Three fired Minneapolis cops who failed to stop ex-officer Derek Chauvin as he murdered George Floyd in May 2020 were convicted on Thursday of violating Floyd’s civil rights by failing to intervene as Chauvin pressed his knee onto the victim’s neck for over nine minutes, ultimately killing him.
Jurors determined that the three officers — Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng, and Thomas Lane — showed deliberate indifference to Floyd’s medical needs. Thao and Kueng were also found guilty of another charge for failing to attempt to stop Chauvin; Lane twice asked the officer to move as Floyd died, though he was ignored.
During the trial, attorneys for the three officers argued that they were deferring to Chauvin as the senior officer on the scene and were not aware that his act was illegal. “Just because something has a tragic ending doesn’t mean it’s a crime,” said Thao’s lawyer during the closing arguments. Prosecutors, meanwhile, argued that Floyd may have survived the arrest if the officers heeded Floyd’s repeated calls that he could not breathe. “It wasn’t a split-second use of force like a gunshot,” Assistant US Attorney Manda Sertich said during closing arguments. “Not 30 seconds, not a minute, several minutes — 569 seconds.” According to Georgetown University Law Center professor Christy E. Lopez, the case appears to be the first time the federal government has charged police officers for failing to stop a more senior officer using excessive force.
The convictions come close to a year after Derek Chauvin was convicted and sentenced to 22.5 years in prison for the second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the killing of George Floyd, which sparked nationwide protests against police brutality and systemic racism. The former cop also pleaded guilty to violating Floyd’s civil rights during the arrest, though he has not yet been sentenced on that charge.