Former Minneapolis officers charged with violating George Floyd’s civil rights want their federal cases separated from Derek Chauvin

Minneapolis Police Officers
Hennepin County Sheriff's Office

Three former Minneapolis police officers charged with violating George Floyd’s civil rights filed motions Tuesday to separate their federal cases from that of Derek Chauvin, who was convicted in April on state murder charges in Floyd’s death.

Former officer Tou Thao’s attorneys, Robert Paule and Natalie Paule, cited a number of reasons for the request, including that the jury will have “insurmountable difficulty distinguishing the alleged acts of each defendant from the alleged acts of his co-defendants.”

“Evidence may be introduced by each defendant which would be inadmissible against other defendants in a separate trial to the prejudice of those defendants,” was another reason cited by the attorneys. They wrote the former officer would be able to get a “fair and more impartial trial” if he is tried separately from his co-defendants.

J. Alexander Kueng’s attorney, Thomas Plunkett, wrote there is a conflict of interest between the defendants.

“The conflict flows from Mr. Chauvin’s level of culpability,” Plunkett wrote. “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.”

An attorney for Thomas Lane filed a motion asking to join the pretrial motions of his co-defendants.

Magistrate Judge Tony Leung has yet to make a ruling on the motions. Responses are due by August 17.

A federal grand jury in May indicted the four former Minneapolis officers in connection with Floyd’s death, alleging the officers violated his constitutional rights. The indictment said Chauvin deprived Floyd of the right to be free from “unreasonable seizure, which includes the right to be free from the use of unreasonable force by a police officer.” A trial date has not been set for this case.

Thao and Kueng were also charged in connection with their failure to intervene in Chauvin’s use of unreasonable force, according to the federal indictment. Chauvin, Thao, Kueng and Lane all face a charge for failing to give Floyd medical aid.

Arraignment in the federal trial is set for September 14.

Floyd’s death, on May 25, 2020, sparked protests across the country — and the world — that decried racial injustice and police brutality. Bystander video showed Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck while the 46-year-old, handcuffed Black man gasped and said he couldn’t breathe.

Thao, Kueng and Lane were on the scene with Chauvin. The state trial for the three officers — who are charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter — has been postponed until March 7, 2022, so that the federal trial on civil rights charges can take place first.

Jury selection is scheduled to begin March 8, with opening statements set for March 28. They have pleaded not guilty.

Chauvin was also charged in a separate federal indictment related to an incident in which he allegedly used unreasonable force on a Minneapolis 14-year-old in September 2017. A trial date for that case has not been set.