin is the one who has completely changed policing in America by disregarding George Floyd’s life.”
Griffith, Indiana, Police Chief Greg Mance
“There’s no doubt that (the Derek Chauvin case) further eroded the faith that people have in law enforcement, particularly in the Black community.”
“... It’s something that we as a profession need to work to address. I think the first step in doing that is acknowledging publicly the abuses that have been made by our predecessors. Hopefully, by doing that, we can build a foundation to rebuild – or perhaps build for the first time with many – a trusting relationship.”
Lake County, Indiana, Sheriff Oscar Martinez
"Like many members of the public, I have watched and been horrified by the videos of the death of George Floyd. This case presents law enforcement with an opportunity to reflect and improve upon the manner in which we engage with our communities.
"It is not part of the standard procedure of officers of the Lake County Sheriff’s Department to apply subdual methods like the one highlighted in this case. Conversely, it is the duty and responsibility of all officers to help protect the public; including individuals in our custody."
Michigan City, Indiana, Police Chief Dion Campbell
Michigan City, Indiana, Police Chief Dion Campbell said the criminal case against Derek Chauvin will “cause law enforcement agencies to review their existing policies and procedures and bring them in alignment with the current expectations and burdens of what good policing looks like in 2021 and beyond.”
“It will force departments to re-examine training modules and ensure that the actual application of targeted training is executed at the street level,” he said. “The hiring process will be highlighted as the screening methods that gauge how well an individual is suited to interact with the community where he/she may be employed.”
“Police departments must become very efficient in communicating quickly and clearly the actions of law enforcement officers in different scenarios to combat the speed which false narratives travel on social media,” Campbell said. “Public Information officers will be critical for Police Departments.”
“The importance of Community engagement and trust must be deliberately built into the culture of every law enforcement agency,” he said. “Officers must balance being a warrior and being a guardian of the communities they serve.”
Clear Lake, Iowa, Police Captain Michael Colby
"Something that’s always been at the forefront is to not always just do the minimum and move on, but how we can solve problems for people that may not always be related to the law."
Mason City, Iowa, Police Chief Jeff Brinkley
"We do a really tough job. When a police officer is involved, there’s always the rush to judgment and there’s not patience anymore, and I think that’s the hard part. Sometimes there’s a little bit of a circling of the wagons in terms of taking care of our own people. ...
"Our system is not one you can replace overnight with a new system. We have to work as hard as we can as leaders today to leave it better than we found it. We need to work to provide equity and fairness ... I don’t know what the better system (would be) ... Nobody has that answer because we’re so ingrained in what we do ... Changes need to be really intentional..."
Mitchell County, Iowa, Sheriff Greg Beaver
“I always respect the decision of the jury, and now we’ll move on from there. Juries have very tough jobs to do, and they do it well. I think that in this case they’ve come to the right conclusion. They had the information they needed to make the decision.
“I hope everyone respects it and there’s no more violence. That’s not any way to solve problems. Let our system work. And you saw today that it does work.”
Scott County, Iowa, Sheriff Tim Lane
“Training, staffing and public relations is what we need. There’s a lot that is still needed to solve the problems right now in this country.”
“Even though there were multiple officers on scene, most of the officers were completely inexperienced. There was no supervisor on scene to tell the officers specifically what to do when they were doing it. A supervisor on scene directing the officers to reposition Mr. Floyd and to assess his physical condition could have saved his life.”
Winona, Minnesota, Police Chief Tom Williams
"Ultimately, what happened to George Floyd was a tragedy, and to see the video of Derek Chauvin mistreating Mr. Floyd in the manner that he did, when he was sworn to protect and serve every member of the public, is truly upsetting and is such a detriment to not only law enforcement but to humanity as a whole.
"I think that the state provided a very good case to the jury. I think the jurors did their due diligence and took all of the information that was provided to them and came to the decision that they felt was right and proper.
"As Mr. (Steve) Schleicher stated in his discussion, this was a trial of Derek Chauvin and not a trial of all law enforcement officers in the United States. It’s really unfortunate that an incident such as this has to take place, where somebody loses their life, in order to cause the exponential impact that will most likely happen in law enforcement—which is a good thing, I’m not saying that it’s bad. As a profession, we always should be striving to do better. We need to be held accountable in our actions."
