George Floyd

The Convictions of 3 Cops Who Failed To Prevent George Floyd's Death Underline the Duty To Intervene

The defendants unsuccessfully argued that their training was inadequate and that they understandably deferred to a senior officer.


Three former Minneapolis police officers were convicted in federal court yesterday of failing to intervene or render medical aid as their colleague, Derek Chauvin, killed George Floyd by pinning him face-down to the pavement for nine and a half minutes on May 25, 2020. After deliberating for about 13 hours, the jury concluded that Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng, and Tou Thao had violated 18 USC 242 by depriving Floyd of his constitutional rights under color of law. Because the jury also concluded that Floyd's prolonged prone restraint caused his death, the three defendants could face lengthy prison sentences.

Chauvin, who was convicted of murdering Floyd last April, is serving a state sentence of 22.5 years. He pleaded guilty in December to violating the same federal law under which Lane, Kueng, and Thao were charged. The focus of the case against them was not what they did that day but what they failed to do. Their convictions send a powerful message about the legal peril for police officers who ignore their duty to stop colleagues from using excessive force.

The encounter that led to Floyd's death began when Lane and Kueng, both of whom were in their first week as full-fledged police officers, arrested him for using a counterfeit $20 bill to buy cigarettes at Cup Foods, a restaurant and convenience store on Chicago Avenue. Chauvin, a 19-year veteran who had been Kueng's training officer, arrived as the two rookies were unsuccessfully trying to force a distraught Floyd into the back seat of their squad car.

After Chauvin took charge, Floyd was handcuffed and forced to lie on his stomach as Chauvin knelt on his neck, Kueng applied pressure to his back, and Lane held his legs. He remained in that position until he died, after complaining, over and over again, that he could not breathe. Thao, meanwhile, was charged with keeping a group of concerned bystanders away from Floyd and the other three officers. A bystander video of the incident provoked bipartisan outrage, nationwide protests, and the four officers' dismissal.

Since the charges against Lane, Kueng, and Thao alleged that they "willfully" deprived Floyd of his rights, one of the issues in the trial was whether they knew that Chauvin was using excessive, potentially lethal force. That should have been obvious, the prosecution argued, given Floyd's pleas for relief and the repeated warnings from witnesses who recognized that his life was in danger. By the time Floyd lost consciousness, in any event, it should have been clear that he needed medical attention and that his continued restraint was utterly gratuitous. Even after Floyd no longer had a detectable pulse, Chauvin kept his knee on his neck.

"For more than nine minutes, each of the three defendants made a conscious choice over and over again not to act," federal prosecutor Samantha Trepel told the jury. "They chose not to intervene and stop Chauvin as he killed a man slowly in front of their eyes on a public street in broad daylight."

Lane clearly recognized the danger, since he repeatedly suggested that Floyd should be rolled onto his side, which was consistent with what officers are taught about the risk of "positional asphyxia" during prolonged prone restraints. Unlike the other two defendants, Lane was not charged with failing to stop Chauvin from using excessive force. But like them, he was charged with failing to perform CPR or move Floyd into a position in which it would have been easier to breathe.

The defendants argued that their training had been inadequate to prepare them for this situation. They also argued that they understandably deferred to Chauvin, the senior officer at the scene.

Thao, unlike Lane and Kueng, was not a rookie; he had been employed by the Minneapolis Police Department for about 11 years. But his lawyer argued that Thao was not close enough to clearly understand what was happening and that he was distracted by his crowd and traffic control duties.

The jury clearly did not buy that excuse. The bystanders were angry precisely because they correctly believed that Chauvin was killing Floyd, and Thao reacted to their complaints by falsely assuring them that Floyd was fine. He even seemed to make light of the situation, saying, "This is why you don't do drugs, kids."

Instead of dismissing the bystanders' warnings, the prosecution argued, the defendants should have recognized that the witnesses were right. "After Mr. Floyd lost the ability to speak, the people on the sidewalk stood up for him," Trepel said. "They understood just by seeing his body go limp, listening to his words and then listening to his silence that, unless somebody changed what was happening, he would die."

Lane, Kueng, and Thao still face state charges that they aided and abetted Chauvin's crimes. Their state trial, which is scheduled to begin on June 13 in Hennepin County District Court, will focus on whether they "intentionally aided" Chauvin in committing felony murder and second-degree manslaughter.

