Now-former officer kept bystanders away from the scene as George Floyd called for help
On 21 April, 2021, former Minneapolis Police Department officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of murdering George Floyd on Memorial Day in 2020, a death that sparked a wave of international protests against police violence.
A federal jury trial now underway will determine whether the three other now-former officers who were on the scene that day – Thomas Lane, J Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao – are guilty of violating Mr Floyd’s constitutional rights for failing to come to his aid. They have pleaded not guilty.
The men were indicted by a federal grand jury along with Chauvin last year; as part of a plea agreement, Chauvin must serve a minimum of 20 and a maximum of 25 years in prison.
None of the men appeared to try to stop Mr Chauvin, whose knee was pressed into Mr Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes as he cried out that he could not breathe. A federal indictment accuses the men of showing a “deliberate indifference” to his “serious medical needs”.
Mr Kueng, Mr Lane and Mr Thao are also facing a state trial on charges of aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter. That trial was slated to begin on 7 March but has now been moved to 13 June.
Mr Thao, who graduated from the Minneapolis Police Department academy in 2009, was Chauvin’s partner the day of Mr Floyd’s murder.
According to city records, Mr Thao had received six prior complaints while on the force.
Mr Thao and another officer were also accused of beating a man in 2014, which became the subject of 2017 federal lawsuit accusing him of excessive force. The suit was settled for $25,000.
After Chauvin arrived on the scene with Mr Thao, Mr Lane and Mr Kueng were struggling with Mr Floyd – now handcuffed – inside a police car.
Mr Kueng and Mr Thao – who kept bystanders away from the scene – are accused of failing to stop Chauvin and failing to help Mr Floyd.
Video captured by body-worn camera shows a man asking Mr Thao: “You gonna let him kill that man in front of you, bro?”
Mr Thao at one point says: “This is why you don’t do drugs, kids.”
According to video, he orders bystanders to stay on the sidewalk, and tells a person who identifies as a firefighter to “back off” when they approach to ask for Mr Floyd’s pulse.
In an interview with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, Mr Thao said he “decided to forgo traffic, put myself between the crowd and officers … make sure they don’t charge us or bull rush” the officers responding to Mr Floyd.
Mr Thao recalled the scene, believing Mr Floyd would not be “cooperative, he’s already showing it,” he told investigators.
“If we put him in [a squad car], possibly he might end up hurting himself or bang himself on the windows or kicking out,” he said. “Let’s just stop what we’re doing, put him on the ground and call for an ambulance.”
A federal indictment alleges that Mr Thao and Mr Kueng were “aware” that Chauvin was holding his knee against Mr Floyd’s neck while he was handcuffed and not resisting, even after he became unresponsive.
Mr Thao and Mr Kueng “willfully failed to intervene” to stop Chauvin’s “unreasonable use of force”, according to the indictment.
Federal prosecutors have accused Mr Kueng and Mr Thao of violating Mr Floyd’s right to be free from unreasonable seizure, as well as failing to render medical aid.
Both counts allege the officers’ actions resulted in Mr Floyd’s death.
The men have pleaded not guilty.