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Friday, September 11, 2020

Former officers charged in George Floyd killing turn blame on each other - The Washington Post

Former officers charged in George Floyd killing turn blame on each other

"MINNEAPOLIS — The four former Minneapolis police officers charged in George Floyd's killing appear to be turning on each other, with each offering significantly different versions of the infamous arrest that acknowledge Floyd should not have been allowed to die that day but also deflect the blame to others.

The four men have said in court documents that they all thought someone else was in charge of the scene on May 25 — with rookie officers arguing they were deferring to a veteran, and the veteran saying he was simply assisting in an arrest that was in progress. All have said in court documents that the relationship between the veteran officer — Derek Chauvin — and the others is at the heart of the issue, as each officer perceived their role, and who was in charge, quite differently. Chauvin was the officer shown with his knee on Floyd’s neck as he struggled to breathe in videos of the ill-fated arrest.
“There are very likely going to be antagonistic defenses presented at the trial,” Earl Gray, a lawyer for Thomas K. Lane, wrote in a legal motion filed here this week. “It is plausible that all officers have a different version of what happened and officers place blame on one another.”
Gray and lawyers for Chauvin, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao have been arguing to separate the former officers’ cases for purposes of trial, citing competing stories from their clients about the events that led to the 46-year-old Black man’s death. The officers are scheduled to appear in court Friday as a judge takes up that question; prosecutors have been asking for a joint trial.
Minneapolis authorities are locking down the area around the courthouse because of planned protests Friday. Windows on government buildings have been boarded up and law enforcement officials are setting up a perimeter to keep protesters at a distance.
Floyd died May 25 while handcuffed and restrained facedown on a South Minneapolis street as police investigated a 911 call about a counterfeit $20 bill that had been passed at Cup Foods, a local convenience store. During a struggle with police, Floyd was placed on the ground, where Chauvin pressed his knee into the man’s neck for almost eight minutes as Floyd repeatedly complained of struggling to breathe until he lost consciousness and no longer had a pulse.
Floyd’s death sparked a nationwide movement for social and racial justice, with protests emerging in cities from coast to coast along with a renewed and widespread push for police reform. Some of the protests have pitted social justice activists against those backing law enforcement officers.
While police often stand in solidarity during use-of-force investigations, Floyd’s case could be an unusual departure, with the officers who allegedly played a role in his killing arguing that other officers should be held to account instead.
Eric Nelson, Chauvin’s lawyer, said his client didn’t know the full picture of what was happening when he arrived on the scene at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue and saw Kueng and Lane struggling to get Floyd into a squad car.
Nelson, who has argued that Floyd died of a drug overdose and not from Chauvin’s knee restraint, blamed the rookie officers in a motion filed this week, suggesting they had mishandled the scene and caused Floyd’s death. He said the former officers delayed in requesting an ambulance when they suspected Floyd might be on drugs or was having a medical issue and that they did not do enough to try to calm Floyd down by “sitting him on the sidewalk” or “render aid instead of struggle.”
“If EMS had arrived just three minutes sooner, Mr. Floyd may have survived. If Kueng and Lane had chosen to de-escalate instead of struggle, Mr. Floyd may have survived,” Nelson wrote. “If Kueng and Lane had recognized the apparent signs of an opioid overdose and rendered aid, such as administering naloxone, Mr. Floyd may have survived.”
Chauvin has been charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter, while Kueng, Lane and Thao have been charged with aiding and abetting murder. All four were fired by the Minneapolis police department and are defendants, along with the city of Minneapolis, in a federal wrongful-death civil suit filed by Floyd’s family. Justice Department officials also are investigating and are said to be nearing a decision on possible federal charges in the case, according to sources familiar with the investigation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
Chauvin is slated to make his first in-person court appearance at Friday’s hearing. Since his arrest May 29, he has attended all hearings remotely from a state prison where he is being held on a minimum $1 million bail. He is the only officer charged in the case who is still jailed.
Lawyers for Kueng and Lane, rookies who had been on the force for less than a week at the time of Floyd’s death, have argued that their clients were following orders from Chauvin, a 19-year-veteran of the department who had been Kueng’s field training officer and informally advised Lane during his probation period.
Lane, who was holding Floyd’s legs, twice asked Chauvin whether they should reposition Floyd — requests that his lawyer says prove that he tried to intervene with a senior officer but was rebuffed. After Floyd appeared to have stopped moving, Lane told Chauvin he was worried about “excited delirium,” citing a term used by medical examiners to describe the sudden in-custody death of people who might be under the influence of drugs or who are in an agitated state.
“That’s why we got the ambulance coming,” Chauvin told him.
“Okay, I suppose,” Lane replied.
Lawyers for all four former officers have suggested in recent court filings that they plan to argue that Floyd’s death was accelerated by drugs in his system — including what the Hennepin County medical examiner told prosecutors in June was a potentially lethal amount of fentanyl, according to recently disclosed interview notes filed as evidence in the case.
Kueng’s lawyer, Thomas Plunkett, wrote in a court filing this week that his client, who was restraining Floyd’s back, was only on his third shift as a police officer that day and that he had spent approximately 420 of his 730 hours of field training “being taught and evaluated by Chauvin,” whom he was required to call “sir.”
Plunkett suggested he plans to introduce evidence of how Chauvin trained Kueng — including “past opinions and directions” and “past statements he has made about how to handle a subject being detained,” which he wrote would be “derogatory” to Chauvin’s defense.
“Kueng will shift blame onto Chauvin during trial,” Plunkett wrote."
Former officers charged in George Floyd killing turn blame on each other - The Washington Post

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