Lawyers for four former Minneapolis officers accused of George Floyd’s death say every client should get their own trial, as agents try to downplay their roles in the black man’s arrest by pointing fingers at each other.
Prosecutors say all four officers should be tried together because the nature of the allegations and evidence is similar and “it is impossible to evaluate the conduct of any individual accused in a vacuum.”
The former officers are expected to appear in court on Friday for a hearing on several issues, including the prosecution’s request to hold a joint trial. Other issues that will be discussed include defense requests to move the trial away from Minneapolis and to kidnap the jury and keep the jurors anonymous.
Floyd, who was in handcuffs, died on May 25 after Derek Chauvin pressed his knee against his neck while Floyd said he couldn’t breathe and became immobile. Chauvin is charged with second degree murder, third degree murder and manslaughter. Thomas Lane, J. Kueng and Tou Thao are charged with aiding and abetting of both second degree murder and manslaughter.
Defense requests to drop the charges will not be considered at Friday’s hearing. A trial is scheduled for March.
Friday’s hearing will also mark the first time Chauvin is expected to appear in a courtroom. He is in state custody and has participated in previous videoconference hearings.
Prosecutors say the case should proceed with a trial because the evidence – including witness statements, body camera videos, and the police department’s policy on the use of force – is similar for each officer. Prosecutors say the officers also acted in close concert.
Here, all four defendants worked together to kill Floyd: Chauvin, Kueng and Lane pinned Floyd face down, while Thao prevented the crowd from intervening, allowing the other defendants to hold their own. The defendants also discussed and coordinated their actions during the incident, “prosecutors wrote in a court statement.
Prosecutors also say Floyd’s witnesses and family members would likely be traumatized by multiple trials, and it would be more efficient and in the interest of justice to hold a case.
But defense attorneys are pushing for separate trials, saying they will likely offer “antagonistic” defenses and evidence against one officer could negatively impact another’s right to a fair trial.
Attempts to point fingers are already prevalent in all court records in the case. Lane and Kueng’s attorneys argued that their clients were rookies who were following Chauvin’s example. Thao’s attorney Bob Paule said his client’s role was “absolutely distinct” from the others, because he was under crowd control and securing the scene – while the other three held Floyd.
Chauvin’s attorney Eric Nelson also wrote that his client’s case is different. Nelson said prosecutors must prove that Chauvin intended to attack Floyd, but they must also prove that the other officers knew of Chauvin’s intentions before it happened. As a result, he said, Chauvin will have to defend himself differently.
“The other defendants clearly say that if a crime was committed, they did not know or help,” wrote Nelson. “They blame Chauvin.”
But Chauvin also points the finger at others. Nelson wrote that Lane and Kueng – the officers who responded to a forgery call – initiated contact with Floyd before Chauvin and Thao arrived, and that Chauvin believes that Floyd overdosed on fentanyl. Nelson wrote that while Lane and Kueng called a paramedic and believed Floyd was “on something,” they did not elevate the call to a more urgent call or provide medical assistance.
“Instead, they struggled to subdue Mr. Floyd and force him into their police car, probably greatly exacerbating his condition,” wrote Nelson, adding that Chauvin could reasonably argue that their inaction led to Floyd’s death.
“If EMS had only arrived three minutes earlier, Mr. Floyd might have survived. If Kueng and Lane had chosen to decrease escalation instead of fighting, Mr. Floyd may have survived. If Kueng and Lane recognized the obvious signs of an opioid overdose and provided aid, such as administering naloxone, Mr. Floyd may have survived, ”wrote Nelson.
Lawyers for all four men also demanded that the trial be moved from Minneapolis, saying the preliminary publicity made it impossible for them to receive a fair trial.
Bob Paule, Thao’s attorney, said in a court statement that the state tainted the jury pool by calling Floyd’s death a “murder”. Paule also cites the protests that caused millions of dollars in damage in Minneapolis, saying that an impartial jury cannot be found in Hennepin County because the jurors “take the burden of their decision by creating further unrest and destruction.”