Federal civil-rights charges filed against officers in Floyd death

The four officers charged in the death of George Floyd ; from left, Derek Chauvin, J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao (Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office)

A federal grand jury on Friday indicted the four former Minneapolis police officers involved in the death of George Floyd on civil-rights charges.

The three-count indictment alleges Derek Chauvin, J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao violated Floyd’s constitutional rights by using excessive force, conducting an unreasonable seizure and failing to provide him with medical care. In addition, Chauvin was named in a second indictment alleging he used excessive force while using a neck restraint during the arrest of a 14-year-old boy in 2017.

The news of the federal charges “reinforces the strength and wisdom of the United States Constitution,” said members of the Floyd family’s civil legal team, Benjamin Crump, Antonio Romanucci and L. Chris Stewart.

“The Constitution claims to be committed to life, liberty and justice, and we are seeing this realized in the justice George Floyd continues to receive,” the statement said. “This comes after hundreds of years of American history in which Black Americans unfortunately did not receive equal justice.”

The Rev. Al Sharpton said the federal charges show the Justice Department does not “allow police to act as though as what they do is acceptable behavior in the line of duty.”

“What we couldn’t get them to do in the case of Eric Garner, Michael Brown in Ferguson, and countless others, we are finally seeing them do today,” Sharpton said.

However, Chauvin was convicted by a jury last month on state murder and manslaughter charges, and Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison acknowledged that prosecutors had no evidence that race played a role in the death of George Floyd.

Further, Barack Obama’s Justice Department, led by Attorney General Eric Holder, investigated the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014. The DOJ confirmed a grand jury’s decision not to indict officer Darren Wilson, concluding the iconic “hands up, don’t shoot” claim was false.

While the Chauvin jury was still deliberating, President Biden said the case “ripped the blinders off for the whole world to see the systemic racism the vice president just referred to — the systemic racism that is a stain on our nation’s soul.”

Along with a black attorney general, Minnesota has a liberal Democratic governor, and Minneapolis has a liberal mayor and a black police chief.

‘Gratuitous’ charges

Reacting Friday afternoon to Sharpton’s comments, civil-rights attorney Leo Terrell said the federal charges are “designed as an insurance plan.”

“They’re going to be sitting there, basically, waiting until the outcome of the state case,” he told Fox News, referring to the trial in August of Keung, Lane and Thao.

In the same segment, former federal prosecutor Andy McCarthy called the new charges “gratuitous” and said the timing is “astonishing.”

He argued the DOJ could have obtained a sealed indictment and waited until after the state case is completed.

McCarthy said there’s already reason to doubt that the officers are getting due process.

“The Justice Department didn’t have to do this now,” he said. “This has the effect of ratcheting up the pressure on the sentencing judge who is going to sentence Chauvin in about a month.”

And it “poisons the jury pool” in the state case against Keung, Lane and Thao.

“All its going to do is add to what’s already becoming a pretty extravagant record of the federal government and the state government taking steps — under circumstances where they’re supposed to ensure the fair trial rights of these people they’ve accused — of undermining their due process rights,” McCarthy said.

Last month, the Biden Justice Department announced it has opened a civil investigation of “systemic” issues in the Minneapolis Police Department.

A similar investigation, of the Philadelphia Police Department, was conducted in 2015 by the Obama-Holder Justice Department. The probe found white police officers were less likely than black or Hispanic officers to shoot unarmed black suspects.

That finding mirrors many national studies. In 2016, for example, a Washington State University study found that police officers are three times less likely to shoot unarmed black suspects than unarmed white suspects, the Washington Post reported.


On Friday, Lane, Thao and Kueng appeared via video conference in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis. Chauvin did not appear.

Chauvin’s attorney, Eric Nelson, contended during the murder trial that the officer acted reasonably in the situation, arguing Floyd was continually resisting arrest and died because of underlying health issues and drug use. Floyd, in fact, while extremely agitated, said numerous times while officers tried to put him in the police car that he couldn’t breath and demanded he be put on the pavement. Nelson, citing numerous issues, including the judge’s refusal to move the location of the trial due to publicity, has filed for a new trial.

Some constitutional scholars argue the federal government dosn’t have a case against the officers because Floyd was subject to lawful arrest and actively resisted.

In deaths involving police, prosecutors must prove the officer willfully deprived someone of their constitutional rights while acting under the “color of law,” or government authority.

Negligence or bad judgment is not sufficient. The officer must know that the action was wrong at the moment it was carried out but did it anyway.

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This article was originally published by the WND News Center.

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