Former Minneapolis police officer Tou Thao has been found guilty of aiding and abetting in the 2020 killing of George Floyd, a black man who died after his neck was pinned to the ground by another officer’s knee during a botched arrest.
The charge against Thao, one of four officers involved in the arrest, was the final outstanding criminal case related to Floyd’s killing, which in 2020 ignited protests over racism and police brutality across the United States and around the world.
Thao had opted to allow Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill to decide whether he was guilty or not guilty, waiving his right to a trial by jury.
Cahill’s 177-page decision was posted on the court’s website on Tuesday morning (May 2). Thao is scheduled to be sentenced on Aug 7.
Derek Chauvin, a white officer captured on video kneeling on the handcuffed Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes, was found guilty of murdering Floyd in 2021.
As Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck, and Lane and Kueng restrained his knees and buttocks, Floyd pleaded for his life before falling limp.
While Floyd was pinned, Thao stood to one side and kept back a small crowd of people, including an off-duty firefighter, who repeatedly yelled at the police to get off the victim and check his pulse.
They had initially arrested Floyd on suspicion of using a counterfeit US$20 bill at a nearby store.
“Based on his training, Thao was actively aware that the restraint he witnessed grossly deviated from the standard of care, was extremely dangerous, and risked Floyd’s death,” Cahill wrote in his decision.
Two other former officers, Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng, pleaded guilty last year to aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter, the same charge Thao faced. Cahill presided over jury trials for Chauvin, Lane and Kueng.
In written arguments submitted to the judge in January, prosecutors from the Minnesota attorney general’s office said Thao, a nine-year veteran of the force, knew the deadly risks posed by the way his colleagues restrained Floyd.
Thao had a duty to intervene and render medical aid if needed, they said.
“Thao could see Floyd’s life slowly ebbing away,” the prosecutors wrote, saying his conduct was callous. “Yet Thao made a conscious decision to actively participate in Floyd’s death.”
Thao’s lawyers wrote that he believed Floyd was high on narcotics and having a distressed reaction. The officer’s police training had told him that knee restraints on a neck were appropriate in some instances, the lawyers wrote, and he believed the other three officers were mindful of Floyd’s medical needs.
“He did not perform the checks himself because he was dealing with crowd control,” the defence lawyers wrote. “Thao rightfully assumed that the other officers were monitoring Floyd as this was their role per training and policy.”
Chauvin was sentenced to 22-and-a-half years in prison for the unintentional second-degree murder of Floyd, and last year received a concurrent sentence of 21 years in prison on federal charges of violating Floyd’s civil rights.
At a federal trial last year, Keung, Lane and Thao were found guilty of violating Floyd’s civil rights. Lane was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison, Kueng to three and Thao to three-and-a-half years.