Trial underway for cops accused of violating Floyd’s rights

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Prosecutors in the trial of three former Minneapolis police officers charged with violating George Floyd’s civil rights accused the men of standing by as fellow Officer Derek Chauvin “slowly killed George Floyd right in front of them.” One defense attorney countered Monday that Chauvin called “all of the shots” as the senior officer at the scene.

Former Officers J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao, are broadly charged with depriving Floyd of his civil rights while acting under government authority.

Floyd died on May 25, 2020, after Chauvin pressed him to the ground with his knee on Floyd’s neck for 9 1/2 minutes while Floyd was facedown, handcuffed and gasping for air.

Prosecutor Samantha Trepel gave an opening statement Monday in the trial of J. Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao. Trepel says the officers “chose not to protect George Floyd.” Trepel told the jurors that the three former Minneapolis police officers ignored their extensive training and did nothing to save Floyd’s life.

The 18 jurors who will hear the case (six of whom are alternates) were selected last Thursday.

RELATED STORY: Jury selected for federal trial over George Floyd’s killing

Judge Paul A. Magnuson entered the courtroom at 9:33 a.m. Monday. He and the attorneys for both sides then discussed a few things until 9:48 a.m.

After a short break, court reconvened at 10:08 a.m. and jurors were sworn in. Magnuson then provided instructions for jurors, including protocols in the event any jurors feel sick.

According to Hubbard Broadcasting sister-station, KSTP-TV, Prosecutors started opening statements at 10:27 a.m., saying, "In your custody, in your care" is a fundamental part of the Minneapolis Police Department’s policy, adding, it’s "not just a moral responsibility, it’s what the law requires."

KSTP 5 Eyewitness News has a reporter inside the courtroom.

At 10:30 a.m., Special Litigation Counsel Samantha Trepel delivered prosecutors’ opening statement and highlighted the fact that bystanders saw what was happening to Floyd but the three officers, who had training in handling situations like that, ignored their duties and chose not to help Floyd.

During her statement, Trepel displayed a picture of the officers and Floyd on the group at the back of a Minneapolis Police squad car in front of Cup Foods. She then went one by one, highlighting where each officer was during the more than 9 minutes that Chauvin had his knee on Floyd’s neck.

Trepel said Thao asked Floyd what he was on, suspecting he had used drugs but disregarded his training for how to handle subjects believed to be under the influence and didn’t watch for medical signs in Floyd. When bystanders, including an off-duty firefighter, pleaded for the officers to help Floyd and asked if he had a pulse, "he chose to do nothing."

Shifting to Kueng, Trepel said he was kneeling on Floyd the entire time Chauvin was and even checked for Floyd’s pulse twice but couldn’t find one. Still, he continued kneeling on Floyd and didn’t try to help him, Trepel said.

Trepel noted Lane did remember his training because he asked to roll Floyd on his side but Kueng said, "No, just leave him" and Chauvin agreed. After a bystander yelled that Floyd was passing out, Lane also acknowledged that but still didn’t take any action, Trepel said.

Before wrapping her opening statement, Trepel reiterated that the officers chose to not take proper action.

Trepel finished her opening statement at 11 a.m.

Thomas Plunkett, Kueng’s defense attorney, then made a motion for a mistrial, saying Trepel’s opening statement was very argumentative. He acknowledged it was too early for the court to grant that motion but said he wanted to put it on the record.

Magnuson then called for a 15-minute break before the defense’s opening statement.

The defense began their opening statements just after noon on Monday. Defense attorneys for two of the three former officers gave their opening statements before the lunch break.

Robert Paule, one of Thao’s attorneys, was the first defense attorney to offer an opening statement. In his 37-minute statement, Paule said Thao was just doing his job and noted the video shot by Darnella Frazier misses important context from earlier on in officers’ interaction with Floyd. He also called Floyd’s death a tragedy but noted, "a tragedy is not a crime."

Paule walked jurors through the case and said the officers were simply investigating a case, as they’re supposed to do. He highlighted instances of Floyd not following officers’ commands and actively resisting, and, of the crowd that gathered, said none of the bystanders knew everything that was happening.

