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Ex-Minneapolis police officers found guilty for violating Floyd's civil rights

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Jurors in the federal civil rights trial of three former Minneapolis police officers found the officers guilty today. The three men were charged with violating George Floyd's civil rights when another former Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, pinned Floyd to the ground with his knee on Floyd's neck, killing him back in May of 2020.

Minnesota Public Radio's Jon Collins was in the courtroom and joins us now. Welcome.

JON COLLINS, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.

CHANG: Can you just explain in this trial just what these three officers were convicted of specifically today?

COLLINS: So two of them, Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng, were convicted of failing to intervene when their colleague Derek Chauvin had his knee on George Floyd's neck for more than nine minutes. And prosecutors said they had an obligation to help Floyd. And then Thao, Kueng and the other defendant, Thomas Lane, were all convicted of failing to provide medical care to George Floyd, which prosecutors said it was obvious that Floyd needed.

CHANG: And I understand that you were one of just a few reporters in the actual courtroom. I'm curious. What was the reaction like in there when the verdict was announced?

COLLINS: So it was a pretty muted reaction. As I watched the verdict being read for J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao, neither of them seem to have any sort of reaction, although I couldn't see their faces at that time. But when his verdict was read, Thomas Lane tossed a pen or something else onto the table in front of him. And he and his attorney both looked frustrated, shaking their heads over and over.

And we didn't have a ton of notice for this. It was 15 minutes notice for this verdict. So there was one woman, Sabrina Montgomery from the Floyd family, who was in court. I saw her in the hallway afterwards, and she looked emotional. And there was also a woman from the defense side in the court who cried as the verdicts were read.

And afterwards, George Floyd's brother, Philonise, thanked the prosecutors for the work that they did here. They said that he can't get his brother back but that he appreciated them working on his behalf. And the judge, after the verdicts were read, did ask jurors to confirm the verdicts, and most of them did that without a problem. But one woman, a juror, did choke up when she confirmed that she'd voted the defendants guilty on all counts.

CHANG: Well, now, this trial - it lasted for more than a month. It was an unusual trial because we don't see a lot of federal civil rights cases brought against police officers. Can you talk about that piece of this?

COLLINS: Well, this is a very rare sort of case. These federal charges are not used very often, and the charges are not straightforward themselves. This is not just murder or manslaughter charges. So it was really hard to predict how long they were going to deliberate here. And the attorneys will tell you never try to predict how a jury is going to respond. But the thinking was that the verdict came back in this case very quickly.

CHANG: Right. Well, the immediate consequences here, obviously, is these former officers will get sentenced. But can you talk about the larger significance that you take away from this outcome today?

COLLINS: So in a way, the government was sending a message by even filing charges against these officers. None of these three were, after all, accused of killing George Floyd. And it's probably too early to tell.

But people who follow these issues of policing closely say this may be a broader message to police departments across the country as they tweak their trainings and policies to be sure that officers on the scene know they have a responsibility for what happens to people in their custody and to even intervene physically with a colleague if it's necessary to save someone's life. And then secondly, these three defendants are also charged in Minnesota state court with aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter. And these guilty verdicts in federal court may incentivize these defendants to work on plea deals on those state charges.

CHANG: That was Minnesota Public Radio's Jon Collins. Thank you, Jon.

COLLINS: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.