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Ex-cops charged in George Floyd’s death want their case separated from Derek Chauvin’s

Four police officers charged in George Floyd's death
From left, former Minneapolis Police Officers Derek Chauvin, J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao, who all face federal charges in connection with the death of George Floyd.
(Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office)

Three former Minneapolis police officers charged with violating George Floyd’s civil rights are asking that their federal trials be separated from the trial of Derek Chauvin, who has already been convicted on state murder charges in Floyd’s death in May 2020.

Attorneys for J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao said in court filings Tuesday that their clients’ trials would be unfairly prejudiced if they went to trial alongside Chauvin. An attorney for Thomas Lane filed a motion asking to join in his co-defendants’ request.

Keung’s attorney, Tom Plunkett, said evidence against Chauvin would confuse the jury and deprive Kueng of his right to a fair trial. He also said there was a conflict of interest arising from Chauvin’s level of culpability in Floyd’s death, contending that “the jurors will not be able to follow the court’s instructions and compartmentalize the evidence as it related to Mr. Kueng.”

A federal grand jury indicted Chauvin, Kueng, Thao and Lane in May, alleging that they violated Floyd’s rights while acting under government authority as Floyd was restrained face down, handcuffed and not resisting. Chauvin, who is white, kept his knee on Floyd, a Black man, for nearly 10 minutes even as Floyd gasped for air.

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The four former officers were also charged in state court, where Chauvin was eventually tried separately from the others because of space restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Chauvin was convicted of murder and manslaughter and was sentenced to 22½ years in prison. The other three former officers face state trial next March on aiding and abetting counts.

Floyd, 46, repeatedly said he couldn’t breathe as Chauvin pinned him to the ground May 25, 2020. Kueng and Lane helped restrain Floyd; Kueng knelt on Floyd’s back, and Lane held Floyd’s legs. Thao held back bystanders and kept them from intervening during the 9½-minute restraint, which was captured on bystander video and led to worldwide protests and calls for change in policing.

George Floyd died in police custody on May 25, 2020, in Minneapolis. His death led to the trial and conviction of former officer Derek Chauvin.

The federal indictment alleges that Chauvin violated Floyd’s right to be free from unreasonable seizure and from unreasonable force by a police officer. Thao and Kueng are charged with violating Floyd’s right to be free from unreasonable seizure by not intervening to stop Chauvin as he knelt on Floyd’s neck. All four former officers are charged for their failure to provide Floyd with medical care.

The requests to separate the trials were filed with several other routine requests Tuesday.

Bob Paule, an attorney for Thao, suggested in his filing that he wanted Thao to be tried apart from all of his co-defendants, not just Chauvin. While his filing mentions only Chauvin by name, it says: “The jury will have insurmountable difficulty distinguishing the alleged acts of each defendant from the alleged acts of his co-defendants.”

Paule said Thao’s 5th Amendment right not to incriminate himself would be in jeopardy if the trials were held together.

Prosecutors are asking a judge for more time to prepare for the federal civil rights trial of four former police officers in George Floyd’s death.

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“Mr. Thao will obtain a fair and more impartial trial [if] he is tried separately from his co-defendants,” Paule wrote.

The officers are scheduled to be arraigned Sept. 14. A trial date has not been set.

Chauvin is also charged in a separate federal indictment alleging that he violated the civil rights of a 14-year-old boy in 2017.


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