After the state charges were filed, Ted Sampsell-Jones, a professor at Mitchell Hamline School of Law in St. Paul, noted that they are "legally valid under Minnesota law" but "rely on some fringe doctrines of accomplice liability." Those doctrines, he added, "have long been criticized by progressive reformers" because they "create expansive strict liability for minor participants in group crimes."

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  1. So much for that whole double jepordy thing.

    1. What double jeopardy are you talking about? The only reference I see is the mention near the end of the article about a state trial on different charges that hasn't even started yet. Clarify, please?

  2. This will have more impact on police conduct than the Chauvin conviction. Police have to police the police.

    1. I wonder.

      If we follow this standard from this point forward, it is huge.

      But the contrarian position is that it took a national media initiative and actual riots to ensure this outcome. Unless this standard is applied fairly consistently, the message might become "don't be there when the media decides a racist cop killed a POC".

      If that is the standard, then maybe they do a better job of firing overtly bad cops like Chauvin. But does it really have legs beyond that?

      1. Standard is going to be re-implementing the self-cleaning neighborhoods mindsets. What police saw is that doing everything by the book, explicitly following the training provided to you, will get you sent to jail for a decade if someone overdoses in your custody. Taking your time to respond in hostile neighborhoods is one of the more rational reactions.

        1. That counted as "doing everything by the book"? That claim was contradicted by pretty much everyone except the officers involved. It was specifically contradicted by the people who wrote the book they claimed to be following.

          No, my prediction is that this will be more like the effect My Lai had on the training of junior officers in the Army. "I was just following orders" is no longer a good enough defense. Independent judgement and evaluation of whether your orders are legal in the first place will (hopefully) become the norm.

          1. Your entire first paragraph is false. Material from training courses was actually presented at trial. You are aware of that right?

            1. You mean the material the jury saw in great detail? And disagrees with you about? Yeah, I'm aware of that.

              1. Federal juries are super honest, right?

              2. This would be the jury that included active protestors, who lied about attending protests in order to get on the jury right? That's the problem with show trials. They only convince people who are already convinced.

                1. I've heard those accusations about folks wanting to be on the Chauvin jury. I've not heard the same accusations about the jurors in this trial. Do you have anything to support your implication that it happened here?

                2. The convictions should be tossed.

            2. According to dipshit Jesse cops are very honest people. Except all the cops who testified against Chauvin. Those are the only lying cops ever. Pathetic.

        2. ...or they can just do nothing and all mayhem to go off. Police do have that option as they have zero obligation to protect anybody.

          1. This is not completely true. The do have a legal obligation to protect people in police custody.

            1. Having nobody in custody would eliminate that. But, yes, they must protect whom they arrest. This just leaves a massive loophole.

      2. Like teacher union and police unions both prevent bad employees from being fired. We can thank JFK for his terrible decision to let government workers to form unions. Not sure what can be done. The horse is out of the barn.

        1. Not sure what can be done.

          Elect a Republican trifecta with a filibuster-proof Senate majority.

        2. Reverse the policy. Fuck the unions.

      3. Capitol police shot an unarmed woman and beat another to death.
        Reason cheered it on.

    2. The prosecutors are saying you'll be charged regardless of what you did.

      Lane was charged for being ignored by Chauvin.
      Thao was charged for performing crowd control.
      All were charged for not performing CPR (did they even have the training?)

      If I'm a cop, I'm not going to use force for anything. I'm not going to take training if it can be used against me.

      1. No, Lane was charged for not doing anything. A few weak "stop that"s was insufficient to satisfy his obligation to stop a murder in progress.
        No, Thao was also charged for not doing anything. The jury didn't buy his argument that he was too busy doing something else. (The fact that he found time to make snarky comments almost certainly undercut his credibility.)
        Yes, they all had the minimal training necessary to initiate CPR.

        If you're not willing to step up to the obligations of being a good cop, then you don't get to wield the power of being a cop. Go sell shoes. Make room for the ones who actually do want to be good cops.

      2. Lane actually did perform CPR, and was the only who took that action. He still got convicted.

        What this tells you is that a politically motivated jury can convict based on anything.

