A US federal prosecutor told a jury in closing arguments on Tuesday that three former Minneapolis police officers ignored their training and basic human decency by failing to intervene when their colleague knelt on George Floyd's neck, leading to his death.
Tou Thao, J Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane have pleaded not guilty to charges that they wilfully denied Floyd's right to receive medical aid in police custody during the May 2020 arrest, even as they had what a prosecutor called “front-row seats” to Floyd's murder beside a police car parked in a Minneapolis junction.
Mr Thao and Mr Kueng are also charged with wilfully breaching the handcuffed black man's rights by not intervening while their colleague Derek Chauvin, who is white, knelt on Floyd's neck for more than nine minutes as horrified onlookers begged the officers to check Floyd's pulse.
The federal trial in the US District Court in St Paul hinges on when an officer has a duty to intervene in a colleague's misconduct and has shone a light on a deeply hierarchical culture at police departments.
Assistant US Attorney Manda Sertich said Mr Thao was captured on video choosing to “argue [with] and mock” people on the pavement begging him to help Floyd rather than trying to get Chauvin off his neck.
Mr Kueng, she said, could be seen smiling at a shared joke with Chauvin as Floyd died and picking gravel out of a police car's tyre.
Mr Lane could be heard worrying that they should turn Floyd on his side but did not get up from pinning down his legs.
She said the accused did not do what “human decency and common sense required them to do: to stop the slow-motion killing unfolding right in front of them".
Mr Kueng’s lawyer, Tom Plunkett, hammered away at a major part of the defence contention that the officers were inadequately trained in intervention and that they deferred to Chauvin, who was the senior officer on the scene.
“I’m not trying to say he wasn’t trained,” Mr Plunkett said. “I’m saying the training was inadequate to help him see, perceive and understand what was happening here.”
Earlier, Mr Thao’s lawyer, Robert Paule, said his client thought officers were doing what they believed was best for Floyd, by holding him until paramedics arrived.
He said Mr Thao increased the urgency of an ambulance call for Floyd, something he said was clearly “not for a bad purpose”.
Mr Paule also said Mr Thao reasonably believed Floyd was on drugs and needed to be restrained until medical assistance arrived.
The three officers also face a separate trial in June on state charges alleging that they aided and abetted murder and manslaughter.
Agencies contributed to this report