On Tuesday, four former Minneapolis police officers accused of violating George Floyd’s civil rights pleaded not guilty at a federal hearing, which included arguments on several pretrial motions, including a request for a separate trial.
The federal grand jury sued Derek Chauvin, Thomas Lane, J. Kueng and Tou Thao in May, accusing them of depriving Freud of rights under the authorization of the government on May 25, 2020, because the 46-year-old Freud had no resistance from being face down, handcuffed, and restrained in the bystander video. His death caused protests all over the world and called for changes in policing.
All four people attended the hearing remotely via video conference. Wearing a plain T-shirt, Chauvin appeared in a small room in the state’s highest security prison. He was sentenced to 22 1/2 years in prison for the death of Freud. The other three men appeared remotely with their lawyers.
The US District Judge Tony Leung asked everyone how he would defend, and everyone answered clearly: “Not guilty.”
The hearing also discussed about 40 pre-trial motions, although many were similar. Most motions are routine, such as agreeing when to disclose the names of witnesses. But Liang listened to oral arguments on two issues and ordered the lawyers to submit additional written arguments on these motions.
Lawyers for Lane and Kueng asked the judge to remove the language from the indictment that their client had been the police since December 2019. Lane’s lawyer Earl Gray said his client is still undergoing training and supervision for several months. Gray said that when he met Freud, Lane was in the fourth shift without supervision. Kueng’s lawyer Tom Plunkett said his client had a third shift without supervision. Both lawyers stated that the language in the indictment indicated that otherwise it would be unfair.
“Common sense suggests that law enforcement officers who work four days are not easy to intervene,” Gray argued.
Prosecutor Manda Sertich said that as of December 2019, these people were all police officers-they graduated from the police academy and took their oath of office.
Kueng, Thao and Lane also demanded that their federal trial be separated from Chauvin’s trial, saying that if they were to go to trial with him, they would be unfairly prejudiced.
Plunkett wrote in court documents that the evidence against Chauvin would confuse the jury and deprive Kueng of the right to a fair trial. Gray argued in court that “everyone knows that Derek Chauvin was convicted of murder”, so it is difficult for the jury to presume that other former police officers are not guilty.
Attorney Robert Paule argued that most of the evidence against Xiao Wan would not adversely affect his client Thao. Paule also argued that since Lane and Kueng seem to intend to use their lack of experience as a defense, Thao, who has been an officer for more than eight years, should be tried alone.
Liang did not say how he would rule. He said that there is video evidence in this case, which can show what each defendant did or did not do. He also said that separation trials in federal courts are not common, but they did happen. He asked the prosecutor why they should try these people together.
Sertich said that due to space constraints caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the state’s lawsuits against these people have been separated, but there is more room in the federal courts. She also said that regardless of whether Xiao Wan was sitting in court with three other former police officers, the jurors would know the murder in which he was convicted.
When Freud was arrested, he repeatedly said that when Shavin pressed him to the ground, he could not breathe. Kueng and Lane helped control Floyd; according to evidence from the state court, Kueng knelt on Floyd’s back, and Lane hugged Floyd’s leg. During the 9 1/2 minute restriction, Thao stopped bystanders and prevented them from intervening.
Although all four police officers were widely accused of depriving Freud of rights under the authorization of the government, the indictment broke the charges. A charge against Chauvin alleges that he violated Floyd’s right to be protected from unreasonable police seizure and unreasonable force.
Thao and Kueng were accused of violating Floyd’s right to be protected from unreasonable seizure because Chauvin did not intervene when Chauvin was kneeling on Floyd’s neck. All four police officers were accused of depriving Freud of his rights when failing to provide medical services.
The four former police officers were also charged in the state court, and Xiao Wan was convicted of murder and manslaughter in April. The other three former military officers will be tried by the state in March next year on charges of aiding and abetting.
Xiao Wan was also charged in another federal indictment alleging that he violated the civil rights of a 14-year-old boy in 2017.
At the same time, the federal government is investigating police practices in Minneapolis. Known as “models or practices” investigations—checking whether there are unconstitutional or illegal policing patterns or practices—include a comprehensive review of the entire police station. This could lead to major changes in police services in Minnesota.