MINNEAPOLIS — A Hennepin County judge has returned a guilty verdict against former Minneapolis police officer Tou Thao on a charge of aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter in the 2020 death of George Floyd.
Judge Peter Cahill released his written decision late Monday night. He ordered a pre-sentence investigation and scheduled Thao for sentencing on Aug. 7.
"In this case, the evidence overwhelmingly proves that Tou Thao aided and abetted manslaughter in the second degree on May 25, 2020," Judge Cahill wrote in a 177-page decision. "Thao knew his three fellow officers were on top of Floyd, restraining Floyd in the prone position with knees forcefully and unrelentingly pinning down his neck, his middle back, and his lower back and with arms also restraining Floyd’s legs and his handcuffed arms (held behind his back while he was in the prone position). Thao knew that this prone restraint was extremely dangerous because it can cause asphyxia— the inability to breathe—the exact condition Floyd repeatedly told the officers he was suffering. Yet Thao made the conscious decision to aid that dangerous restraint: he actively encouraged the other three officers and assisted their crime by holding back concerned bystanders, declining to render medical aid to Floyd, not instructing any of the other three officers to render medical aid to Floyd, and not permitting any of the bystanders to render medical aid to Floyd, including the off-duty Minneapolis firefighter on the scene trained in CPR."
Cahill added that based on the totality of circumstances that fateful day, there is proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Thao’s actions were "objectively unreasonable" from the perspective of a reasonable police officer.
While co-defendants J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane struck deals with the state, Thao decided to place his fate in the hands of Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill in what is called a "stipulated facts" trial. Prosecutors and Thao's defense team submitted their written closing arguments to Cahill in late January, with the understanding he would make his ruling on the defendant's guilt or innocence in 90-day's time.
Cahill issued his ruling and verdict in the case just after 9 p.m. Monday night.
"Accountability is not justice, but it is a step on the road to justice," said Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison in a released statement following the verdict. "While we have now reached the end of the prosecution of Floyd’s murder, it is not behind us. There is much more that prosecutors, law-enforcement leaders, rank-and-file officers, elected officials, and community can do to bring about true justice in law enforcement and true trust and safety in all communities."
"Those of us in leadership positions in the legal system have much work to do when it comes to building trust and safety in our communities," added Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty. "We must all commit to doing our part to make our neighborhoods safe for everyone."
Thao is already serving three-and-a-half years in federal prison after a jury convicted him of depriving Floyd of his constitutional rights.
Attorney Ben Crump and co-counsels Antonio Romanucci and Jeff Storms also released a statement on behalf of George Floyd's family Tuesday afternoon.
“The family of George Floyd is grateful for another measure of accountability for his death. Nearly three years after George was killed, the family and Minneapolis community continue to heal as the criminal justice system prevails," the statement read. "With each of these measures of justice, it is even more so demonstrated that police brutality is an illegal – and punishable – act.”
In his closing argument, defense attorney Robert Paule asserted that Thao did not actively take part in Floyd's death and that his actions on scene that day were according to his training by the Minneapolis Police Department.
"The death of George Floyd was a tragedy. Yet the fact that a tragic death occurred does not transfer it into a criminal act," Paule wrote. "Thao is innocent of the charges against him because he did not intend that his specific actions were done to assist in the commission of a crime. Every one of Thao’s actions was done based upon the training he received from the Minneapolis Police Department."
Then-state prosecutor, soon-to-be Hennepin County District Court Judge Matthew Frank disagreed, saying Thao had the power to save Floyd's life. "Thao could see Floyd’s life slowly ebbing away. Yet Thao made a conscious decision to actively participate in Floyd’s death," Frank wrote. "Thao held back the concerned onlookers, and even prevented an off-duty firefighter from rendering the very medical aid Floyd so desperately needed. Perhaps worse, Thao directly insisted upon continuing the restraint that killed Floyd."
In April 2021, a Hennepin County jury convicted former officer Derek Chauvin of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter for Floyd’s death, and was sentenced to 22.5 years in prison.
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