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3 former Minneapolis police officers guilty of violating George Floyd's civil rights

Former Minneapolis police officers Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane were convicted Thursday of violating George Floyd's civil rights after being charged with depriving the 46-year-old Black man of his right to medical care when Officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into Floyd's neck for nine and a half minutes on May 25, 2020.

Men convicted of depriving Floyd of his right to medical care, as Derek Chauvin held a knee to his neck

This combination of photos provided by the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office, shows from left, J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao. The former Minneapolis police officers were convicted Thursday of violating George Floyd's civil rights after the Black man was pinned to the ground, leading to his death in May 2020. (Hennepin County Sheriff's Office/The Associated Press)

Three former Minneapolis police officers were convicted Thursday of violating George Floyd's civil rights as a federal jury rejected their arguments that inexperience, improper training or the distraction of shouting bystanders excused them from failing to prevent Floyd's killing.

Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane were convicted of depriving Floyd of his right to medical care when officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into Floyd's neck for nine and a half minutes as the 46-year-old Black man was handcuffed and facedown on the street on May 25, 2020. 

Kueng knelt on Floyd's back, Lane held his legs and Thao kept bystanders back.

Thao and Kueng were also convicted of failing to intervene to stop Chauvin in the videotaped killing that sparked protests in Minneapolis and around the globe as part of a reckoning over racial injustice.

The videotaped killing sparked protests in Minneapolis that spread across the U.S. and around the globe as part of reckoning over racial injustice. Chauvin was convicted of murder last April in state court and pleaded guilty in December in the federal case.

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Floyd's brother, Philonise Floyd, called the verdicts "accountability," but said, "There can never be justice because I can never get George back."

And Floyd's cousin, Brandon Williams said he hoped the verdicts would change laws and policies to "protect people from these situations." He also said the outcome "sends a message that says, if you murder or use excessive or deadly force, there's consequences that follow."

Lane shook his head and looked at his attorney as his verdict was read, according to a pool report. Thao and Kueng showed no visible emotion. Their attorneys declined to comment immediately after the verdict was read.

Acting United States Attorney Charles Kovats called the convictions a reminder that all sworn law enforcement officers have a duty to intervene.

"These officers had a moral responsibility, a legal obligation and a duty to intervene, and by failing to do so, they committed a crime," Kovats said.

The jury that appeared to be all-white reached the verdicts after two days of deliberations. Lane is white, Kueng is Black and Thao is Hmong American.

That was a sharp contrast to the jury that deliberated Chauvin's state murder case. That jury included six white people, four Black people and two multiracial people, according to information provided by the court. 

Prosecutors sought to show officers violated training

Conviction of a federal civil rights violation that results in death is punishable by life in prison or even death, but such sentences are extremely rare. The former officers will remain free on bond pending sentencing. No sentencing date has been set.

Chauvin and Thao went to the scene to help rookies Kueng and Lane after they responded to a call that Floyd had used a counterfeit $20 bill at a corner store. Floyd struggled with officers as they tried to put him in a police SUV.

During the month-long trial, prosecutors sought to show that the officers violated their training, including when they failed to move Floyd or give him CPR.

Prosecutors argued that Floyd's condition was so serious that even bystanders without basic medical training could see he needed help.

Prosecutors told jurors during closing arguments that the three officers "chose to do nothing" as Chauvin squeezed the life out of Floyd. Defence attorneys countered that the officers were too inexperienced, weren't trained properly and did not willfully violate Floyd's rights.

Kueng and Lane both said they deferred to Chauvin as the senior officer at the scene. Thao testified that he relied on the other officers to care for Floyd's medical needs as his attention was elsewhere.

Street art commemorating George Floyd is seen. Derek Chauvin, the former officer who held his knee to Floyd's neck was convicted of murder and manslaughter last April and later pleaded guilty to a federal civil rights charge. (Adam Berry/Getty Images)

Attorneys for the Floyd family said in a statement that the verdicts underscore the need for police departments nationwide to expand programs that encourage officers to stop other officers from using excessive force.

"These officers tried to devise any excuse that could let them wash the blood from their hands, but following these verdicts George's blood will forever stain them," the statement said.

Lane, Kueng and Thao also face a separate trial in June on state charges alleging that they aided and abetted murder and manslaughter.

The verdicts come just days after the conviction of three white men on hate crimes charges in Georgia in the death of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man who was chased and shot in February 2020.

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