ST. PAUL, Minnesota (AP) — A former Minneapolis police officer charged with the murder of George Floyd testified Wednesday that he deferred to Derek Chauvin because he was his superior officer and that is what he had been trained.
J. Alexander Kueng is one of three former officers charged in federal court for violating Floyd’s constitutional rights when Chauvin pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for 9½ minutes while the 46-year-old black man was handcuffed, face down in the street. Kueng knelt on Floyd’s back, Thomas Lane held his legs, and Tou Thao held back passers-by.
Kueng testified that he was concerned about their failure to stop Floyd from struggling as they attempted to arrest him after police responded to a 911 call about Floyd using a counterfeit $20 bill at a convenience store. He said when Lane suggested changing the retainer, Chauvin disagreed.
“He was my senior officer and I trusted his advice,” Kueng said.
The three officers are accused of depriving Floyd of his right to medical care. Kueng and Thao are also accused of failing to intervene to arrest Chauvin on May 25, 2020, a murder that sparked protests around the world and a re-examination of racism and policing.
Defense attorneys argue that the Minneapolis Police Department provided inadequate training and taught cadets to obey their superiors. They also said that Chauvin, who was convicted of state murder and manslaughter last year, called the shots that day.
Both Kueng and Lane were rookies, just days away from probationary status. Kueng agreed with his lawyer, Tom Plunkett, that cadets learn unquestioned obedience and that probationary officers can be fired at will.
Plunkett asked if that was something he was worried about.
“Every shift, sir,” Kueng said.
Kueng testified about his response to the 911 call and how he and Lane handcuffed Floyd and struggled to try to get him into their police cruiser. He said he’s dealt with strong people in training, but never someone as strong as Floyd.
“I felt like at any moment he could push me away,” he said.
By the time Chauvin and Thao arrived, Kueng said he was “pretty stressed” and worried that the presence of Chauvin, who had been one of his trainers in the field, might mean he was doing something. bad thing. He said it was his experience that he should defer to his superiors.
Kueng recalled checking Floyd’s wrist pulse after he was face down in the street, and said he told Chauvin he couldn’t find any. He said it was up to Chauvin to check Floyd’s neck for a more accurate pulse and to make decisions on “the difficult balance between scene safety and medical care.”
Earlier, Thao spoke for a second day, testifying that he knew Floyd’s pleas that he couldn’t breathe were getting weaker, but he still didn’t realize Floyd was in danger even as the passers-by became more and more noisy.
Under cross-examination by prosecutor LeeAnn Bell, Thao said he did not convey any of the onlookers’ concerns about Floyd’s well-being to the other officers and did not check his pulse after bystanders asked him. He said he was counting on the three other officers at the scene to attend to Floyd’s medical needs while he controlled the crowd and circulation and that he didn’t think Chauvin’s knee was on Floyd’s trachea.
The prosecutor also asked Thao what steps the officers took to help Floyd. He replied that they were waiting for the paramedics. She also asked if he ever told Chauvin to leave Floyd.
“I didn’t,” Thao replied, later adding, “I think I would trust a 19-year-old veteran to figure it out.”
Thao’s attorney Robert Paule asked his client why officers thought it was important to keep Floyd restrained and Thao said they believed Floyd was in a state of ‘excited delirium’ – a disputed condition in which someone would be extraordinarily strong – and needed medical care from paramedics “that we weren’t able to provide”.
Thao also agreed with the prosecutor that when he called for more urgent paramedics, he knew it was “life or death.” Bell asked if he radioed back to tell them he suspected excited delirium or that Floyd wasn’t speaking or was unconscious, and Thao said no.
Lane is also expected to testify.
Lane, who is white; Kueng, who is black; and Thao, who is Hmong American, will also face a separate trial in June for aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter.
Chauvin, who is white, pleaded guilty in December to a federal civil rights charge.
Webber contributed from Fenton, Michigan.
Find full AP coverage of the murder of George Floyd at: https://apnews.com/hub/death-of-george-floyd