A three-year-long saga of the officers involved in murdering George Floyd is finally coming to an end with the conviction of the last officer involved in the tragedy.
On Tuesday morning, former Minneapolis police officer Tou Thao was convicted of aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter, in an opinion written by presiding Judge Peter Cahill and signed Monday evening. As part of an agreement between Attorney General Keith Ellison’s office and Thao, in which he waived his right to a jury trial as well as to cross-examine and confront witnesses and testify in his own defense, the court dismissed the more serious murder charges that Thao aided and abetted Derek Chauvin in Floyd’s death.
The bench trial, held by stipulated evidence, involved Judge Cahill relying on and analyzing the evidence presented by attorneys on both sides. Each side submitted their arguments on January 31, and Cahill had 90 days from that date to render a verdict.
“Thao knew, as the minutes passed [and Derek Chauvin, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane continued to restrain Floyd], that Floyd had stopped talking and fallen silent, had stopped moving altogether, and had become totally non-responsive,” wrote Cahill in his opinion convicting him of aiding and abetting manslaughter.
Thao was performing crowd control at 38th and Chicago on May 25, 2020, as his partner Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck, killing him. While doing so, he prevented an off-duty Minneapolis firefighter from providing needed medical care and said to onlookers, “This is why you don’t do drugs, kids.” The Hennepin County medical examiner did not find any evidence that Floyd’s use of drugs caused his death.
“Like the bystanders, Thao could see Floyd’s life slowly ebbing away as the restraint continued. Yet Thao made a conscious decision to actively participate in Floyd’s death: he held back the concerned bystanders and even prevented an off-duty Minneapolis firefighter from rendering the medical aid Floyd so desperately needed,” wrote Cahill, adding that Thao retrieved a hobble, a restraint device used to render suspects immobile, but decided to tell his former colleagues not to use it, to avoid having a sergeant respond to the scene and a use-of-force review. “The short of it: Tou Thao did not want to follow the proper protocol and the work it would entail. George Floyd died as a result.”
Both J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane struck plea deals and are serving their respective sentences in federal prison. Chauvin, who is also serving time in federal prison, had an almost month-long trial that was televised nationally. He was convicted in his state case two years ago this month.
David Schultz, an attorney who teaches political science at Hamline University, believes both sides agreed to a trial based on stipulated evidence because they don’t dispute what Thao did that day when George Floyd was murdered. “It’s just a question of, do the facts indicate that the law has been broken,” Schultz said.
Thao’s conviction is especially crucial because no jury was involved. “What jurors have to do besides assess credibility is … they can be–they’re not supposed to be–moved by emotion,” says Schultz. “Cahill’s not going to be moved by emotion.”
In a statement released following Tuesday’s conviction, Attorney General Keith Ellison heralded the conviction as a “historic and right” outcome. “It brings one more measure of accountability in the tragic death of George Floyd,” said Ellison. “My thoughts today are with George Floyd, his young daughter, and his family. Floyd’s loved ones can never have him back, yet they have turned their private tragedy into a public movement for accountability, healing, and justice that keeps Floyd’s legacy vibrant and alive to this day and beyond.”
Ellison in his statement also called for Congress to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which would make it easier to convict officers who engage in reckless misconduct as well as limit qualified immunity. The law would also grant the Department of Justice administrative subpoena powers when conducting a pattern-in-practice investigation. He also thanked his county and federal prosecutorial colleagues, as well as “the community in Minnesota and around the world for their clear, unrelenting focus on accountability and justice.”
Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty also released a statement Tuesday expressing gratitude for the conviction and the prosecution team that prevailed, adding that those who have the power must do the work to make our communities safe. “Today, the person who aided in the murder by preventing community members from helping Mr. Floyd has been found guilty and held accountable,” said Moriarty. “Those of us in leadership positions in the legal system have much work to do when it comes to building trust and safety in our communities. We must all commit to doing our part to make our neighborhoods safe for everyone.”
Floyd family attorney Ben Crump, along with co-counsel Antonio Romanucci and Jeff Storms, said the family was grateful for the conviction. “Nearly three years after George was killed, the family and Minneapolis community continue to heal as the criminal justice system prevails. With each of these measures of justice, it is even more so demonstrated that police brutality is an illegal—and punishable—act,” said the attorneys in a statement.
Thao’s conviction along with Chauvin’s conviction and Kueng and Lane’s decision to strike plea deals means that George Floyd Square’s Justice Resolution 001 demand has been met. The demand calls for the four officers involved in murdering George Floyd to be tried in Minneapolis and is among a list of 24 demands crafted by community activists who reclaimed 38th and Chicago days following his murder.
“All four former Minneapolis Police officers who lynched George Floyd have been found guilty in the city of Minneapolis,” said lead caretaker Marcia Howard in an Instagram post while calling attention to city, county, and state officials to meet the remaining demands before community members will entertain discussion on completely reopening the street to traffic. “Protestors remain at this spot with eyes on any and all the 24 demands to be fulfilled. We still stand. Meet the demands.”
Thao is currently being held in solitary confinement at the Hennepin County jail inside Minneapolis City Hall, where he is serving a federal sentence for violating George Floyd’s civil rights. He will be sentenced in-person at the Hennepin County Government Center at 9 a.m. on August 7.
Support Black local news
Help amplify Black voices by donating to the MSR. Your contribution enables critical coverage of issues affecting the community and empowers authentic storytelling.
Leave a Reply