In their first substantive appearance in federal court, four former Minneapolis police officers pleaded not guilty Tuesday to charges they abused their positions of authority to detain George Floyd during a fatal attempted arrest in 2020.
Derek Chauvin, J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao are accused of using the "color of the law" to deprive Floyd of his constitutional rights to be "free from the use of unreasonable force" when Chauvin pinned down Floyd with a knee on his neck for more than nine minutes, and the other three did nothing to stop him.
"This offense resulted in bodily injury to, and the death of George Floyd," according to the federal charges, which run separate from the state's cases against the same officers.
The four defendants appeared virtually for the hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Tony Leung in Minneapolis, where he heard about 40 motions, mostly on such routine matters as filing deadlines and whether the attorneys plan to call expert witnesses at trial.
Attorneys for Lane and Kueng argued that the indictment inaccurately cites when the officers started working for the Minneapolis Police Department, offering a small window into a defense likely to focus on the officers being rookies who looked to their superiors — including Chauvin, their field training officer — for how to act.
The charging document says Lane and Kueng started with the department in December 2019, but the defense attorneys said the two were in training at that time. When they detained Floyd, they had worked only a few shifts, said attorney Earl Gray, who represents Lane.
"[Lane] did take the oath in 2019," Gray said. "However, he was not on his own, and by that I mean not making decisions on his own, until four days before the incident on May 25," said Gray. He said this distinction is important because the jury will decide whether Lane and Kueng should have done more to intervene.
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Manda Sertich said department records show the two were sworn-in in December. "It's hard to see how there could be an argument made" to the contrary, Sertich said.
The attorneys for Kueng, Lane and Thao also asked Leung to try their cases separately from Chauvin. A jury convicted Chauvin of second-degree murder in the state's case in April, and the high-profile verdict will prejudice the other three to a jury, their attorneys said.
"His actions are going to be held against us in this trial," Gray said. "Everybody knows Derek Chauvin was convicted of murder. Are we going to be presumed innocent? I doubt it."
No trial date has been set for the federal cases, and Leung didn't decide any of the motions Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Thao, Kueng and Lane are heading toward a separate trial on state charges of aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter in connection with Floyd's death. Chauvin, who was tried separately, was sentenced in June by a Hennepin County judge to 22½ years in prison.
Chauvin is scheduled to be arraigned Thursday on a federal charge unrelated to Floyd's killing. That indictment relates to a violent arrest recorded by a body camera, which prosecutors for the state's case described in court documents and cited as evidence of Chauvin's brand of violent policing when dealing with suspects who refused to bend to his will.
On Sept. 4, 2017, Chauvin and another officer responded to a domestic assault, in which a mother said her juvenile son and daughter assaulted her. The officers arrived to find the 14-year-old son on his phone and lying on the floor in the back of the house. They told him he was under arrest and ordered him to get up. When the boy refused, Chauvin grabbed him and repeatedly struck the teen in the head with his flashlight.
The video shows Chauvin using a neck restraint, choking the boy unconscious and placing him in a prone position with a knee in his back for about 17 minutes until paramedics arrived, according to court documents.
Andy Mannix • 612-673-4036