A former Minneapolis police officer who restrained bystanders while his colleagues restrained a dying George Floyd has been found guilty of aiding and abetting manslaughter.
Tou Thao, who had previously been convicted in federal court of violating Floyd’s civil rights, was the last of four former officers to stand trial in state court for Floyd’s murder. He rejected a plea deal and, instead of going to trial, let Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill decide the verdict based on each side’s written documents and evidence presented in previous cases.
“There is evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that Thao’s actions were objectively unreasonable from the perspective of a reasonable police officer, viewed in the totality of the circumstances,” Cahill wrote in a 177-page decision filed Monday evening and released on Tuesday.
Floyd, a black man, died on May 25, 2020, after Officer Derek Chauvin, who is white, pinned him to the ground with his knee on Floyd’s neck for 9½ minutes as he pleaded to the air. The murder, captured on bystander video, sparked protests around the world and sparked a national awareness of police brutality and racism.
Chauvin, the senior officer at the scene, was convicted of murder and manslaughter in April 2021 and later pleaded guilty in the federal case. Two other officers – J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane – pleaded guilty to charges of aiding and abetting manslaughter and were convicted along with Thao in their federal case.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, who led the prosecution team, said Thao’s sentencing ‘brings an added measure of accountability in the tragic death of George Floyd’ while calling on Congress to pass a sweeping overhaul police with Floyd’s name.
“Although we have now reached the end of the prosecution for Floyd’s murder, it is not behind us.” Ellison said. “There is much more that prosecutors, law enforcement officials, grassroots officers, elected officials and the community can do to bring true justice in law enforcement and true trust and security in all the communities.
Defense attorney Robert Paule did not immediately return messages seeking comment.
Lawyers for the Floyd family called the verdict “another measure of accountability for his death.”
“Nearly three years after George’s death, the Minneapolis family and community continue to heal as the criminal justice system prevails. With each of these justice steps, it is further demonstrated that police brutality is an illegal – and punishable – act,” civil rights attorney Ben Crump and his team said in a statement.
The judge set the sentence for August 7. Minnesota guidelines recommend four years for the manslaughter charge, which Thao would serve concurrently with his 3½-year federal sentence.
Unlike the other three former officers, Thao maintained that he had done nothing wrong. When he rejected a plea deal in state court last August, he said “it would be a lie” to plead guilty.
Cahill based his decision on exhibits and transcripts from the murder trial of Chauvin, which he presided over, and the federal civil rights trial of Thao, Kueng and Lane. Thao was then specifically found guilty of depriving Floyd of his right to medical care and failing to intervene to arrest Chauvin. Cahill wrote that he focused on the evidence relating to Thao and not the other officers or their guilty pleas and verdicts.
Thao is Hmong American, Kueng is black, and Lane is white.
Thao testified at his federal trial that he relied on the other officers to attend to Floyd’s medical needs as he served as a “human traffic cone” to control a group of about 15 bystanders and traffic at the exterior of a Minneapolis convenience store where Floyd had tried to pass a counterfeit $20 bill.
Thao said when he and Chauvin arrived the other officers were struggling with Floyd. He said it was clear to him, as the other officers tried to put Floyd in a police cruiser, “that he was under the influence of some type of drug.”
Video from his body camera showed he told onlookers at one point, “That’s why you kids don’t do drugs.” When an off-duty, out-of-uniform Minneapolis firefighter asked if officers had checked Floyd’s pulse, he ordered, “Stand back!”
Thao acknowledged hearing onlookers becoming more worried about Floyd’s condition and that he could hear Floyd saying, “I can’t breathe.” But Thao said he didn’t know there was anything seriously wrong with him, even when an ambulance took him away.
Cahill wrote that he found key parts of Thao’s testimony and his justifications for his actions to be “not credible”.
The judge wrote that under Minneapolis Police Department policies, “it was objectively unreasonable (among other things): to encourage other officers to engage in dangerous restraint for 9 minutes and 24 seconds; encourage these officers not to use restraints; actively assisting their containment by acting as a “human traffic cone”; and prevent bystanders from providing medical aid.”
“Thao’s actions were even more unreasonable considering that he was required to intervene to stop the excessive use of force by other officers and was trained to provide medical aid,” added the judge.
Pursuant to an agreement between the prosecution and defense, Cahill dismissed a more serious count of second-degree murder with an alleged sentence of 12½ years.
Vice President Kamala Harris and others have called for the revival of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act this year after it stalled in the Senate amid Republican opposition in 2020 and 2021. The legislation aims to eliminate misconduct , racial discrimination and excessive force in policing nationwide. This would prohibit the use of chokeholds and end “qualified immunity” that protects officers from prosecution, among other things.
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(This story has not been edited by News18 staff and is published from a syndicated news agency feed)