Four former Minneapolis police officers pleaded not guilty Tuesday to charges that they violated George Floyd’s civil rights during the police interaction that took his life.
Derek Chauvin, Thomas Lane, J. Kueng and Tou Thao appeared for an arraignment hearing via teleconference.
The federal indictment alleges Chauvin violated Floyd’s right to be free from unreasonable seizure and unreasonable force by a police officer. Thao and Kueng are charged with violating Floyd’s right to be free from unreasonable seizure by not intervening to stop Chauvin as he knelt on Floyd’s neck. All four officers also pleaded not guilty to depriving Floyd of his rights when they failed to provide him with medical care.
During Floyd’s arrest, he repeatedly said he couldn’t breathe as Chauvin pinned him to the ground. As this was happening, Kueng knelt on Floyd’s back, and Lane held Floyd’s legs, according to state court. Thao held back bystanders and kept them from intervening at the time.
In addition to the officers’ not guilty pleas, Tuesday’s hearing saw prosecutors and defense attorneys argue their positions on about 40 pretrial motions Tuesday. In perhaps the most notable motion, Kueng and Thao have asked that their federal trials be separated from Chauvin’s.
Back in April, Chauvin was convicted of murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death, and he was sentenced to 22 1/2 years in prison in June. He is also charged in a separate federal indictment alleging he violated the civil rights of a 14-year-old boy in 2017.
Keung’s attorney Tom Plunkett said evidence against Chauvin would confuse the jury and deprive Kueng of his right to a fair trial. He also said there is a conflict of interest due to Chauvin’s level of culpability in Floyd’s death.
“The jurors will not be able to follow the Court’s instructions and compartmentalize the evidence as it related to Mr. Kueng,” Plunkett said.
Lane asked to join that request, which is being opposed by prosecutors. Those prosecutors have said all four should face trial together, because the charges they pleaded not guilty to stem from the same event and the evidence is similar.
This is not the only legal battle for Lane, Kueng and Thao. They will all face state trial next March on aiding and abetting counts in Floyd’s death.