Prosecutors end closing arguments, call Floyd’s death ‘a tragedy and a crime’

ST. PAUL, Minn.— An attorney for a rookie Minneapolis police officer charged with violating George Floyd’s civil rights says his client spoke up to Officer Derek Chauvin but was ignored. Earl Gray is the attorney for Thomas Lane. He held Floyd’s feet while Chauvin knelt on the Black man’s neck for 9 1/2 minutes and another officer knelt on Floyd’s back.

Chauvin was the senior officer on the scene. Gray said during closing arguments Tuesday that Lane was “very concerned” about Floyd and suggested rolling Floyd on his side so he could breathe, but was rebuffed.

Closing arguments began Tuesday in the federal trial of the three former Minneapolis police officers who are charged with violating George Floyd’s civil rights.

Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao are charged with depriving Floyd of his right to medical care as former officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes in 2020.

Lane held the 45-year-old Black man’s feet, Kueng knelt on his back and Thao held back bystanders.

Kueng and Thao are also charged with failing to intervene to stop Chauvin in the May 25, 2020 killing that triggered protests around the world and a re-examination of racism and policing.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Manda Sertich told jurors that Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane “chose to do nothing” as Floyd died.

Sertich highlighted each ex-officer individually and collectively, saying “they stood by and watched” and “did nothing to attempt to stop Derek Chauvin … None did a thing to help Floyd.”

The prosecutor encouraged jurors to watch all video evidence in the case highlighted how long Floyd was pinned down and the officers failed to intervene. She also told the jurors to notice that Chauvin didn’t order the other officers around, as he barely talked to them.

“They know their duty and chose not to act during use-of-force,” Sertich said, adding that their “failure to intervene resulted in this death.”

Finally, Sertich said Kueng and Lane lied about the incident by not providing details to supervisors afterward.

“The reason a person lies is that they have something to hide … they knew what was wrong,” Sertich said.

The government’s closing argument lasted over 90 minutes and elicited several objections from defense attorneys.

Thao’s lawyer, Robert Paule, spoke for about an hour, calling Floyd’s death a “tragic event” and adding, “However, a tragedy is not a crime.”

Like prosecutors, Paule urged the jurors to look at the video evidence. He said Thao and Chauvin decided to respond to the scene after realizing a pair of rookies were there and it was an area that “might be more hostile to police.”

But Paule noted Thao never touched Floyd and said Chauvin “took command” of the struggle with Floyd when they got there. He highlighted the fact that Thao looked for a restraint device and believed Floyd was experiencing excited delirium.

Paule also said Floyd lied when he said he wasn’t on drugs and Thao later heard Floyd admit to eating “too many drugs.”

Lastly, he focused on Minneapolis police training, showing officers using knees on suspects’ necks during training without any apparent correction from trainers. On medical care, he pointed at the three other officers who were on Floyd, saying it’s logical to assume they’d check his pulse and start CPR, if necessary, rather than Thao having to go over and do that. And, he pointed to the reason for the restraint as justification, saying Thao thought Floyd was being held down for his own good until paramedics arrived.

Thomas Plunkett, Kueng’s attorney, highlighted four factors that he said show why Kueng didn’t act willfully: “Those factors are No. 1, his inadequate training; No. 2, his lack of experience; No. 3, his perceived subordinate role to Mr. Chauvin and the other officer, and his confidence in his senior officers.”

He pointed to testimony from some of the witnesses, such as paramedic Derek Smith saying he didn’t feel the scene was safe for care and disputing Inspector Katie Blackwell’s claim that knee-on-neck restraints aren’t taught by MPD by showing pictures from the academy. Additionally, he noted Officer Nicole Mackenzie’s testimony that a carotid pulse is the “gold standard” and that, therefore, Chauvin was in the best position to assess Floyd.

Plunkett argued that Lt. Richard Zimmerman changed the facts to fit a narrative, saying his testimony indicating the ex-officers were lying “conflicts with common sense.” He also told jurors that University of Virginia Police Chief Timothy Longo “fed questions to investigators through the county attorney’s office” while defense witness Stephen Ijames “doesn’t have a dog in this fight.”

In his roughly 40-minute statement, Plunkett touted Kueng’s testimony, saying the former officer reflected on his answers and explained his perceptions and understanding of the situation. Plunkett reiterated that Kueng didn’t know if the scene was safe, adding that he “was confronted by something that was probably beyond his depth at that point.” He then said Chauvin took over when he got there, indicating the officers weren’t doing something correctly.

“Apply the law to the facts and think about … You are a jury,” Plunkett told jurors in his closing argument. “We often hear about the mob mentality. Courts are this country’s protection against the mob and courts depend vitally on you as jurors … for you as jurors, fairness is to follow the law and apply it to these facts and have the bravery to do just that. That’s the only way we don’t descend into the mob.”

Earl Gray, Lane’s attorney, highlighted Lane’s suggestions to roll Floyd on his side and noted Chauvin ignored him. “(Chauvin) ignores this person over here, he’s just the rookie, he doesn’t know what he’s doing,” Gray said.

Those suggestions plus a comment to Kueng about checking Floyd’s pulse show Lane was concerned about Floyd and not deliberately indifferent, Gray said. “He proved it to everyone.” Additionally, Gray pointed to Lane’s efforts in the ambulance and the paramedic’s comments calling Lane helpful as another reason Lane wasn’t deliberately indifferent.

“Think about it, sort of scary, you could do an innocent act and end up in a courtroom like this,” Gray told jurors. He added, “He’s not deliberately indifferent about anything, he wants to revive the man.”

Gray spoke for about 35 minutes and ended by saying, “There was no medical indifference, deliberate indifference to his medical needs .. the first element, deliberate indifferent of his medical needs, was never proven.”

In a final statement for the government, Assistant U.S. Attorney LeeAnn Bell told jurors the former officers knew Chauvin’s force was wrong and failed to stop it.

“The government is not arguing the officers shouldn’t investigate the forgery … no one is saying Mr. Floyd wasn’t refusing the officers orders,” Bell said, adding that they’re saying Chauvin’s force was unreasonable and the officers had a duty to stop it.

Bell highlighted that the defense’s expert, Ijames, agreed that the unreasonableness of Chauvin’s force was “obvious beyond question.”

In response to Paule’s comment about Thao not touching Floyd, Bell said it doesn’t made that they didn’t touch because “this is a crime of failing to do something.”

“They absolutely knew that they had the ability, the authority, and the legal obligation to intervene … to attend to Mr. Floyd’s serious medical condition as he lay there unconscious, not responsive,” Bell said, arguing that “there are no free passes to the Constitution because the risk … is too great … there is no pass for ‘I was a brand new officer,’ there is no pass for it would’ve been hard or uncomfortable to speak up … no pass for even ‘I thought I might lose my job.’”

“They chose not to take reasonable steps under the law, that is willfulness, knowing what you’re doing is wrong .. and doing it anyway,” Bell said.

She finished her 25-minute statement by telling the jurors, “You cannot let sympathy influence you” and saying, “this was both a tragedy and a crime.”

Judge Paul Magnuson then dismissed court for the day and told jurors he’ll give them instructions Wednesday morning before handing them the case.

Court is set to resume at 9 a.m.