On his own client, Paule emphasized to jurors that the government has to prove Thao was deliberately indifferent and the evidence won’t show that.

Thomas Plunkett, Kueng’s attorney, was up next and highlighted some of the same things as Paule. Plunkett also emphasized how new Kueng and Lane were to the force, saying they had five total shifts by themselves combined going into May 25, 2020.

Plunkett said Floyd "was let down by the Minneapolis Police administration," and didn’t provide proper training to Kueng. Specifically, Plunkett said Kueng was dealing with, "inadequate training, lack of experience, a perceived subordinate role to Officer Chauvin, confidence in Officer Chauvin," and highlighted the fact that Chauvin was also Kueng’s field training officer.

Plunkett also emphasized that the video posted by Frazier "is not what Alex Kueng saw. It’s not what Alex Kueng perceived and it’s not what he experienced on May 25, 2020."

Like Paule, he also highlighted the fact that the government has to prove Kueng willfully disregarded Floyd’s condition.

Before dismissing jurors for lunch, Judge Magnuson told them to remember they haven’t heard any evidence yet and should try to avoid forming any conclusions. He also reminded them to not discuss the case.

After lunch, the defense attorney for Thomas Lane, Earl Gray presented his opening statements.

Gray highlighted some of the same things as Paule and Plunkett but really pointed to how new Lane was and the great role Chauvin played at the scene. He also highlighted Floyd’s size and resistance before going into detail about all of the things Lane did that show he cared about Floyd’s health.

In his 46-minute statement, Gray also said Lane will testify in his own defense during the trial.

Gray called Lane "a gentle giant" and described how Lane did all he could despite Chauvin’s seniority.

As he finished his statement, Gray told the jurors Lane was far from indifferent about Floyd’s health and called the case against Lane, "a perversion of justice." Gray closed by saying his client, Lane, "was totally concerned and did everything he could possibly do to help George Floyd."

Judge Magnuson called for another short break before testimony begins.

The prosecution team started presenting its case Monday afternoon following opening statements, calling FBI forensic video examiner Kimberly Meline.

The first hour and 15 minutes were spent going over Meline’s experience and why she created synchronized videos using different available cameras from the scene.

At 4:15 p.m., prosecutors played a nearly 30-minute segment of Lane’s body camera video, uninterrupted for the jurors. It showed Lane and Kueng initially making contact with Floyd, who ignored initial commands to put his hands on the steering wheel as he seemed exasperated and was saying, "Please don’t shoot me, man."

It showed the brief struggle when Lane pulled Floyd out of his vehicle, the officer talking with two women on the sidewalk near Floyd’s vehicle and Lane asking Floyd if he was on anything as they walked toward the squad car in front of Cup Foods. It also showed Lane and Kueng struggle to get Floyd into the back of the squad, as Floyd said he’s claustrophobic. Eventually, Lane goes to the other side of the squad and pulls Floyd through and out the other side of the car.

Another struggle ensues and, a minute later, Lane’s bodycam moves back and shows Chauvin grabbing Floyd. From there, Kueng helps Chauvin get Floyd on the ground and the officers start kneeling on Floyd.

The audio was difficult to hear at times but showed Lane and the other officers continue kneeling on Floyd despite his repeated pleas that he couldn’t breathe. The bodycam also briefly caught a woman, apparently an off-duty firefighter asking the officers if Floyd had a pulse, but the officers are heard telling her to get on the sidewalk as bystanders start pleading for the officers to check Floyd’s pulse.

It showed the officers continuing to kneel on Floyd as a gurney was eventually brought by paramedics and wheeled right next to Floyd. The officers then quickly stand up and immediately load Floyd onto it, with Chauvin helping the paramedics load the gurney into the ambulance.

As Gray mentioned in opening statements, Lane’s bodycam shows him offering to ride with the paramedics and shows he asked them twice if they wanted him to ride along as they moved a block away, which they confirmed they did. It also showed Lane doing chest compressions in the ambulance and asking, "What do you need?" before paramedics get a chest compression machine set up and started on Floyd.

Prosecutors were going to start showing Kueng’s bodycam video but Judge Magnuson opted to call it a day and dismissed court for the day at 4:45 p.m.

The trial will resume at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.