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Thao, Kueng testify in federal trial Wednesday

Former Minneapolis officer J Alexander Kueng took the stand in his own defense, following testimony from fellow ex-officer and co-defendant, Tou Thao.

ST PAUL, Minn. —

  • Ex-officer J Alexander Kueng on Chauvin: "He was my senior officer and I trusted his advice."
  • Tou Thao says he was filling a "support unit" role at the scene
  • All three ex-officers will testify in federal trial
  • Darnella Frazier briefly leaves witness stand in tears at beginning of Tuesday testimony

Another former officer facing federal charges related to George Floyd's death took the witness stand in his own defense Wednesday.

J Alexander Kueng, Tou Thao and Thomas Lane are all facing federal charges, alleging the former officers deprived George Floyd of his civil rights on the day of his murder.

The crux of Kueng's defense is that he didn't intervene and stop Derek Chauvin because Chauvin was his former field training officer, had the most experience and was in charge of the scene.

Kueng testified that the Minneapolis Police Department's duty to intervene policy was nothing more than a mention during his training. Additionally, he said he had only three shifts as a fully trained officer when he and Thomas Lane encountered George Floyd. 

He said as he helped restrain Floyd on the ground, he couldn't see the crowd of bystanders but assumed it wasn't safe to provide medical care. He said he came to that conclusion when he saw Chauvin pull out his mace and shake it. He told the court he thought Chauvin saw something he couldn't see. 

Kueng said after he couldn't find a pulse on Floyd, he assumed Chauvin would then check it on Floyd's neck. 

Earlier in the day, Thao finished his testimony, relying heavily on the defense that he didn't lay a hand on Floyd and wasn't aware of the extent of his medical state because he was doing crowd control. 

The prosecution tried to show that Thao watched his fellow officers at times and knew Floyd passed out.

As Kueng wrapped direct questioning, the judge dismissed court for the day.

Kueng is expected to pick up with prosecutors on cross-examination Thursday.

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Wednesday, Feb. 16

2:30 p.m.

Kueng resumed his testimony after lunch, saying field training officers serve as a "role model" for training officers. 

Of Chauvin as his FTO, Kueng told the court that Chauvin "quiet" but he had a high level of experience. He also testified that he believed Chauvin was "very by the book," and had "a lot of respect from other officers."

Kueng then started to tell his version of what happened on May 25, 2020.

He told the courtroom that he was working with Lane when they received a forgery call, going on to talk about what happened when the officers tried to put Floyd into the squad car. Kueng testified that he felt he "had no control," and deferred to Chauvin, who was considered the senior officer when he got to the scene.

Kueng said he eventually checked Floyd for a pulse, but couldn't find one.

Plunkett then played a video of officers, including Chauvin, talking to Sgt. Ploeger as he arrived. Plunkett pointed out that Ploeger summoned Chauvin, which the other former officers say implied Chauvin was in charge of the scene.

11:55 a.m.

After the morning break, Bell asked the witness a final question, without a defense objection. "Did you communicate with your partners about Mr. Floyd stopping speaking... and you got a request from crowd to check his pulse?"

"No," was Thao's answer, concluding the cross examination portion of his testimony. 

In re-direct testimony, Thao told his attorney and the court he suspected Floyd was going through "excited delirium" and could walk into traffic if he was released. When Paule asked his client why he thought the continued restraint of Floyd would be beneficial, Thao replied "To save his life, to hold him down for medical personnel."

Next on the stand was Thao's wife, Seng Yang, who told jurors that she and her husband met in high school while both worked at McDonald's. Yang said Thao has never been in trouble before and is law abiding. 

At that point Paule rested Thao's case.  

Thomas Plunkett, defense attorney for former officer J Alexander Kueng, opened his case by calling Joni Kueng, the defendant's mother. Kueng, a career teacher, described her son as "peaceful," someone who aims for conflict resolution. She told jurors that compassion is "a huge character trait" of J Alexander Kueng, and said he was law abiding. 

Prosecutors had no questions. 

Plunkett then called Kueng himself to the stand. The 28-year-old defendant told jurors he lives in north Minneapolis, where he was raised and has lived nearly his entire life. Kueng described himself as mixed race, saying his mother is white and his adopted siblings are Black and also mixed race. 

He shared with jurors his path to law enforcement, and told the court he left a soccer scholarship out east after suffering a knee injury and returned home to attend MCTC. While taking classes he worked in loss prevention at Macy's downtown. Kueng says prior to deciding to become an officer he "didn't like police whatsoever" due to experiences growing up in northside, describing them as "rude" and "unhelpful."