Winona County, Minnesota, Attorney Karin Sonneman
"Justice was served by the jury’s guilty verdicts on all the charges contained in the criminal complaint in State of Minnesota v. Derek Chavin. The State’s presentation of the evidence was thorough and complete in meeting the State’s burden of proving the case beyond a reasonable doubt on all counts.
"As prosecutor Steve Schleicher argued so powerfully in the State’s closing, this case was not about the Minneapolis Police Department, it was about the actions of Chauvin, who did not follow police department training and procedure, who showed indifference to George Floyd, used unreasonable force, and exercised a 'shocking abuse of authority,' and, as the jury has now decided by its verdict, committed murder.
"Mr. Schleicher, by the way, is a former Assistant Winona County Attorney, and also served as a law clerk here in Winona County. Those of us who worked with Steve, and knew him then, are very proud of the work he and the entire prosecution team have done in this landmark case in the American criminal justice system."
Buffalo County, Nebraska, Sheriff Neil Miller
"This case has allowed us to review and update all of our policies in regard to use of force to best practices. It reminds us that we are accountable to the people that we serve and that good leadership is an important trait in this line of work. We will continue to review our practices to ensure that they comply with current recommended standards.
"Next month will be my 45th year in law enforcement, and I have seen many changes in policing along that route. We continue to add new expectations of our sworn officers through training and community policing. Community engagement and participation is an important part of what we do. Law enforcement will continue to improve just as it has since I started this job. This may cause change to happen more quickly in those areas that need immediate change."
Columbus, Nebraska, Police Chief Charles Sherer
“Personally I think that what Chauvin did was obviously negligent. I don’t know enough about the charges to say whether or not I believe he was criminally guilty of that. But he was obviously negligent in what he did,” Sherer said.
Given some opportunity to absorb charges and evidence, Sherer said he might be able to make a recommendation about whether Chauvin was guilty.
Fremont, Nebraska, Police Chief Jeff Elliott
"I don't think anyone wants to see something like what happened in Minneapolis here, either as a result of the officer's actions or as a result of the riots. We'll continue to reach out and try to convince people that we are trying to do the right thing and ultimately I think it boils down to the public.
"The public's got to decide that the police are necessary and if they say we're not necessary, then we'll go away."
Grand Island, Nebraska, Police Chief Robert Falldorf
Grand Island Police Chief Robert Falldorf said the technique used by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was not acceptable.
“Obviously when people viewed that video they understood that it’s definitely an excessive use of force and something that as an agency we would not condone,” Falldorf said. “That’s why we do the training that we do to prevent something from happening such as this.”
Hall County, Nebraska, Sheriff Rick Conrad
Hall County, Nebraska, Sheriff Rick Conrad said he respects the decisions of the court system. The jury receives the evidence and comes up with a verdict. “That’s the way this country works,” he said.
But it bothered him that a member of Congress made strong comments while the jury was deliberating.
In the future, he hopes that people in government don’t “speak out during these kind of trials and potentially harm trials. That’s a bad thing,” he said.
When you have to have a judge “come out in court and say” there’s a possibility of an appeal because of “something somebody from Congress said, I have an issue with that. People need to let the court systems work and keep their mouth shut, period, is my feeling,” Conrad said.
Courts are there for a purpose, he said. There are rules and regulations, “and this jury has come up with a verdict. I’m not in a position to argue it either way,” Conrad said.
But people need to stay out of the process and “let the court systems work,” he said.
“I’m not in a position where I can say they made the wrong decision. I wasn’t sitting on that jury. I actually didn’t follow it too closely just because of all the politics I was seeing, and it kind of upsets me,” he said.
Kearney, Nebraska, Police Department Chief Bryan Waugh
"Law enforcement is continually evolving and adapting based on lessons learned. This case, while extremely tragic, reinforces the need for strict hiring processes, pre-employment background investigations, quality training based on best practices in policing, policies, accountability, and leadership at all levels of an organization. This has also emphasized the importance of community/police engagement and communication among all members of the community.
"I along with the Kearney Police Department hold the responsibility of professional policing very high and understand the great responsibility we have to serve ALL members of our community. We have and always will, as our mission and values statements read, serve with duty, honor, and integrity. We serve to maintain the dignity and high quality of life of people's well-being, while protecting the rights of ALL people through professional police service and citizen support."
Lincoln, Nebraska, Acting Police Chief Brian Jackson
Acting Chief Brian Jackson said the Lincoln Police Department had been closely following the trial of Derek Chauvin.
