A judge set bail at $750,000 apiece Thursday for three fired Minneapolis police officers charged with aiding and abetting in the killing of George Floyd, as a memorial service took place just blocks away.
Tou Thao, Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng made their first appearances in Hennepin County District Court as friends, relatives and celebrities gathered to memorialize Floyd at a nearby Bible college.
The Minneapolis Police Department fired them last week, along with Derek Chauvin, who is charged with second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in Floyd’s May 25 death. Widely seen bystander video shows the white police officer pressing his knee into Floyd’s neck, ignoring the African American man’s pleas that he can’t breathe, until he stops moving.
Defense attorneys argued for lower bail. Attorney Earl Gray, representing Lane, told the court that Chauvin was the senior officer on the scene and that when Floyd died it was only Lane’s fourth day on the job. It was also Kueng’s fourth day as an officer.
Gray said all Lane did was to hold Floyd’s feet so he couldn’t kick. He also pointed out that the complaint says Lane asked Chauvin twice if they should roll Floyd over and expressed concern that Gray might be in delirium. The attorney said Lane performed CPR in the ambulance.
“What was my client supposed to do but follow what his training officer said? Is that aiding and abetting a crime?” Gray asked.
Attorneys for Kueng and Thao did not address the merits of the charges in court and told reporters afterward that they declined to comment on the case for now out of respect for Floyd’s family on the day of his first memorial service.
Defendants don’t normally enter pleas during their first appearances in Minnesota courts, which tend to be brief proceedings. Judge Paul Scoggin set their next court dates for June 29. Gray said he plans to renew his arguments for lower bail then, saying it could take more than a year for Lane’s case to go to trial.
If convicted, Chauvin faces a maximum of 40 years in prison on the murder count and 10 years for manslaughter. Under Minnesota law, aiding and abetting second-degree murder is tantamount a second-degree murder charge, so Thao, Lane and Kueng face the same potential penalties as Chauvin if convicted.
A date for Chauvin’s first court appearance has not been set. He was arrested May 29. The latest criminal complaint against him says his actions were a “substantial causal factor in Mr. Floyd losing consciousness, constituting substantial bodily harm, and Mr. Floyd’s death as well.”
The narratives in the other three complaints are almost identical to the one against Chauvin. The complaint against Lane, 37, notes that he asked twice about rolling Floyd on his side and wondered about delirium, but went on to say that Lane “took no actions to assist Mr. Floyd, to change his position, or to reduce the force the officers were using against Mr. Floyd.”
The complaint against Kueng, 26, says he was positioned between Chauvin and Lane and could hear their comments. The complaint against Thao, 34, who was seen in the cellphone video standing near a crowd of bystanders, says Thao initially got a hobble restraint from the squad car, “but the officers decided not to use it and maintained their positions.”
Following days of nationwide protests decrying police brutality and discrimination, Gov. Tim Walz and the Minnesota Department of Human Rights ordered a civil rights investigation of the police department to determine how to address its history of racial discrimination and find solutions for systemic change.