Jury selection begins in US federal trial over killing of George Floyd

J. Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao are broadly charged with depriving Mr Floyd of his civil rights while acting under government authority.

George Floyd case
George Floyd case

Jury selection began on Thursday in the federal trial of three police officers charged over the killing of George Floyd, with the judge stressing repeatedly that fellow officer Derek Chauvin’s conviction on state murder charges should not influence the proceedings.

Minneapolis officers J. Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao are broadly charged with depriving Mr Floyd of his civil rights while acting under government authority.

Separately, they are charged in state court with aiding and abetting both murder and manslaughter as Chauvin used his knee to pin Mr Floyd to the street.

Legal experts say the federal trial will be more complicated than the state trial, scheduled for June 13, because prosecutors in this case have the difficult task of proving the officers wilfully violated Mr Floyd’s constitutional rights – unreasonably seizing him and depriving him of liberty without due process.

Phil Turner, a former federal prosecutor said, said prosecutors must show that officers should have done something to stop Chauvin, rather than show they did something directly to Mr Floyd.

George Floyd case
Minneapolis police officers Thomas Lane, left and J. Alexander Kueng, right, take George Floyd to a police vehicle in Minneapolis (Court TV/AP)

The videotaped killing of Mr Floyd triggered worldwide protests, violence and a re-examination of racism and policing.

Would-be jurors, who answered an extensive questionnaire, were taken into a federal courtroom in St Paul, Minneapolis, in groups on Thursday, and US district judge Paul Magnuson began questioning them.

The process will continue until a group of 40 is chosen. Then each side will get to use their challenges to strike jurors. In the end, 18 jurors will be chosen, including 12 who will deliberate and six alternates.

Among the jurors excused was a man who said he has a problem watching the video of Mr Floyd’s arrest, and decided to stop watching it about six months ago.

Mr Magnuson spoke about the magnitude of the case, telling jurors they must be able to set aside anything they might have learned during Chauvin’s state trial, in which he was convicted of murder and manslaughter, and decide this case based upon its own evidence.

He said the trial is expected to last four weeks. He also acknowledged the media attention on the case, saying: “I’m sure all of you know something about what happened to George Floyd.”

George Floyd case
Minneapolis police officers from left, Tou Thao, Derek Chauvin, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane are seen attempting to take George Floyd into custody (Court TV/AP)

Mr Floyd, 46, a black man, died on May 25, 2020, after Chauvin pinned him to the ground with his knee his neck for nine and a half minutes, while he was face down, handcuffed and gasping for air.

Kueng knelt on Mr Floyd’s back and Lane held down his legs. Thao kept bystanders from intervening.

Chauvin was sentenced to 22 and a half years in prison on the state charges. In December, he pleaded guilty at a federal count to violating Mr Floyd’s rights.

Kueng, Lane and Thao are all charged with wilfully depriving Mr Floyd of the right to be free from an officer’s deliberate indifference to his medical needs.

The indictment says the three men saw Mr Floyd clearly needed medical care and failed to aid him.

Thao and Kueng are also charged with a second count alleging they wilfully violated Mr Floyd’s right to be free from unreasonable seizure by not stopping Chauvin as he knelt on his neck.

It is not clear why Lane is not mentioned in that count, but evidence shows he asked twice whether Mr Floyd should be rolled on his side.

Both counts allege the officers’ actions resulted in Mr Floyd’s death.

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