ST PAUL, Minn. —
- No verdict reached after first day of deliberation
- Jury began deliberating at 10 a.m. Wednesday
- Judge orders jurors names be sealed for 10 years
- Prosecutors emphasize the government doesn't don't need to prove Kueng, Lane and Thao acted with ill-will or intended to hurt George Floyd, only "deliberate indifference"
- Closing arguments begin with prosecutors laying out case against each defendant
The first day of jury deliberations in the federal trial of three former Minneapolis Police Department officers came to a close Wednesday with no decision after the case was handed over to a panel of Minnesota citizens to discuss.
The officers are accused of depriving George Floyd of his civil rights.
J Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao face federal charges involving the events of May 25, 2020, the night Floyd died under the knee of former officer Derek Chauvin. Kueng and Thao face an additional charge for not stopping Chauvin.
On Wednesday morning, jurors gathered at the federal courthouse in St. Paul to hear instructions from Judge Paul Magnuson before receiving the case. The judge sent two remaining alternates home on "on-call" status, leaving 12 people to decide the case. They left the courtroom and began deliberations around 10 a.m.
KARE 11 reporter Lou Raguse, who has been monitoring the trial since opening statements were made Jan. 24, says this federal jury is not sequestered, meaning they could return home after deliberating each day.
On Wednesday, Judge Magnuson ordered that the names of the jurors be sealed for 10 years, saying federal law allows him to do so “in the interests of justice” and that this is “clearly” such a case.
Jurors will resume deliberations Thursday at 9 a.m.
Tuesday, Feb. 22 recap
The defense teams followed prosecutors in giving their closing arguments Tuesday afternoon. Lane's attorney, Earl Gray, was fiery in pointing out the medical examiner testified that Lane did not play a role in the positional asphyxia that caused George Floyd's death. Plus, Gray said, Lane had suggested rolling Floyd over and helping with CPR in the ambulance.
"So, why was he indicted? You know the answer. Politics! As Mr. Plunkett said, mob rule and politics," Gray insisted.
Tom Plunkett, attorney for J Alexander Keung's attorney, first asked the jury not to let us fall to mob rule. He argued that Kueng was deferring to his field training officer, Derek Chauvin, and was improperly trained as reasons for not intervening.
All three defense attorneys emphasized some legal language the jury will have to consider, including that the former officers "willfully" deprived George Floyd of his rights. To prove that, prosecutors needed to show the officers acted with a bad purpose or improper motive. The defense teams all maintain that element wasn't proven by the prosecution.
Prosecutors tried to convey the case is simpler than that, and the language just means the defendants knew what they were supposed to do, and didn't do it.
"It's not complicated. They did nothing to stop Derek Chauvin or to help George Floyd. You know it because you've seen it."
The jury will reconvene Wednesday at 9 a.m. for instructions, then depart to deliberate the officers' fate.
Because it's a federal case, the jury could end up deciding on a split verdict.
LeeAnn Bell delivered the prosecution's rebuttal, telling the jury the element on "willfulness" — a point the defense honed in on throughout the trial — is not complicated: it's knowing what the law is, and not following it.
Bell finished the prosecution's rebuttal, but the judge said he will wait until Wednesday morning to give jury instructions.
Following Plunkett, Earl Gray, Lane's attorney, presented his closing arguments.
Gray doubled down on the defense that Lane was a rookie officer and it made sense for him to look to Chauvin to determine his conduct in that situation.
Gray went on to say that Lane was only indicted due to "mob rule and politics," saying Lane should not have been punished for offering to "help out."
Gray finished by encouraging the jury to "do the right thing" by presuming Lane's innocence.
Judge Magnuson then called another short break before the prosecution could return with its rebuttal.
Attorney Thomas Plunkett began the closing argument for his client J Alexander Kueng by listing for jurors four factors that Plunkett says cast reasonable doubt in the case.
- Kueng's inadequate training
- His lack of experience
- His perceived subordinate role to Chauvin
- His confidence in senior officers, including Chauvin, who was his field training officer.
Plunkett stressed that the government needed to prove specific intent from the officers, "that they intended to willfully deprive Mr. Floyd of his rights. If it is not shown there is a specific intent of a willful act beyond a reasonable doubt," then the jury must acquit, Plunkett told the jury.
He then began dissecting the testimony of several key prosecution witnesses, including Inspector Katie Blackwell, who was then in charge of MPD officer training. Plunkett reminded jurors that Blackwell was close with Chauvin, and that her training program is now the subject of a federal investigation.
Plunkett also asserted that MPD homicide detective Richard Zimmerman changed his original story about what happened the night Floyd died after seeing bodycam video, and says Zimmerman lied when he said the officers asked to turn those cameras off.
Plunkett then looped back to where he started, re-establishing that the elements of the charges against Kueng require purposeful, specific intent to find that he willfully deprived George Floyd of his civil rights.
KARE 11's Lou Raguse says Plunkett then became emotional as he wrapped up his closing argument, raising his voice and asking jurors to not allow the case to descend into mob rule.
First up for the defense teams following afternoon recess was Robert Paule, attorney for former MPD officer Tou Thao. Paule opened his closing argument by acknowledging the death of George Floyd, telling jurors it was a tragedy, but a tragedy is not always a crime.
Paule put extra emphasis on the word "willful" while going through the charges against his client. He told the jury that according to the law, "a person acts willfully when they commit an act with a bad purpose or an improper motive to disobey or disregard the law, specifically intending to deprive the person of that right."
He followed by underlining the phrases "a bad purpose" and "improper motive" in the willful definition, attempting to show the panel that the definition doesn't fit Thao's action or inaction.
