Jury deliberations will begin Wednesday in the federal trial of three former Minneapolis police officers involved in George Floyd’s 2020 killing, US District Court Judge Paul Magnuson said Tuesday.
Magnuson said the chief judge made the decision to close the courthouse early Tuesday due to extreme winter weather passing through the area.
“It’s being done for the safety of everybody involved in this matter,” he told the court.
Magnuson said he will give the jury instructions in the law on Wednesday morning when the court resumes at 10:00 a.m. ET.
Attorneys delivered their closing arguments Tuesday with Assistant US Attorney Manda Sertich telling jurors during her closing argument that Thomas Lane, 38, J. Alexander Kueng, 28, and Tou Thao, 36, were all aware that Derek Chauvin was using unreasonable force and knew what procedures could help Floyd, but chose not to act on it.
Defense attorneys, however, argued their clients were either inexperienced, had inconsistent training and did not have intent to harm Floyd.
“Just because something has a tragic ending doesn’t mean it’s a crime,” said Robert Paule, Thao’s attorney.
All three ex-officers have pleaded not guilty to a charge of deprivation of rights under color of law for allegedly failing to administer medical aid to Floyd as Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck and back for 9 minutes and 29 seconds.
Thao and Kueng are also charged with failing to intervene in Chauvin’s use of unreasonable force and have pleaded not guilty to that count as well. The three officers are being tried together.
Lane, Kueng and Thao also face a state trial later this year on charges of aiding and abetting in Floyd’s murder. They have pleaded not guilty.
Attorneys argue over officers’ intentions and experience
Sertich argued that Thao and Kueng “had the ability, authority, opportunity, means, and duty to intervene,” adding that there was plenty of time for Kueng and Thao to take action.
“It wasn’t a split-second use of force like a gunshot,” she said, emphasizing Chauvin’s use of force was “not 30 seconds, not a minute: several minutes – 569 seconds.”
“Defendants Thao and Keung watched while George Floyd condition slowly deteriorated,” Sertich argued.
Thomas Plunkett, Kueng’s attorney, argued that his client was an inexperienced officer, had inconsistent or little training, and was subordinate to Derek Chauvin, who was the field training officer in charge.
Plunkett and Paule both noted that Thao testified that he had not seen officers be corrected when using knees to restrain people in the past.
Sertich countered the defense’s argument that it would have been too much to ask of novice officers to know better and do something to help in this situation. She said the officers’ alleged inexperience did not make them unable to recognize a medical emergency situation. The defendants were aware of the level of force being used on Floyd, she said.
“Just look at the video of Thao staring at Chauvin while Chauvin presses his knee into Mr. Floyd’s neck, (who) then stops speaking, stops moving, loses consciousness,” Sertich said.
Even Lane, she pointed out, knew what needed to be done, as evidenced by his asking Chauvin twice whether they should turn Floyd over. But asking a question isn’t rendering medical aid, Sertich said.
“It is not complicated,” Sertich said in concluding her closing arguments. “All the witnesses, including the defendants, agreed they had a duty to intervene … They chose not to intervene, they chose not to aid Mr. Floyd.”
Earl Gray, Lane’s attorney, said his client’s concern about excited delirium and his suggestion to flip Floyd on his side showed “concern about serious medical needs. Is that deliberate indifference? No!”
Assistant US Attorney LeeAnn Bell argued the defense presented pieces of information that “don’t actually matter” to the case, such as Thao never having touched Floyd. She also argued the force primarily applied by Chauvin became unreasonable once Floyd went unconscious.
“Officer Thao and Officer Kueng had a duty to stop it,” Bell said. “Force used has to be appropriate and proportional at the time … If they go unconscious, you cannot continue to use force.”
Bell also singled out Lane, saying while he was holding Floyd’s legs, he could’ve walked over and taken Floyd’s pulse.
“If you can’t find a pulse, your answer cannot be ‘I did nothing,’” Bell said, adding that the officers’ intention had nothing to do with what happened to Floyd.
“Disregarding that is willfulness,” Bell said. “They didn’t have to intend to harm Mr. Floyd, they just needed to know they could take certain actions under the law and failed to do so.”
It began with a report of a counterfeit $20 bill
In opening statements, the prosecution alleged the officers committed federal crimes by repeatedly ignoring Floyd’s cries of, “I can’t breathe.” Bystander video shows Floyd, pinned under Chauvin, pleading with officers as he desperately gasps for air before passing out. He was declared dead later that night.
Lane and Kueng were the first to respond to Cup Foods on May 25, 2020, after a report that Floyd had attempted to pass a fake $20 bill. It was Lane’s fourth day with the Minneapolis Police Department.
Floyd wouldn’t immediately answer questions, was “very hyperactive” and appeared to have white foam around his mouth, Kueng testified.
“He seemed to snap and started yelling,” Lane said.
Chauvin and Thao soon responded to the scene. Floyd was “very sweaty” and appeared to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol, Thao said. While the county’s chief medical examiner ruled Floyd died from cardiopulmonary arrest during “law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression,” Dr. Andrew Baker also testified in Chauvin’s trial last year that fentanyl and heart disease were contributing factors – but not the main cause.
Floyd resisted getting into a patrol vehicle, telling officers he was claustrophobic, video from the scene shows. Lane testified he tried to de-escalate the situation by assuring the 46-year-old that he would get into the vehicle with him and roll down the windows.
Floyd’s legs at one point “kind of collapsed without reason,” Kueng said, and “his behavior just went to extreme measures.” Floyd attempted to “launch himself” while fighting the officers trying to place him in the patrol vehicle, Thao testified.
Chauvin informed his colleagues Floyd needed to be taken to the ground, Kueng said, and Thao explained that the intention was to protect him and any bystanders. No one meant to hurt Floyd, Thao said.
It was not unusual to see Minneapolis officers use their knees during an arrest, Thao said. The knee-to-neck move is banned by several police departments, but the MPD allows officers to restrain suspects’ necks if they’re aggressive or resisting.
Floyd was unarmed and handcuffed when he was pinned to the ground.
Ex-officer snaps at prosecutor on stand
Thao began conducting crowd and traffic control, he said, adding that the bystanders had begun to “cause issues.” Asked why he never asked Chauvin to get off of Floyd’s neck, Thao snapped, “I think I would trust a 19-year veteran to figure it out.”
Kueng could not determine how much pressure Chauvin was applying to Floyd’s neck, he testified, but he didn’t think Floyd had stopped breathing.
Lane, who was holding Floyd’s legs, twice asked Chauvin if Floyd should be repositioned, and Chauvin responded, “We’re good,” Lane testified. When Lane expressed concern about Floyd possibly experiencing “excited delirium,” Chauvin told him, “That’s why we got him on his stomach and that’s why the ambulance is coming,” according to Lane’s testimony.
About 5 minutes after Kueng told Lane he could not find a pulse, Lane began administering CPR on Floyd, Lane testified, conceding that CPR should have, ideally, begun immediately after Kueng announced Floyd had no pulse.
It wasn’t until a homicide detective arrived on the scene that Kueng realize Floyd was dead, Kueng testified.
Prosecutors allege Floyd might’ve lived if not for the officers’ decision to ignore his cries.
“Each made a conscious choice over and over again,” Samantha Trepel, special litigation counsel from the US Justice Department’s civil rights division, said in opening statements. “They chose not to intervene and stop Chauvin as he killed a man. They chose not to protect George Floyd, the man they handcuffed.”
Because the alleged crime ended in Floyd’s death, a guilty verdict on a count of deprivation of rights under the color of law commands a hefty maximum sentence. Though the US code permits the death penalty in such cases, prosecutors have not indicated they would pursue such a sentence. Thus, a guilty verdict could mean fines for the three officers and sentences up to life in prison.
CNN’s Julia Vargas Jones and Omar Jimenez reported from St. Paul, Minnesota, while Eliott McLaughlin and Amir Vera wrote from Atlanta, Georgia. CNN’s Bill Kirkos, Brad Parks, Julia Jones and Dakin Andone contributed to this report.