Kueng testified that he applied for a position as an MPD Community Service Officer (CSO) as a way to get into the department, and was hired following a direct interview with then-chief Medaria Arradondo. Kueng went through what he described as "streamlined" training as the city was trying to increase the number of CSOs in time to host the 2018 Super Bowl. 

When asked about that training and what he learned about the "duty to intervene," Kueng said it was simply a "mention" during one unit and involved only theory, no instruction in practice. 

When he became a sworn officer, Kueng told the jury his first goal at a crime scene was to make sure it was secure and safe. His next duty, he said, was to check a subject's ABCs: Airway, breathing and circulation. Kueng called the carotid pulse is the "gold standard" for checking a subject's circulation. 

At that point Judge Magnuson called for a lunch recess. 

9:30 a.m. 

Former officer Tou Thao is back on the stand Wednesday for a contentious cross-examination in the federal trial of three ex-cops accused of depriving George Floyd of his civil rights on the night he was murdered.  

Thao, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane all face charges of denying Floyd his civil rights in May 2020, when fellow officer Derek Chauvin held him under his knee for more than nine minutes. 

The trial got underway shortly after 9:30 a.m. with news that another juror has been excused from the panel due to a case of stomach flu. That reduces the number of remaining alternate jurors to four, along with 12 panelists who will decide the fate of the officers. 

Testimony resumed with prosecutor LeeAnn Bell questioning Thao about images taken from the scene as George Floyd struggled under the knee of Derek Chauvin. KARE 11's Lou Raguse, who has been following the trial since it began, said Bell became visibly frustrated after a series of defense objections to her line of questioning were sustained.

At one point Judge Magnuson told Bell to take down an image as she asked the defendant "this is what you saw, right?"

The prosecutor then asked Thao if he communicated anything he heard from bystanders to his fellow officers. 

"Surely a 19-year veteran (referring to Chauvin) would be able to deal with situation," he responded. 

Thao's defense attorney Robert Paule objected to Bell's conduct, calling her argumentative with the court and accusing her of "using facial expressions to express her displeasure." 

Paule then asked Judge Magnuson to direct Bell to stop asking questions "that she knows are improper."

"She's entitled to cross examine to best of her ability," Magnuson ruled, and told Paule to object when  he thought it was necessary.

Raguse tweeted that he has never seen more objections offered and sustained during a prosecutor's cross-examination. 

RELATED: Who is on the jury for the federal trial of three former Minneapolis police officers?

Tuesday, Feb. 15 recap

When Tou Thao took the stand on Tuesday morning, he started by telling the court about his upbringing in north Minneapolis, and how his family struggled in poverty under a strict father. 

Thao testified he was partnered with Derek Chauvin during the call to Cup Foods on May 25, 2020. The call was reported as a level one, meaning 'get there fast,' but it was soon canceled by Lane and Kueng. Chauvin and Thao continued to the scene with their sirens off because as Thou said, "Cup Foods is hostile to police."

The two officers continued to the scene, according to Thao, and saw fellow officers Lane and Kueng struggling to put George Floyd into the back of a squad car. Thao said he never touched Floyd, and thought he was showing signs of excited delirium. 

Defense attorney Robert Paule asked Thao if he had seen Chauvin's knee on Floyd's neck and Thao said it wasn't uncommon to see that, adding that he doesn't use that technique because he's shorter and would have lost his balance if he did.

Following a break for lunch, Thao testified about what he thought was his role at the scene outside of Cup Foods. He said he was crowd control that night, and it wasn't until after the ambulance left that he learned Floyd was in critical condition. 

During cross-examination prosecutor LeeAnn Bell pressed Thao about the using force on a suspect that wasn't resisting, and asked a number questions about the discipline officers need to have to reduce force when a subject stops resisting. After a series of questions, Bell got Thao to agree that at one point while Chauvin was on Floyd's neck, he could see Floyd appeared to be unconscious. 

Bell then attempted to play video footage she claimed showed that Thao could see the other officers, but after an objection from Paule, the judge told Bell, "We've seen this thing over and over."

Instead the prosecutor brought up a video still frame, showing Thao looking at the three other officers. Thao then reluctantly agreed with Bell that he could see what his fellow officers were doing to Floyd. 

RELATED: Ex-officer Tou Thao takes the stand as first witness for defense

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