Two weeks after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty on all counts in the murder of George Perry Floyd, Jr., a federal grand jury in Minneapolis returned two indictments that were unsealed on Friday. The first indictment charges former Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) officers Chauvin, 45; Tou Thao, 35; J. Alexander Kueng, 27; and Thomas Lane, 38, with federal civil rights crimes for their roles in the death of Floyd last Memorial Day.
The three-count indictment alleges that all four defendants, while acting under color of law, willfully deprived Floyd of his constitutional rights, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 242.
Specifically, Count One of the indictment alleges that on May 25, 2020, Chauvin held his left knee across Floyd’s neck, and his right knee on Floyd’s back and arm, as Floyd lay on the ground, handcuffed and unresisting, and kept his knees on Floyd’s neck and body, even after Mr. Floyd became unresponsive.
The indictment alleges that Chauvin’s actions violated Floyd’s constitutional right to be free from the use of unreasonable force by a police officer and resulted in bodily injury to, and death of, George Floyd.
Count Two of the indictment charges that Thao and Kueng willfully failed to intervene to stop Chauvin’s use of unreasonable force, resulting in bodily injury to, and the death of, Mr. Floyd.
Finally, Count Three of the indictment alleges that all four defendants saw Floyd lying on the ground in clear need of medical care and willfully failed to aid him. The indictment alleges that by doing so, all four defendants willfully deprived Floyd of his constitutional right not to be deprived of liberty without due process of law, which includes an arrestee’s right to be free from a police officer’s deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs. The indictment alleges that this offense resulted in bodily injury to, and the death of, George Floyd.
A separate, two-count indictment also charges Chauvin with willfully depriving a Minneapolis resident who was then 14-years-old of the constitutional right to be free from the use of unreasonable force by a police officer, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 242.
Count One of this indictment alleges that on Sept. 4, 2017, Chauvin, without legal justification, held the teenager by the throat and struck the teenager multiple times in the head with a flashlight. The indictment alleges that this offense included the use of a dangerous weapon—a flashlight—and resulted in bodily injury to the teenager. Count Two of the indictment charges that Chauvin held his knee on the neck and the upper back of the teenager even after the teenager was lying prone, handcuffed, and unresisting, also resulting in bodily injury.
Both indictments charge violations of Title 18, United States Code, Section 242. 18 U.S.C. § 242 states that it is a crime for an official acting under color of law to willfully violate a person’s constitutional rights. If government employees, like police officers, use or misuse the power provided to them by their position, they are acting “under color of law.”
An indictment is merely a formal accusation of criminal conduct. The defendants are presumed innocent unless and until they are proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
The charges announced on Friday are separate from the Justice Department’s civil pattern or practice investigation into the City of Minneapolis and the Minneapolis Police Department that the Attorney General announced on April 21. The charges are criminal, while the pattern or practice investigation is a civil investigation that will be conducted separately and independently from the criminal case, and will be handled by a different team of career staff from the Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The charges announced on Friday are also separate from, and in addition to, the charges the State of Minnesota has brought against these former officers related to the death of Floyd. The federal charges allege different criminal offenses; specifically, they allege violations of the U.S. Constitution, rather than of state law.
In a statement, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said of the federal charges, “The federal government has a responsibility to protect the civil rights of every American and to pursue justice to the fullest extent of federal law. Federal prosecution for the violation of George Floyd’s civil rights is entirely appropriate, particularly now that Derek Chauvin has been convicted of murder under Minnesota law for the death of George Floyd. “The State is planning to present our case against the other three defendants to another jury in Hennepin County later this summer.”
Civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharptonmapplauded the indictment, with a statement that read in part:
“For many years we have tried to get the federal government to make it clear that these crimes are not only state crimes but violate civil rights on a federal level when police engage in this kind of behavior. 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 and this is a significant development for those of us who have been engaged in the struggle and police reform movement.”
The federal criminal cases are being prosecuted by Acting U.S. Attorney W. Anders Folk of the District of Minnesota, Special Litigation Counsel Samantha Trepel and Trial Attorney Tara Allison of the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Samantha Bates, LeeAnn Bell, Evan Gilead, Manda Sertich and Allen Slaughter of the District of Minnesota.
For more on the Derek Chauvin case, go here.
Information provided in part by the U.S. Department of Justice.