We never forgot the officers who helped pin George Floyd to the ground as Derek Chauvin took his life. Former officers J. Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao are accused of violating Floyd’s constitutional rights while acting under government authority, reported The Associated Press. On the state level, they’re charged with aiding and abetting manslaughter and murder. The video of the incident shows Thao blocking off bystanders while Kueng pressed his knee on Floyd’s back and Lane held down his legs.
Chauvin had taken his guilty plea in December 2021 for violating Floyd’s civil rights and state murder receiving a sentence to 22 and ½ years. AP News reported the indictment against the other three men stated they were well aware of what Chauvin was doing and none of them did anything to stop Chauvin. Additionally, the indictment specified the three are guilty of knowing Floyd was being compliant during the detainment and in need of medical attention but purposefully did not do anything to help.
From AP News:
The three officers are also charged in state court with aiding and abetting both murder and manslaughter.
State prosecutors must prove the officers helped Chauvin commit murder or manslaughter, while federal prosecutors must show they violated Floyd’s rights, essentially by failing to intervene or provide medical help.
Mark Osler, a former federal prosecutor and now a professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law, drew this distinction: The state case is about what the officers did, and the federal case is about what they didn’t do.
AP also reported that most high-profile police brutality cases do not result in federal charges. It is easy to assume the three men will not be doing time for their manslaughter charges. AP cited a case from 2015 where a white South Carolina police officer shot Walter Scott who was running from a traffic stop. The officer’s murder charges were dropped by the prosecution.
From the officers involved in Trayvon Martin’s death to Breonna Taylor, we have barely seen any true accountability. That badge and blue uniform got their charges reduced or cases thrown away all together. According to AP News, the highest sentences for violating federal civil rights could be life in prison or the death penalty but they are rarely handed to officers.
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To bring federal charges in deaths involving police, prosecutors must believe that an officer acted under the “color of law,” or government authority, and willfully deprived someone of their constitutional rights, including the right to be free from unreasonable seizures or the use of unreasonable force. That’s a high legal standard; an accident, bad judgment or simple negligence on the officer’s part isn’t enough to support federal charges.
It should be a constitutional right to not be murdered during an arrest. As we wait for the state trial to begin June 13., we can only hope the grand jury and judge see this case as the orchestrated murder it was.