Prosecutor: Ex-cops charged in Floyd death 'chose to do nothing'

  • 25 Jan 2022

Prosecutor said the defendants ignored their own training and pleas from bystanders who were concerned about Floyd's welfare.

Prosecutor Samantha Trepel speaks during opening statements in the trial of three former Minneapolis officers charged with violating George Floyd's civil rights during his 2020 arrest. ( Reuters )

Three former Minneapolis police officers charged with violating the civil rights of George Floyd chose to do nothing as the 46-year-old Black man suffered a "slow and agonising death". 

In opening arguments Monday, prosecutor Samantha Trepel said the defendants ignored their own training and pleas from bystanders who were concerned about Floyd's welfare.

"They watched as Mr. Floyd suffered a slow and agonising death," Trepel said, urging the jury to hold the three men accountable "for choosing to do nothing and watch a man die."

"They chose to ignore what they saw and heard, showing "deliberate indifference to (Floyd's) serious medical needs.", she said.

The men are on trial for their roles in the May 2020 death of Floyd, whose fatal arrest was filmed by a bystander and sparked months of protests in the US against racial injustice and police brutality.

who kneeled on the neck of a handcuffed Floyd for nearly 10 minutes until he passed out and died, is serving 22 years in prison after being convicted of murder.

Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane were the three other officers involved in the arrest of Floyd for allegedly using a fake $20 bill to buy a pack of cigarettes.

While Derek Chauvin, the white former Minneapolis police officer, knelt on Floyd's neck, Kueng was on his back and Lane held his legs. Thao kept back bystanders who were telling Chauvin to get off the visibly distressed Floyd.

Failing to intervene 

Thao and Kueng are also accused of failing to intervene to stop Chauvin's use of "unreasonable force" against Floyd.

Lane does not face the second charge. Video of the arrest shows that on two occasions, Lane suggested Floyd be rolled over on his side.

Other footage played by prosecutors in court showed paramedics and Lane later trying to revive Floyd inside an ambulance using chest compressions.

Floyd's brother Philonise told reporters outside the courtroom on Monday he was not only seeking justice for his murdered sibling, but fighting for an end to violence against Black people in the United States.

"I'm getting physically tired of watching individuals just like my brother being murdered every day by police," he said.

READ MORE: Chauvin changes plea to guilty in George Floyd case

'Custody is in your care'

Trepel told the court that the law requires police officers to intervene when they see another officer using excessive force and to provide medical aid.

"In your custody is in your care," she said. "That is a fundamental of policing taught to every police officer."

"(Floyd) said 'I can't breathe' not just once or twice but 25 times as he tried to alert officers he was dying," Trepel said.

Robert Paule, Thao's attorney, began his defense by saying what happened to Floyd was a "tragedy."

"However," he said, "a tragedy is not a crime."

Thomas Plunkett, Kueng's lawyer, said his client had spent just a couple of days on the street as a full-fledged policeman and Chauvin was the senior officer present.

"The evidence will show that Chauvin took over the scene," Plunkett said, calling him the "shot caller."

Chauvin was an 18-year veteran of the Minneapolis police force; Thao had served for eight years while Kueng and Lane were new recruits, having joined the department in December 2019 and worked only a half-a-dozen shifts between them.

Plunkett told the jury the government must prove Kueng "acted willfully" and showed "deliberate indifference" to Floyd's medical needs.

A jury of 12 jurors and six alternates are hearing the case against the three officers.

Thao, Kueng and Lane are to face Minnesota state charges in connection with Floyd's death in a trial that is scheduled to begin on June 13. 

READ MORE: Trial begins for cops accused of violating Floyd's rights