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Prosecutors at the federal trial of three former Minneapolis police officers charged with violating George Floyd’s civil rights are trying to show that even bystanders knew the Black man needed help, while the officers failed to act as former Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck.
Footage shown to jurors at the trial of J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao showed Floyd struggling with officers as they try to put him in a police vehicle, officers holding the handcuffed man facedown on the ground and Floyd gasping for air as a growing group of onlookers warned that Chauvin was killing him.
Floyd, 46, died after Chauvin knelt on his neck for 9 1/2 minutes. Kueng knelt on Floyd’s back, Lane held his legs and Thao kept bystanders back, according to prosecutors. Prosecutors have argued in pretrial filings that even bystanders could see that Floyd was in serious need of medical attention, and that the officers, who had basic medical training, did not help.
Witness Charles McMillian wept Tuesday as prosecutors played video in which McMillian pleads with officers to let Floyd breathe, prompting a warning from the judge that prosecutors were to avoid eliciting emotional responses.
“I knew something bad was going to happen to Mr. Floyd,” McMillian testified.
“What did you mean by that?” prosecutor Allen Slaughter asked.
“That he was gonna die,” McMillian responded.
When questioned by defense attorneys, McMillian acknowledged he did not see or hear several things, including Lane asking if Floyd should be rolled onto his side and later doing chest compressions, and Kueng saying that he couldn’t find a pulse.
“You could only see or hear things from your perspective, is that correct?” Tom Plunkett, Kueng’s attorney, asked.
Kueng, who is Black; Lane, who is white; and Thao, who is Hmong American, are charged with depriving Floyd of his constitutional rights: All three are charged for failing to provide Floyd with medical care, while Thao and Kueng face an additional count for failing to stop Chauvin, who is white. Both counts allege the officers’ actions resulted in Floyd’s death. Chauvin pleaded guilty in November to a federal civil rights violation.
Video shown to jurors was from police body cameras, street surveillance video and widely viewed bystander video that also was played extensively in the state criminal trial that eventually convicted Chauvin of murder last year.
Police had responded to a 911 call that Floyd tried to use a counterfeit $20 bill to buy a pack of cigarettes at a corner store on May 25, 2020. His killing triggered worldwide protests and a reexamination of racism and policing.
Jenna Scurry, a Minneapolis 911 dispatcher, testified that after Lane and Kueng responded she called for backup for them. They then called for an ambulance without lights and sirens, for a mouth injury. More than a minute later, Chauvin and Thao upgraded that call to request the ambulance come with lights and sirens, but Scurry said she was not told that Floyd wasn’t breathing, had no pulse and was unresponsive.
If she had known someone was having trouble breathing, Scurry testified, she would have also called the fire department, because “they can get there faster sometimes. ... They can be almost anywhere within four minutes.”
Earlier, a video from Thao’s body camera that was played during the testimony of the cashier who took the counterfeit bill showed him pushing an onlooker. Christopher Martin, 20, said he recorded about 30 seconds of video as bystanders were yelling at Thao to check Floyd’s pulse, but stopped when Thao pushed the other man.
Martin said he didn’t have a good view of Kueng or Lane.
While cross-examining Martin, Thao’s attorney, Robert Paule, noted that Thao put his hand up before pushing the man, and that the man didn’t listen to Thao’s direction to get back on the curb. Paule said that when Thao pushed the man, he swatted Thao’s hand away.
U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson has said the trial could last four weeks.
Lane’s attorney has said his client will testify, but it’s not known if Thao or Kueng will. It’s also not clear whether Chauvin will testify, though many experts who spoke to The Associated Press believe he won’t.
Lane, Kueng and Thao also face a separate state trial in June on charges they aided and abetted both murder and manslaughter.
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