Ex-Minneapolis Police officer and convicted murderer Derek Chauvin and the three other officers at the scene of George Floyd’s fatal arrest pleaded not guilty to federal civil rights charges on Tuesday.
Chauvin, who appeared virtually from Oak Park Heights correctional facility in Minnesota, also faces another alleged civil rights charge accusing him of restricting the breathing of a juvenile in 2017.
That separate case was not the focus of Tuesday’s hearing and arraignment.
In May, Attorney General Merrick Garland’s Department of Justice unsealed an indictment stating that Chauvin “willfully deprived George Floyd of the right, secured and protected by the Constitution and laws of the United States, to be free from an unreasonable seizure, which includes the right to be free from the use of unreasonable force by a police officer.”
“Specifically, Defendant Chauvin held his left knee across George Floyd’s neck, and his right knee on Floyd’s back and arm, as George Floyd lay on the ground, handcuffed and unresisting, and kept his knees on Floyd’s neck and body even after Floyd became unresponsive,” the grand jury charged.
In a separate indictment, prosecutors claim that Chauvin held an unnamed 14-year-old “by the throat” and hit that minor “multiple times in the head with a flashlight.”
Echoing the Floyd case, this indictment claims that Chauvin “held his knee on the neck and the upper back” of the teenager, who allegedly “was lying prone, handcuffed, and unresisting.” A Minneapolis mother said that this teen’s story mirror that of her own 12-year-old autistic child, whose story she shared exclusively with Law&Crime in late May.
Prosecutors accused Chauvin’s colleagues, Officers Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng, of failing to intervene.
“Specifically, Defendants Kueng and Thao were aware that Defendant Chauvin was holding his knee across George Floyd’s neck as Floyd lay handcuffed and unresisting, and that Defendant Chauvin continued to hold Floyd to the ground even after Floyd became unresponsive, and the defendants willfully failed to intervene to stop Defendant Chauvin’s use of unreasonable force,” the indictment states.
The final officer, Thomas Lane, is charged with “deliberate indifference” to Floyd’s medical needs. So are Chauvin, Thao and Kueng.
Chauvin’s three colleagues appeared in federal court shortly after their indictment, where all three were released on a $25,000 bond. All three continue to face state charges related to Floyd’s murder, with a trial set to begin on March 8, 2022.
Following their arraignment, Lane, Thao and Kueng asked for their cases to be severed from Chauvin’s, in light of his murder conviction and the notoriety of his case.
“The rules do allow the court to sever where there is prejudice,” Thao’s attorney Robert Paule said, calling that risk “grave” in his client’s case.
Lane’s lawyer Earl Gray argued that his client shouldn’t “branded” with Chauvin’s conviction.
“Here the jurors will know that this Chauvin guy, who’s sitting there with him, has already been convicted of murder,” Gray said. “If this isn’t substantial prejudice, my goodness!”
The Department of Justice’s attorney Manda Sertich suggested it was unavoidable that the jury would associate the co-defendants with Chauvin, regardless of whether the latter was physically present in the courtroom.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Tony Leung reserved ruling on the matter, ordering further written arguments.
In the immediate wake of Chauvin’s state court murder convictions, Garland remarked that the federal criminal probe against Chauvin had been ongoing as of the day of the state court verdict. The attorney general announced a pattern-or-practice investigation of the Minneapolis Police Department the following day, examining whether the department has “potentially systemic” issues involving uses of force involving people with behavioral health disabilities and protesters.
Another hearing has been scheduled for Thursday, when Chauvin will be arraigned on his separate indictment in the case involving the teenager.
Both proceedings also involve discussions on various pre-trial motions, largely concerning pre-trial disclosures involving experts, witnesses, electronic surveillance and other discovery matters.
(Image via Law&Crime Network)
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