The attorney for one of the former Minneapolis police officers charged in connection with the death of George Floyd has called for his acquittal, saying a “tragic ending doesn’t mean it’s a crime.”
Robert Paule said in his closing arguments on Tuesday that Tou Thao did not act with “an evil purpose or improper motive” when he failed to stop Derek Chauvin from murdering the black man on Memorial Day 2020.
“There is only one reasonable verdict, and that verdict is not guilty. Remember, just because something has a tragic ending doesn’t make it a crime,” he told the court.
Mr. Thao, an eight-year veteran officer who restrained bystanders and prevented them from intervening in the fatal encounter, is on trial alongside fellow former officers J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane on federal charges of breaching the law. Floyd’s civil rights.
All three are charged with one count of depriving Mr. Floyd of his civil rights by failing to provide him with medical care. Mr. Thao and Mr. Kueng are also accused of depriving Mr. Floyd of his civil rights by failing to intervene to stop Chauvin’s unreasonable use of force.
The two counts, which relate to what the officers failed to do rather than the actions they took that day, allege that the officers’ actions resulted in Mr Floyd’s death.
All three officers have pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Closing arguments began on Tuesday, with prosecutors telling the court that none of the three officers did anything to try to arrest Chauvin or to try to save Mr Floyd’s life.
“They did nothing to stop Derek Chauvin or to help George Floyd. You know it because you saw it,” prosecutor Manda Sertich said.
The prosecutor rejected the argument made by the three defendants that they were following orders from Chauvin – the most senior officer at the scene that day.
“Agent Chauvin doesn’t order these defendants, he barely talks to them,” she said.
Instead, she said officers made a “choice” not to act.
“Officers knew George Floyd couldn’t breathe and was dying,” she said.
“They chose to do nothing and their choice resulted in the death of Mr. Floyd.”
Ms Sertich highlighted Mr Floyd’s last words as he asked for air saying ‘I can’t breathe’ before losing consciousness and dying under Chauvin’s knee.
“The knee on my neck. I’m finished. I can’t breathe, officer. Help me please. I can not breathe. They are going to kill me. I can’t breathe,” she said, according to KARE11.
“Then one last time: ‘Please, I really can’t breathe’.”
The prosecutor pointed to each of the three officers’ individual actions to show how they deprived Mr. Floyd of his civil rights during the encounter.
Mr. Thao saw Mr. Floyd die under Chauvin’s knee “right before their eyes” and, instead of intervening to stop Chauvin, argued with passers-by who begged him to intervene, she said. declared.
“Instead of tapping Chauvin on the shoulder, he would argue and put people down by asking him to do what the law requires, not to mention decency and common sense,” she said.
Ms Sertich pointed to Mr Thao’s comment at one point to passers-by that ‘that’s why you kids don’t do drugs’ about Mr Floyd.
Mr. Kueng, a rookie officer who had only been on duty for a few days, pinned down Mr. Floyd by kneeling on his back.
The prosecutor said Mr Kueng ignored the 46-year-old’s request for help and “did not tap Chauvin on the shoulder or ask him to remove his knee from Floyd’s neck”.
The jury were shown a still image from Mr Thao’s body camera which showed Mr Kueng ‘laughing with Chauvin’ and told how he had scooped gravel into the tire of the police car while not doing any attempt to arrest Chauvin.
“Not a statement, not a gesture, not a physical intervention” to arrest Chauvin, the prosecutor said of the two.
To find Mr. Thao and Mr. Kueng guilty of failing to intervene to arrest Chauvin, the jury must find that they knew the superior officer was using unreasonable force and did not arrest him.
Meanwhile, Mr Lane is only charged with one count after being heard asking twice whether officers should move Mr Floyd to another position.
Chauvin said no, Mr Kueng having repeated the senior officer on one occasion.
The prosecutor told jurors Mr Lane’s suggestion that Mr Floyd should be moved shows he was aware the black man needed medical attention.
However, Mr Lane failed to stop “the horror right under his nose”, meaning the jury should find him guilty on that count alone, she said.
“You know he affirmatively chose not to do anything — because you know what was going through his head at the time,” she said.
“He did nothing to give Mr. Floyd the medical help he knew he desperately needed.”
Accused of failing to provide medical treatment, the prosecutor said jurors only needed to determine that officers knew Floyd was in distress and did nothing about it.
Ms Sertich explained that ‘deliberation’ – which is mentioned in both counts – does not mean that the officers intentionally intended to harm Mr Floyd. Instead, it means they showed him willful indifference.
“It’s not complicated,” she said, urging the jury to use common sense and saying bystanders knew Mr Floyd needed medical attention – as did the officers.
“Anyone can recognize that a person with a knee on their neck, who has slowly lost their ability to speak, stopped moving and become unconscious has a serious medical need,” she said.
Mr. Paule was the first to present the defense’s closing arguments, calling Mr. Floyd’s death a “tragedy” but that prosecutors cannot show that Mr. Thao’s actions fit the definition of ” voluntary”.
“You’d have to find ‘a bad purpose or improper motive,'” he said.
Mr Kueng’s lawyer, Tom Plunkett, followed up with a similar argument that his client did not “willfully disenfranchise Mr Floyd”.
Mr. Plunkett pointed to the defense that Mr. Kueng presented during his position paper last week.
Mr. Kueng had testified that he had been dropped by the Minneapolis Police Department due to his poor training and postponed to follow orders from Chauvin – a 19-year-old officer and his field training officer.
“I’m not trying to say he hasn’t been trained. I say the training was insufficient to help him see, perceive and understand what was happening here,’ Mr Plunkett told the jury.
The lawyer for Mr. Lane, who held down Mr. Floyd’s legs during the arrest and, like Mr. Kueng, was only a few shifts away, was the last to make closing statements.
Earl Grey, who represented Kim Potter in her manslaughter trial for the shooting death of Daunte Wright, also sought to pin the blame on Chauvin.
“It’s common sense. What if you’ve been a rookie for four days on the job and have a veteran by your side during a crisis? You look at it. It’s common sense,” he told jurors.
Mr. Gray also pointed to the testimony of a paramedic during the trial, who said Mr. Lane gave Mr. Floyd CPR in the ambulance.
“Doesn’t that show he wasn’t deliberately indifferent?” he questioned, saying the rookie officer had been charged because of “mob rule and politics”.
The three former officers spoke during their trial last week.
Chauvin reached a plea deal with federal prosecutors in December, pleading guilty to the civil rights charges in exchange for avoiding joining the trio on trial and being transferred to federal prison.
It came after the 19-year-old veteran officer was found guilty of murder and manslaughter during his state trial in April.
Mr. Thao, Mr. Kueng and Mr. Lane are also on trial for aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter. The trial has been repeatedly delayed and is now expected to start in June.
Associated Press contributed to this report