Attorneys for two former Minneapolis police officers involved in the fatal encounter with George Floyd say their clients were full-time officers for four days or less when the incident occurred and were following the lead of their senior colleague.
In their first appearances in Hennepin County District Court Thursday, defense attorneys argued that 26-year-old J. Alexander Kueng was working his third shift ever as a full-time officer while 37-year-old Thomas Lane was working his fourth day as a full-time rookie officer the day they encountered Floyd, The Star Tribune reported.
Along with former officer Tou Thao, 34, Kueng and Lane are charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter for their role in Floyd’s death.
If convicted, they potentially face up to 40 years in prison — the same penalty as former 19-year police veteran Derek Chauvin, who was recorded kneeling on Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds. Chauvin is facing a second-degree murder charge.
While the attorney’s for Kueng and Lane said that they were only rookies, police records cited by The Star Tribune show that the officers joined the MPD in February 2019 and became full officers in December.
Minneapolis officers are required to serve a year on probation and spend time doing field training with a training officer before they are fully qualified.
Earl Gray, Lane’s attorney, argued in court that his client had no choice but to follow Chauvin’s instructions.
“What was [Lane] supposed to do? … Go up to Mr. Chauvin and grab him and throw him off?,” said Gray, arguing that the case against his client was weak.
After Floyd was handcuffed he refused to get into the squad car, "stiffened up, fell to the ground, and told the officers he was claustrophobic."
In a nearly 10-minute video, a handcuffed Floyd is shown lying face down begging for his life and crying for his mother while Chauvin kneels into his neck.
Chauvin kneels into Floyd’s neck until he begins to bleed from his nose and becomes unresponsive. Even after Floyd becomes motionless on the ground, Chauvin is shown pressing his knee into his neck for several more minutes as bystanders begged him to have mercy.
Evidence from body cameras worn by the officers during the encounter highlight Kueng holding Floyd’s back while Lane held his legs during the encounter.
As previously reported, Lane is heard asking, “Should we roll him on his side?” And Chauvin tells him, “No, staying put where we got him.”
Lane told Chauvin, “I’m worried about excited delirium or whatever.”
Chauvin replied, “That’s why we have him on his stomach.”
At about 8:24 p.m., Floyd stopped moving and about a minute later, he appeared to stop breathing or speaking, a complaint against Chauvin said.
Even at this point, Lane said, “[I] want to roll him on his side.”
Kueng later checked Floyd’s right wrist for a pulse and said, “I couldn’t find one.”
“I’m not claiming [Lane] was following orders,” Gray told The Star Tribune after Thursday’s hearings. “I’m claiming he thought what he was doing was right because he asked the training officer [Chauvin], ‘Should we roll [Floyd] over?’ twice.”
When asked if Lane had a responsibility to get Chauvin off Floyd’s neck, Gray said a jury would decide that.
“I guess the jury will decide that. In my opinion, no. It would be unreasonable for my client to go up and drag Chauvin off the deceased. … You’ve got a 20-year [sic] cop in the front and my guy’s back there with four days and he says, ‘Should we roll him over?’ and [Chauvin] says, ‘No, we’ll wait for the ambulance’ twice. … I don’t know what you’re supposed to do as a cop,” Gray said.
Kueng’s attorney, Thomas Plunkett, also laid the blame for the fatal encounter on Chauvin.
“At all times, Mr. Kueng and Mr. Lane turned their attention to that 19-year veteran,” Plunkett said, according to The Star Tribune. “[Kueng] was trying — they were trying to communicate that this situation needs to change direction.”
Plunkett said Kueng was captain of the soccer team at Patrick Henry High School, where he graduated and coached youth soccer and baseball. He also volunteered to build a school in Haiti.
Gray told the court that before Lane became a police officer, he worked as a juvenile counselor at a few “juvenile places” in the Twin Cities and once received a community service award from Mayor Jacob Frey and Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo for volunteering with children.
Bail for Lane, Kueng and Thao is set at $750,000 a piece with conditions. Lane, Kueng and Thao are scheduled to appear in court again on June 29. A date for Chauvin's first court appearance has not been set.
The Hennepin County Medical Examiner's office on Monday ruled George Floyd's manner of death was a homicide and stated that he suffered "a cardiopulmonary arrest while being restrained by law enforcement officer(s)." The medical examiner's office listed "arteriosclerotic and hypertensive heart disease," "fentanyl intoxication" and "recent methamphetamine use" as "other significant conditions."