Thao's attorney then turned his attention to the actual struggle between Chauvin, Kueng, Lane and Floyd while his client looked on from a distance. "Think about that, three people are not able to control a person in handcuffs," Paule asserted, saying the things Thao observed "go to the idea of superhuman strength," combined with sweating, possible drug use and perhaps "excited delirium."
Paule reminded jurors that when Thao worked security at Fairview he witnessed many people having to be restrained and sedated for their own well-being. KARE 11's Lou Raguse said Paule spent a lot of time going through the concept of excited delirium with the jury. "He's dealt with people who have risen up when experiencing excited delirium and gotten violent again," Paule said, referring to instances Thao testified about who were settled down but then turned on officers and paramedics.
The closing argument for Thao's team wrapped with Paule telling jurors that if his client didn't see the other officers rolling Floyd over and starting CPR, then it's logical for him, based on his training, to believe the force being used on George Floyd was not unreasonable.
Paule reminded jurors about the legal definition of "willful," maintaining that to find Thao guilty "You'd have to find "a bad purpose or improper motive."
"There is only one reasonable verdict, and that verdict is not guilty," Paule said. "Remember, just because something has a tragic ending does not mean it is a crime."
Federal prosecutor Manda Sertich began closing arguments just before 10 a.m., emphasizing the three defendants as a single group, talking about George Floyd being "in their" custody and "in their" care. KARE 11's Lou Raguse says Sertich quoted Floyd's words: "The knee on my neck. I'm through. I can't breathe, officer. Please help me. I can't breathe. They're going to kill me. I can't breath."
"Then," Sertch said, "One last time — 'Please, I really can't breathe.'"
Prosecutor Sertich then began breaking down the cases against the defendants individually, beginning with Tou Thao. She told the jury that Thao stood a short ways away for four minutes and 40 seconds, watching his fellow officers as George Floyd "gassed out" with Chauvin's knee on his neck. She said Thao ignored pleas from the crowd to help Floyd, instead arguing and belittling citizens on scene and Floyd himself. She quoted something Thao was heard saying on videotape, "This is why you don't do drugs, kids."
"Instead of tapping Chauvin on the shoulder, he would argue and belittle people asking him to do what the law requires, not to mention common decency and sense," Sertich insisted.
As for defendant Kueng, Sertich asserted that he was crouched shoulder-to-shoulder with Derek Chauvin and ignored Floyd's pleas until he lost consciousness and "didn't tap Chauvin on the shoulder or ask him to move his knee off Floyd's neck."
The prosecutor then showed the jury a still from from Thao's body camera video that shows Kueng smiling and "laughing with Chauvin," she said. "Defendant Kueng then casually picked gravel out of the tire in front of him."
Sertich addressed Thomas Lane last, saying he also crouched by Floyd and pushed his legs down and telling jurors he chose not to stop "the horror right under his nose."
"You know he affirmatively chose not to do anything — because you know what was going on in his head at that moment," she stated, referring to Lane's .suggestions that Chauvin roll Floyd over to improve his situation. "He did nothing to give Mr. Floyd the medical aid he knew he so desperately needed."
The prosecutor said George Floyd's final words came about halfway through the deadly ordeal, adding that even bystanders, regular people without police training, recognized how dire the situation was. "They asked, then pleaded, then begged, then demanded that officers do something, anything to save George Floyd's life," Sertich said.
Raguse says there were a number of objections during Sertich's closing argument, many of them from Tou Thao's attorney Robert Paule alleging that the prosecutor was "misstating evidence." Some of those objections were sustained by Judge Magnuson.
Sertich then turned to breaking down the elements that need to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt against Kueng, Lane and Thao in order to convict. Among them, is that Chauvin used unreasonable force against Floyd, and that the defendants observed or knew that Chauvin's conduct was unreasonable.
The prosecution team emphasized they don't need to prove to the jury that Kueng, Lane and Thao acted with ill-will or intended to hurt George Floyd, only that the defendants acted with deliberate indifference.
"You have to figure out what’s in the officer’s heads. By what he does or doesn’t do or says or doesn’t say," Sertich explained. "Also through training and policy… info that was put in his head during training." While she explained the elements, the prosecutor also said the jury can use its common sense regarding Floyd having a serious medical need and the officers knowing it but not acting to help.
Speaking to the jury, Sertich said that asking questions doesn't count as giving medical aid, and that even if Thao believed talking means you can breathe, he should have taken action when Floyd stopped talking.
Sertich ended her closing argument by telling the jury "it's not complicated."
"They did nothing to stop Derek Chauvin or to help George Floyd. You know it because you've seen it," she said. Court will resume at 12:30 p.m., at which time the defense teams will make their closing arguments consecutively.
Earl Gray, Thomas Lane's defense attorney, opened court on Monday calling Mark Pentland, a former coworker of Lane's at a juvenile detention center.
He only spoke for a few minutes, serving as a character witness for Lane and spoke about his "peacefulness."
When Lane took the stand, Gray made a point of emphasizing that it was only Lane's fourth day on the job as a Minneapolis police officer.
Lane told the court about his actions and thoughts the night at Cup Foods when he and Kueng first approached George Floyd's vehicle, and detailed everything that happened after fellow officer Derek Chauvin arrived on scene.
When the former officer spoke about what happened after EMS arrived at the scene, Lane got choked up when talking about how he offered to get inside the ambulance and help the paramedics.
Gray finished questioning Lane by asking if he was fired from the MPD the next day. "Yes. I found out I was terminated while sitting in a Subway parking lot. I read a news article," Lane said.
Prosecutor Samantha Trepel cross examined Lane, asking him about Floyd's condition and the amount of time it took for an ambulance to arrive in the area.
Following Lane's cross-examination, the defense rested its case. Prosecutors declined to present any rebuttal witnesses.