A judge has convicted Tou Thao, the former Minneapolis police officer who blocked off worried bystanders as his colleague Derek Chauvin fatally knelt on George Floyd’s neck.
Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill, who oversaw Chauvin’s jury trial for murder in Floyd’s death, found Thao guilty of aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter on Monday following a bench trial. Prosecutors had previously dropped the charge of aiding and abetting unintentional second-degree murder — the charge on which Chauvin was convicted in 2021 and sentenced to 22-and-a-half years behind bars.
In that fateful May 25, 2020 arrest, Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck while two fellow officers, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane, were on the victim’s back and legs, respectively. Floyd, 46, pleaded with officers as he was prone, face on the ground, hands cuffed behind his back, telling them he could not breathe.
“This is why you don’t do drugs, kids,” Thao said to bystanders at the time, according to police body camera footage.
Thao was the last of the four officers involved in the arrest that killed Floyd to be convicted. Both Lane and Kueng had pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter charge; Lane was sentenced to three years in state prison to be served concurrently with a two-and-a-half year federal prison sentence, while Keung was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in state prison, concurrent with a three-year federal sentence.
“The family of George Floyd is grateful for another measure of accountability for his death,” attorneys Ben Crump, Antonio Romanucci, and Jeff Storms, who represent Floyd’s family, said in a statement welcoming the new verdict. “Nearly three years after George was killed, the family and Minneapolis community continue to heal as the criminal justice system prevails. With each of these measures of justice, it is even more so demonstrated that police brutality is an illegal – and punishable – act.”
In his ruling dated Monday, Cahill called Thao’s actions “callous.” The judge wrote that Thao “actively encouraged his three colleagues’ dangerous prone restraint of Floyd while holding back a crowd of concerned bystanders begging the officers to render medical aid.”
Thao knew Floyd fell silent and became unresponsive, not moving, the judge wrote.
“In fact, by about six minutes into the restraint, Floyd stopped breathing, lost consciousness, and became pulseless,” the ruling stated.
Floyd flatlined by the time paramedics put him on a stretcher, Cahill wrote.
Thao, a veteran Minneapolis police officer with almost a decade of experience, knew that the prone restraint could kill, the ruling stated. Like the other officers, Thao had received training specifically to turn a person to their side to avoid positional asphyxia.
“Like the bystanders, Thao could see Floyd’s life slowly ebbing away as the restraint continued,” the ruling stated. “Yet Thao made a conscious decision to actively participate in Floyd’s death: he had back the concerned bystanders and even prevented an off-duty Minneapolis firefighter from rendering the medical aid Floyd so desperately needed.”
The judge noted that Thao got a device called a “hobble” from a patrol vehicle, and this alternatively could have been used to safely restrain Floyd. Thao, however, encouraged the other officers not to use it because if they did, a sergeant would have to come out and do paperwork for a use-of-force review under Minneapolis Police Department policy, Cahill said.
“The short of it: Tou Thao did not want to follow the proper protocol and the work it would entail,” the ruling stated. “George Floyd died as a result.”
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Tou Thao convicted in bench trial over George Floyd’s death
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