Three former Minneapolis police officers are asking to be tried separately from Derek Chauvin in federal court on charges of violating George Floyd’s civil rights.
Attorneys for J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao filed motions this week requesting that their trials be severed from Chauvin’s trial because his case could potentially prejudice jurors against their clients.
“The jury will have insurmountable difficulty distinguishing the alleged acts of each defendant from the alleged acts of his co-defendants,” wrote Thao’s attorneys, Robert and Natalie Paule.
Kueng’s attorney, Thomas Plunkett, also filed a motion requesting a separate trial from Chauvin. In a separate filed request, Lane’s attorney, Earl Gray, asked to join both Thao’s and Kueng’s motions.
No date has been set for the trial. Co-defendants are typically tried in one trial in federal court.
The former officers were federally indicted in May for using the “color of the law” to deprive Floyd of his constitutional rights to be “free from the use of unreasonable force” when Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes last year. Kueng and Lane helped pin Floyd in the street as Thao held back angry bystanders.
In a separate state court trial, jurors convicted Chauvin on April 20 of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Kueng, Lane and Thao are scheduled to be tried in state court next year for aiding and abetting second-degree murder and manslaughter.
Kueng, Lane and Thao had unsuccessfully sought separate state trials, citing similar concerns outlined in their federal court cases.
“The investigation of the co-defendant(s) involves specific facts and certain evidence to be offered at trial against the co-defendant(s); the admission of such evidence at a joint trial would cause confusion and prejudice and deprive [Kueng] of his right to a fair trial,” Plunkett wrote in his federal filing.
In the state case, Plunkett and Gray repeatedly argued that their clients were rookies with a few days on the job when they arrested Floyd, and that they looked to Chauvin, a 19-year veteran on the police force, for guidance.
Evidence and bodycam footage showed that Lane twice asked Chauvin at the scene if they should roll Floyd from his stomach onto his side and was rebuffed by the senior officer. Chauvin had served as Kueng’s field-training officer while Kueng was cementing his place on the force and on probation.
While Kueng’s and Thao’s motions referred to co-defendants, they specifically asked for severance only from Chauvin’s trial.
“There is a conflict of interest between the defendants,” Plunkett wrote. “The conflict flows from Mr. Chauvin’s level of culpability. Due to this conflict, the jurors will not be able to follow the Court’s instructions and compartmentalize the evidence as it related to Mr. Kueng.”
Thao’s attorneys argued in their federal filing that defense attorneys could introduce some evidence at trial that might not be allowed against the other co-defendants because of potential prejudice.
“The jury will have insurmountable difficulty distinguishing evidence presented on one count from that evidence presented on the other counts, and will inevitably consider the evidence cumulatively,” wrote Thao’s attorneys.
In the state case, Thao’s attorneys argued that their client never laid a hand on Floyd and was preoccupied with managing an angry crowd so he wasn’t fully aware of his colleagues’ actions.
© 2021 StarTribune Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC