The day after a judge suspended a Minnesota law requiring officers who use deadly force to detail in greater specificity why it was necessary, we’re reminded of the exact cruelty that inspired the law’s formation: the murder of George Floyd.
It’s been months since former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of murdering the Black father by kneeling on his neck for more than nine minutes, but the federal case against Chauvin and accused co-conspirators Thomas Lane, J. Kueng, and Tou Thao is still playing out as is the state case against Lane, Kueng, and Thao set to begin with trial in March. In the federal case, the former cops pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to violating Floyd’s rights during his detainment, according to the Associated Press. While Chauvin held Floyd face down on the pavement outside a Minneapolis convenience store, Lane held Floyd's legs and Kueng knelt on the Black father's back. Thao kept onlookers at bay. All of it played out on witness video rolled repeatedly during Chauvin’s trial.
While the four officers are charged with violating Floyd's rights when they failed to provide him medical aid, Chauvin also faces one count of unreasonable seizure and force by a police officer, violating Floyd's right to be free, the AP reported. Thao and Kueng face a similar charge of unreasonable seizure by doing nothing to prevent Chauvin from murdering Floyd.
Attorneys for both Lane and Kueng argued during the federal hearing that their clients were too new to police work to be held accountable, with Lane still in training and under supervision and Kueng only having worked his third shift without supervision. “Common sense dictates that a law officer with four days on the job would be less apt to intervene,” Earl Gray, Lane’s attorney, said during the hearing.
Common sense should also dictate that if someone is repeatedly saying they can’t breathe while a full-grown man is kneeling on his neck, maybe a supposed public servant might be compelled to intervene. Kueng, Thao and Lane, however, weren’t compelled. It’s only now that they are standing trial that the former officers are looking to separate themselves from Chauvin. Gray said during the hearing covered by the AP that “everybody knows Derek Chauvin was convicted of murder,” so a jury would struggle to presume the other officers innocent.
When asked, prosecutor Manda Sertich explained that the only reason the men weren't tried together in state court was because of space limitations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but there is more space in federal court. She also said jurors will know the men are linked whether Chauvin is sitting in the room or not, the Associated Press reported. U.S. Magistrate Judge Tony Leung said he would make his decision on the issue at a later date.
Chauvin is also expected in federal court on Thursday on a separate allegation he knelt on a 14-year-old boy's neck in 2017, USA Today reported. And while Chauvin’s brutality continues to play out in court, a Minnesota judge has decided it’s police officers who need more time before being held accountable for killing people.
Ramsey County Judge Leonardo Castro decided on Monday to halt a law that went into effect in March after police lobbyists sued Gov. Tim Walz, the Associated Press reported. The law removed some of the subjectivity in a requirement that officers justify deadly force with “apparent” death or great bodily harm. Instead, it removed “apparent,” simply dictating that officers justify deadly force as a means “to protect the peace officer or another from death or great bodily harm,” the AP reported. Listed as plaintiffs in the suit are law enforcement advocacy groups including the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, Minnesota Sheriffs’ Association, Law Enforcement Labor Services Inc., and the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association.
The groups in essence got what they wanted in the short term, which was to have implementation of the law pushed back until officers could be trained on the new conditions. Their longer play strikes at the constitutionality of the new law, which the plaintiffs are arguing requires officers to give up their right to refuse to incriminate themselves. “The public policy implications are severe, and it is imperative that we get this right,” Castro wrote in his order obtained by the Star Tribune.
He said law enforcement groups "need not wait for one of its members to be charged with a homicide crime before the question of the constitutionality of the provision" is resolved.
"The uncertainty and insecurity would be unconscionable," he added wrote. "Additionally, reason and common sense dictate that we do not allow chiefs of police and sheriffs to prepare and implement training programs that may be based on an unconstitutional premise. If the Revised Statute provision is unconstitutional, it is best we know that now before it is too late."
It might be worth considering who is instead being asked to wait and what is at risk for them. It’s a whole lot more than criminal charges.
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