MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A federal grand jury indicted the four former Minneapolis police officers involved in the death of George Floyd, accusing them of violating his constitutional rights as he was pinned to the pavement and died gasping for air.
The three-count indictment alleges that Derek Chauvin, Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng, and Thomas Lane willfully violated Floyd’s rights while they were acting as police officers.READ MORE: 'Police Misconduct Is Costly': An Examination Of Settlements In Minneapolis
Chauvin – the white senior officer at the scene on May 25 – is accused of holding Floyd’s neck down with his knee, even as the Black man lay handcuffed and unresisting for over nine and a half minutes. The charge says Chauvin’s actions resulted in Floyd’s bodily injury and death.
Another count specifically names Thao and Kueng for failing to intervene and stop Chauvin’s use of excessive force.
All four officers are accused of depriving Floyd of liberty without due process of law, which included his right to be free of the officers’ “deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs.”
Separately, Chauvin faces another indictment stemming from an incident in September of 2017 when he allegedly used a flashlight to hit a 14-year-old in the head and then held his knee on the teen’s upper back while they lay prone, handcuffed, and unresisting.
Last month, a Hennepin County jury found Chauvin guilty of second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter in Floyd’s death. It was the first time in Minnesota history that a white police officer was found guilty for a Black person’s death. He currently is being held in Minnesota’s only maximum-security level prison and awaits sentencing at the end of June. Based on minimum-sentencing guidelines, Chauvin faces at least 12 and a half years in prison, though it could be much longer.
The other three former officers face a state trial in August for aiding and abetting. A transcript reveals that the government doesn’t plan to keep them in custody while they await their trial.
The federal charges are separate from those filed by the state, which means the four officers will face an additional trial.
“I would imagine the state trial will be continued. I don’t see how you can go to trial while you also have federal indictments and you might be in custody, federal custody. But I think they’ll have no alternative but to continue their state’s trial,” said criminal defense attorney Joe Tamburino, who is not affiliated with the case.READ MORE: Darnella Frazier, Teen Who Filmed George Floyd’s Murder, Awarded Special Citation From Pulitzer Prizes
Consequences in federal trials are much more severe than state sentences.
“When you have what’s called the deprivation of rights under the federal standard, and the victim dies as a result, you could get up to life in prison,” he added. “The federal government has to prove that these three co-defendants had the specific intent to violate the rights of Mr. Floyd.
Tamburino said it will be a challenge for prosecutors, especially when it comes to Thomas Lane, who in video camera footage can be heard asking whether Floyd should be rolled over.
“It’s really unusual that the one officer at the time who said ‘hey let’s help this guy’ is being indicted,” Tamburino said.
During the trial, Chauvin’s attorney Eric Nelson argued that he did what any reasonable officer would have done and that Floyd could have died due to a heart condition and drug overdose. He has filed a motion for a new trial, citing issues such as the judge’s refusal to move the trial outside of Hennepin County, and failing to sequester the jury.
WCCO has reached out to all the attorneys representing the former officers. Earl Gray and Tom Plunkett, who represent Lane and Kueng respectively, declined to comment.
“The federal government has a responsibility to protect the civil rights of every American and to pursue justice to the fullest extent of federal law,” said Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, whose office prosecuted the case. “Federal prosecution for the violation of George Floyd’s civil rights is entirely appropriate, particularly now that Derek Chauvin has been convicted of murder under Minnesota law for the death of George Floyd.”
“The Constitution claims to be committed to life, liberty, and justice, and we are seeing this realized in the justice George Floyd continues to receive. This comes after hundreds of years of American history in which Black Americans unfortunately did not receive equal justice,” said Attorney Ben Crump, who represents the Floyd family.MORE NEWS: Derek Chauvin's Attorney Seeks To Probe Jury Misconduct: What Does That Mean?
The charges announced on Friday are separate from the U.S. Justice Department’s probe into the Minneapolis Police Department, which was announced a day after Chauvin was convicted.