“We recognize that for many people in our community and country, this trial represented more than just one man being held accountable for his actions,” he said.
Jackson said this trial serves as a talking point in a larger national conversation on race and policing in America.
“The mission of the Lincoln Police Department is to work collaboratively with the public to provide a safe and secure community, and we are honored and committed to continue serving ALL citizens of the City of Lincoln,” Jackson said.
Lincoln, Nebraska, Police Department Officer Erin Spilker
"We understand that this is significant, and ultimately here in Lincoln, we've got to do our part to make sure people are safe, that they're able to have their voices heard. And that may be from any side."
North Platte, Nebraska, Police Chief Daniel Hudson
“The reality is this isn’t the first unfortunate incident for our profession, and unfortunately it won’t be the last. (As law enforcement), we need to continue to try and get better and continue to learn from these incidents, to respect the system and respect our communities.”
“... We are never going to live in a world where the police don’t use force when necessary, but it’s about de-escalation — using the minimum amount of force that is required. That is going to come about through further training and further use of tools in the tool box as far as tactics and less-lethal force go. But it also comes to the other involved parties have to comply with legal and lawful orders.”
“... We have to continue to hold our people responsible, and our people need to hold their partners responsible (in the field). Officers need to step in and see things when they see (incidents) going a way they don’t need to."
Omaha, Nebraska, Police Chief Todd Schmaderer
"In May 2020, it was apparent to my senior command staff and I that Mr. Chauvin was guilty and his actions were reprehensible. Today, the jury’s verdict validates those sentiments and holds Mr. Chauvin accountable for his actions.
"Let’s use this moment as an opportunity to find common ground for police and communities all across this country as justice was served.
"Omaha has made great strides when the community and OPD have worked together. OPD would like to use this moment to further commit to our community."
Scotts Bluff County, Nebraska, Sheriff Mark Overman
“I have no problem with the verdict whatsoever. From the get go, you don’t know everything or hear everything that happened. I can tell you from the moment I saw that video, it made me sick.
“We have something in this country called due process. The officer had due process. I did not watch the trial, bit by bit, but I saw the trial highlights and who the witnesses were and what they had to say. I thought the jury would find him guilty. ... I thought the jury had ample evidence to do so and I don’t have any problem that they did so.”
Dane County, Wisconsin, Sheriff Dave Mahoney
“In the aftermath of the jury trial for former Officer Chauvin and his finding of guilt, law enforcement leaders must be committed to supporting reforms that will prevent the actions by law enforcement that led to the death of George Floyd. All law enforcement must work harder to build trust and meaningful relationships, and all citizens must be willing to accept this outreach and together we can build safe, fair and equitable communities for all.”
La Crosse County, Wisconsin, Sheriff Jeff Wolf
"As sheriff of La Crosse County, I fully support the criminal justice system in our country and our court system. Derek Chauvin does not represent the great law enforcement officers in our country or La Crosse County law enforcement.
"The great men and women that work tirelessly to provide safety for our communities and protect the innocent from evil each day in our country will continue to do so.
"We will continue to work with our communities to improve our profession and continue to provide the best of public service. This was a horrific incident that does not represent what law enforcement is or will ever be."
Madison, Wisconsin, Police Chief Shon Barnes
“The American justice system has not always served all of her people well and the death of George Floyd is a shocking example of where we can fail each other.
"As an officer of the law, I believe that today justice has prevailed. We hear you; this moment matters. The Madison Police Department is prepared to stand in solidarity with our community as we grieve and process the events of May 25th, 2020. I am hopeful that this decision will help our communities heal and will create new opportunities to work and grow together.”
Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin, Police Chief David Smetana
Pleasant Prairie Police Chief David Smetana agreed with Tuesday’s verdict.
“I believe justice was served with the verdict the jury reached in the George Floyd case,” he said. “The case brought to light how critical it is to connect to the communities we are a part of and the people we serve.
“It highlights the importance of police tactics and training, demonstrating there is work to be done and our commitment to doing that work.”
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland
"The jury in the state trial of Derek Chauvin has fulfilled its civic duty and rendered a verdict convicting him on all counts. While the state’s prosecution was successful, I know that nothing can fill the void that the loved ones of George Floyd have felt since his death. The Justice Department has previously announced a federal civil rights investigation into the death of George Floyd. This investigation is ongoing."