    3. Or just not risk themselves and ignore crime.

      Again. For those who ignored the actual trial and only followed leftist narratives. Floyd was on drugs. His lungs were 3x normal weight at autopsy indicating an overdose. Original autopsy said it was a cardiac event from an overdose. Floyd force himself from being suited in the cruiser to being prone by forcing himself out of the cruiser. The police on his shoulder blades, yes the prosecution finally admitted this, was 145 lbs. Floyd was 6 foot 3 240. The restraints used are what cops were taught to use. Prosecution use of force witness admitted Chauvin could have used the taste instead of just restraint.

      So now cops are guilty for following and seeing the protocol they were taught to use.

      1. Why lie? Who can you think you're persuading? Clearly even you don't believe that nonsense, clinger.

    4. As long as they're structured like the military I think the officer's point is unfortunately fair. When the 19 year vet shows up of course the new guys won't undercut him. Professions that care about safety have got rid of the ridgid rank/seniority based command structure and policing needs to do the same.

      1. “Professions that care about safety have got rid of the ridgid rank/seniority based command structure”

        Like the military.

  3. This raises all sorts of additional questions.

    This was not as clear cut as the prosecution (and our author) argue. As a third party, it would be really hard to know exactly what was happening. Floyd indeed said he was in distress. But he also said that long before anyone touched him, and he fought hard to avoid being put in the back of a police vehicle after saying that.

    That introduces a lot of ambiguity.

    This was not like Kelly Thomas, where cops were literally beating a skinny little homeless man to death. In that case any rational human should have seen excessive force (and in an unlawful arrest).

    This was holding someone in a position that made it difficult to breath due to pressure on the abdomen (the knee on the neck is not the mechanism). It is the position they were trained to use.

    So the bystanders we're wrong about that part.

    At some point it should have become obvious that this was not an act
    ... But it sure wasn't at the beginning.

    And if there is a duty to intervene, why are the people watching all not equally guilty? A couple of these officers voiced objections. That wasn't deemed to be doing enough. Why do the other people get a pass for only voicing objections? Or for doing nothing at all.

    This makes for a real mess of a precedent.

    I wish the justice system had used cases like Kelly Thomas and Daniel Shaver to draw these lines. There was much less ambiguity. You had innocent people murdered by police who were way beyond any reasonable behavior. It should be open and shut.

    But that didn't happen.

    And if you don't already know the outcomes of those cases (and plenty of others like them), don't look. It is too depressing from too many angles.

    1. The jury had access to all your information and a great deal more. They disagreed. Yes, juries sometimes get it wrong. But you haven't presented any information that convinces me they got it wrong this time.

      As to your question about why all the people watching are not equally guilty?
      1. Because they were actively prevented from intervening by the people with guns.
      2. Even if they weren't, private citizens are held to a different and lower standard than the people we pay to protect us. As a private citizen, you are not obligated to stop when you see someone hurt in, for example, a traffic accident. Police, doctors, ER nurses, etc have professional, moral and in some states legal obligations to stop and render aid even when off-duty.

      1. The juries also witnessed their neighborhoods get burned down and quite a few said they feared their safety for a not guilty vote. Which is why it should have been moved elsewhere for trial.

        Have you gotten a fact right yet?

        1. The jury in this case? I have heard no such statements attributed to jury members. Or are you conflating your rants with the jury in the earlier Chauvin case?

        2. By the way, juror intimidation and/or bias is a very strong basis for an appeal. Why do you suppose the lawyers actually responsible for these cases are not vigorously pursuing those claims? Is it possible those allegations are not as strong as you and the police union claim?

          1. Huh? How has there been enough time for them to vigorously pursue those appeals in this case?

            Or are you conflating this case with with Chauvin's? His primary problem in vigorously pursuing his fourteen appellate claims (including juror bias and intimidation) is simply that he does not have any money to pay lawyers (since he's only got his in-prison income, the police union funding having ended with the initial conviction).

          2. State refuses to pay for public defender. Crowd funding sites won't host crowdfunding for a defense. How do you suppose a lawyer is supposed to get paid?

            1. State refuses to pay for a public defender because he still has a pension fund. He doesn't want to tap into it because he loses a big chunk of it if he tries to use it before he's 55, and he's relying on using it to take care of his family, but the fact that he does have a substantial asset means he could pay his own lawyer, and therefore doesn't qualify for a PD.

