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3 ex-police officers are found guilty of violating George Floyd's civil rights

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Now to a story in Minnesota. Three former Minneapolis police officers face the possibility of time in federal prison after a jury convicted them for violating George Floyd's civil rights. The men were on duty with Derek Chauvin in May of 2020 when he killed Floyd by kneeling on his neck for more than nine minutes while arresting him. Matt Sepic of Minnesota Public Radio reports.

MATT SEPIC, BYLINE: Following a trial that lasted nearly five weeks, jurors took about a day and a half to convict J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao of failing to provide George Floyd with medical care. The jury also convicted Kueng and Thao of failing to intervene to stop Derek Chauvin, who was the most senior officer at the scene. Reactions in the St. Paul courtroom were generally muted as Judge Paul Magnuson read the verdicts. Lane and his attorney both shook their heads. Charles Kovats, Minnesota's acting U.S. attorney, said the convictions yesterday should send a clear message to all who wear the badge.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHARLES KOVATS: This is a reminder that all sworn law enforcement officers, regardless of rank or seniority, individually and independently have a duty to intervene and provide medical aid to those in their custody. It's a fundamental duty of policing. It's good policing. In their custody is in their care.

SEPIC: In a statement, Attorney General Merrick Garland added that the Justice Department will, quote, "continue to seek accountability for law enforcement officers whose actions or failure to act violate their constitutional duty to protect the civil rights of our citizens." Chauvin pleaded guilty in the federal civil rights case. He's already serving a 22-1/2-year sentence for murder after a state jury convicted him last spring. Kueng, Lane and Thao all testified in their own defense. At trial, Thao's attorney, Robert Paule, called Floyd's death a tragedy but said that, quote, "a tragedy is not a crime." The defense also focused on Floyd's initial resistance to arrest and what they argued was poor training on the police department's duty to intervene policy. The defense team declined to comment on the jury's decision for this story. Floyd's nephew, Brandon Williams, called the verdicts historic.

BRANDON WILLIAMS: Oftentimes, you know, officers kill Black and brown men and women, and we get little to no consequences. A lot of times, we don't even get charges, let alone with conviction. You know, so we'll take this small victory, you know, and smile about it and be happy. But deep down, we're still hurting.

SEPIC: While the court did not provide a racial breakdown of the jury, the four men and eight women appeared to be all white. Williams says he was initially concerned by that but became increasingly confident that they would return convictions.

WILLIAMS: I think when you look at the video, anybody that's human knew what happened. You know, at the end of the day, race shouldn't cover up right and wrong, and what happened in that video was clearly wrong.

SEPIC: Philonise Floyd added that he thinks the three former officers are as responsible for his brother's death as Chauvin is and that they deserve lengthy prison terms.

PHILONISE FLOYD: They could have stopped him. They knew what was going on. No matter how anybody put it, they knew what was going on.

SEPIC: Kueng, Lane and Thao are expected to remain free on bond until they're sentenced. The men still face another trial this summer on state charges of aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter.

For NPR News, I'm Matt Sepic in Minneapolis.

(SOUNDBITE OF OSCAR HOLLIS' "AURORA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Matt Sepic
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