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Four Cops Charged in George Floyd's Murder Turn on Each Other

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Four Cops Charged in George Floyd's Murder Turn on Each Other

2020-09-11 18:04:04

By Laura Tucker, Staff writer; Image: Derek Chauvin (Image source: Screenshot)

It was bound to come to this. The four former Minneapolis police officers who were charged in the death of George Floyd after one of them kneeled on his neck are now beginning to point fingers and blame each other, including Derek Chauvin, the officer whose knee was on the man's neck.

Initially, two officers responded to the call of a man who may have used a counterfeit $20 bill. The other two officers followed as backup. They wanted Floyd to sit in the back of one of the police cars, but he was refusing due to his claustrophobia. He was laid on the ground, with Chauvin kneeling on his neck for nearly nine minutes, according to spectator video. He was taken to a hospital and pronounced dead.

His death on Jay 25 sparked an outcry across the country with peaceful Black Lives Matter protests, counterprotests, and violence. Many other Black people who have died while in police custody or during arrests have been named in the protests as well as Floyd.

"There are very likely going to be antagonistic defenses present at the trial," wrote Earl Gray, an attorney for Thomas K. Lane, in a legal motion that was filed this week. "It is plausible that all officers have a different version of what happened, and officers place blame on one another."

Gray and the attorneys for Chauvin and the other two officers, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao, have provided arguments to separate the cases for purposes of the trial because of the contradicting stories of how Floyd ended up dead after he had a knee on his neck. They are scheduled to appear in court on Friday.

While police often stand together during investigations for use of force, Floyd's case looks to be handled differently.

Chauvin's attorney, Eric Nelson, maintains his client didn't understand the full picture of what was happening during the arrest. He arrived at the scene and saw Kueng and Lee struggling to get Floyd into their car.

Nelson has also argued that Floyd died of a drug overdose and not because of Chauvin's knee, despite the cries of "I can't breathe" being heard at the time. He is suggesting that Kueng and Lee mishandled the arrest and delayed the request for an ambulance when they believed Floyd was either on drugs or having a medical issue. He doesn't think they did enough to deescalate the situation other than sitting Floyd on the sidewalk and offering assistance instead of a struggle.

"If EMS had arrived just three minutes sooner, Mr. Floyd may have survived. If Kueng and Lane had chosen to deescalate instead of struggle, Mr. Floyd may have survived," wrote Nelson.

"If Kueng and Lane had recognized the apparent signs of an opioid overdose and rendered aid, such as administering naloxone, Mr. Floyd may have survived."

Chauvin is alone in being charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter. The other three officers have been charged with aiding and abetting murder. All four were fired by the police department and join the city of Minneapolis in a federal wrongful-death civil suit Floyd's family has filed.

Chauvin was scheduled to make his first in-person court appearance at the hearing on Friday, though he has attended all hearings remotely from a state prison where he is being held. The other three officers are no longer in jail.

Kueng and Lane had been on the force for less than a week on the day of Floyd's death. Their attorneys have argued that the two were following Chauvin's orders.

Lane was holding Floyd's legs and twice asked Chauvin whether they should change his position. His attorney says this proves he tried to intervene but was rebuffed by a senior officer. After Floyd stopped moving, Lane told Chauvin he was concerned about "excited delirium," what medical examiners call sudden in-custody death.

"That's why we got the ambulance coming," said Chauvin. "Okay, I suppose," replied Lane.

In recent court filings, the attorneys for the four former officers said they plan to argue Floyd's death was accelerated by drugs in his system. This will include what the medical examiner told prosecutors in June, that Floyd had a potentially lethal amount of fentanyl in his system.

Thomas Plunkett, Kueng's attorney, wrote in a court filing this week that his client was only on his third shift as a police officer that day. He had been restraining Floyd's back. He had spent 420 of his 730 hours of field training "being taught and evaluated by Chauvin,' whom he was required to call "sir."

Plunkett suggested he'd be introducing evidence of how Chauvin trained Kueng, including "past opinions and directions" and "past statements he has made about how to handle a subject being detained." He added that would be "derogatory" to Chauvin's defense.

Plunkett wrote, "Kueng will shift blame onto Chauvin during trial."

Chauvin and Thao were partners that day, and through their attorneys, they have said they responded to the call to provide backup to the two rookies. The attorneys have described their clients as supporting officers who were deferring to Kueng and Lane and that rank didn't matter.

Thao and Kueng's attorneys planned to introduce evidence of Chauvin's history in Minneapolis as a police officer. Thao's attorney, Robert Paule, filed a motion last month demanding the state disclose Chauvin's disciplinary files.

Thao has also sought to have his charges dismissed, shifting all the blame to the other three officers who had more contact with Floyd. In May, he described his role that day as "human traffic cone" and said he was focused on controlling the crowd.

Bodycam footage shows that Thao advised the others to put Floyd on the street after they were unable to get him into the squad car. "Just lay him on the ground," he said.

He also looked for a hobble, a leg restraint that would keep Floyd immobile so that the officers wouldn't need to continue to hold him down. But ultimately, they decided to skip that as it would be more hassle while they waited for the ambulance, which was delayed.

He backed up Chauvin in his interview with investigators, stating that Kueng and Lane were in charge, as they were the first to arrive. "This is 320's call," he said, mentioning the squad car number they were driving that day.

Prosecutors have objected to Thao's motion to dismiss charges. They argued in a court filing that all officers have a responsibility to stop another officer from committing a crime. They also dispute his claim that he was unaware of what was happening because bodycam footage shows him shoving and screaming at the crowd, including an off-duty firefighter who was urging them to check Floyd's pulse. 

Judge Peter A. Cahill, presiding over the criminal case, was set to hear arguments on Friday of whether there would be a joint or separate trials. Those proceedings are set to begin in March. He also planned to hear arguments about potentially moving the trial out of Hennepin County to ensure an impartial jury.

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