  4. Apparently it's now a federal crime for police officers to be nearby when someone who took a large dose of fentanyl dies from the resulting opioid respiratory depression.

  5. The gods must be listening today…I was just commenting on this situation in the Brickbat, if these guys can be prosecuted for civil rights abuses then why not the police in the other case. I read so many articles here with Cops abusing their authority but nor response from the feds but these guys get the book thrown at them. They only go after the high profile cases I guess. Reason on the other hand just keeps beating the QI horse, I would rather bad cops face prison than a law suite.

    1. Meant the Off duty cop killed his ex story not the brickbat.

    2. I'd rather bad cops face prison, too. But that depends on prosecutors bringing criminal cases against the bad cops - the same folks that the prosecutor depends on for his/her professional success in other settings. There are too many conflicts of interest for that alone to be effective. Sec 1983 created the possibility of civil suits in the first place because criminal prosecutions weren't doing the job. QI guts even the limited counter-balance that Sec 1983 created.

      1. Do you just argue for arguments sake or are you really this stupid? I was talking about the Civil rights division of the DOJ who do not depend on the local cops for anything…maybe try thinking a minute before you respond to a comment.

        1. You mean, the same folks who were so ineffective that, again, Congress felt the need to grant a private right of lawsuits under Sec 1983?

  6. So cops have to be medical professionals too. Be able to spot overdoses. Probably should be charged for not forcibly removing the crowd blocking EMS as well.

    1. I have a client that thinks they all need sociology degrees. He’s a leftist kook though.

  7. Chauvin was guilty. I don't see it with these three. Kueng, maybe, but Lane was the guy who took his pulse and then told Chauvin they should move him, and then was the one who tried CPR on him. Thao wasn't able to see what was happening because he was focused on the crowd.

    1. No, Floyd was guilty. As so many defense lawyers have argued, juries don't always get it right. As the large number of wrongfully convicted victims clearly demonstrate.

      1. Chauvin was in physical contact with Floyd when he died and didn't even notice for several minutes. It was quite clearly negligence.

        Would Floyd have died if he wasn't being held down? Possibly. However, that hold, which would have been safe in a healthy man, was dangerous given Floyd's overdose. By holding Floyd down like that Chauvin took on a responsibility that he neglected.

        Now, I have to agree. The murder charges clearly do not apply by the basic definition of the word, but the manslaughter seems solid.

  8. Reason is really dropping the ball on this one. Just like two successive Minnesota juries did.

  9. "unsuccessfully trying to force a distraught Floyd into the back seat of their squad car." completely fails to capture the moment. Floyd - on fentanyl and meth - was completely out of control, kicking and screaming as clearly shown in the ENTIRE video (which somehow never found its way into the MSM - or Reason editorial room). And they fail to acknowledge the FACT that he was complaining about not being able to breathe long before he was finally restrained. That combination of drugs is frequently fatal, but the MEs report and subsequent trial completely ignored the fact that the drugs were likely responsible for his death. I can't believe that any cop in his right mind would continue employment in an environment so openly hostile to them. If every one of them just quit, see how long before the idiots calling for defunding police would be screaming bloody murder - as other thugs like Floyd were robbing, assaulting, and murdering them. It would be poetic justice.

  10. What would you have done? I don't know if I, as a junior guy, would have had the balls to challenge Chauvin.

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  12. When we need to punish people, e.g., cops, with extraordinary powers, for misusing their powers in one particular case, we have a big problem. What about all cases, too many to name?
    Two solutions present themselves. 1. Take away their powers. 2. Punish the irresponsible.
    The rebuttal: We need our powers and we will "police" ourselves.
    The re-rebuttal: You haven't proven you are special, deserving of special privileges, but you have proven you won't act responsibly. Therefore, why would we give you power you routinely abuse? The abuse proves a lack of personal control and immorality. Your justifications are further proof. You make it impossible to support your authority over us.

  13. How long is it going to take for professions (police, doctors, social workers . . . ) to accept that if they don't "police" and discipline the members of their profession for bad judgements then eventually the public is going to do it for them? And, eventually, professions will lose the privilege of self-regulation because the public doesn't trust them to do it.

  14. George Floyd died of a drug overdose, and Chauvin extended his life by a few seconds by preventing him from depleting his oxygen by keeping him immobile.
    That's the science.
    Chauvin is still a pos, for other acts, and Floyd, too.

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