Three former Minneapolis police officers facing federal charges of violating George Floyd’s civil rights have filed motions asking that their cases be severed from Derek Chauvin’s, arguing they won’t get a fair trial if they have to go to court with the convicted murderer of the 46-year-old Black man.
Attorneys for J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao filed separate requests in U.S. District Court in Minnesota. Thomas Lane’s attorney filed a motion to join his two former colleagues in their requests to be tried separately from Chauvin.
“There is a conflict of interest between the defendants. The conflict flows from Mr. Chauvin’s level of culpability,” Kueng’s attorney, Thomas C. Plunkett, argued in court papers filed on Monday. “Due to this conflict, the jurors will not be able to follow the Court’s instructions and compartmentalize the evidence as it related to Mr. Kueng.”
Thao’s lawyer, Robert M. Paule, made a similar argument in a motion he filed on Tuesday, but added that he wants Thou to be tried separately not from just Chavin but also Kueng and Lane.
“Mr. Thao will obtain a fair and more impartial trial [if] he is tried separately from his co-defendants,” Paule wrote, arguing that a jury “will have insurmountable difficulty distinguishing evidence presented on one count from that evidence presented on the other counts, and will inevitably consider the evidence cumulatively.”
In May, a federal grand jury indicted Chauvin, 45, Thao, 35, Kueng, 27, and Lane, 38, of federal civil rights crimes for their roles in Floyd’s May 25, 2020, death as they attempted to place him under arrest on suspicion of using a counterfeit $20 bill to buy cigarettes at a convenience store.
The three-count indictment alleges Chauvin, Thao, Kueng and Lane deprived Floyd his rights when they saw him lying on the ground “in clear need” of medical care but “willfully failed to aid Floyd, thereby acting with deliberate indifference to a substantial risk of harm.”
All four former officers are scheduled to be arraigned on Sept. 14 on the federal charges. A trial date has yet to be set.
During the encounter, Chauvin held his knee on the back of Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes. Floyd, who was handcuffed and in a prone position on the pavement, repeatedly said he couldn’t breathe before falling unconscious and losing a pulse, according to evidence presented at Chauvin’s state trial. Floyd was later pronounced dead at a hospital.
Video footage — from police body cameras, security cameras and civilian witnesses — played at the trial showed Kueng and Lane helping Chauvin hold Floyd down, and Thao keeping away witnesses who were expressing concerns for Floyd.
Floyd’s death triggered massive protests and prompted police agencies across the nation to promise reforms.
On April 20, a state court jury found Chauvin guilty of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. He was sentenced on June 25 to 22 1/2 years in prison by Judge Peter Cahill.
Cahill cited four aggravating factors in the case that allowed him to give Chauvin a longer sentence than the 12 1/2 years recommended under state sentencing guidelines. The aggravating factors included Chauvin abusing a position of trust and authority as a police officer, his treatment of Floyd with “particular cruelty” and that he committed the crime as part of a group with at least three other people in front of children.
Chauvin was tried separately from his co-defendants in the state case due to COVID-19 restrictions that limited the number of people allowed in the courtroom.
Thao, Kueng and Lane are awaiting a joint trial in state court scheduled for March 2022 on charges of aiding and abetting second-degree murder, and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter.
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