Floyd homicide defendant: Body cam shows charges should be dropped

Everyone has seen the video that prompted the mass outpouring of anger into the streets of America. What do the body cam videos of the killing of George Floyd show that might change minds on the case? Counsel for one of the other officers on the scene submitted a motion to dismiss today, arguing that the video showed that Thomas Lane could not possibly have known that Derek Chauvin was committing a crime, let alone aid and abet it.

Good luck with that motion, Earl Gray:

Gray has argued in court that the case against Lane should be dismissed because his client twice asked if they should turn Floyd, who was handcuffed and lying stomach-down in the street, onto his side. Chauvin said no.

Lane was holding onto Floyd’s legs at the time. Kueng was holding onto Floyd’s back. Thao was managing a crowd nearby that had begun to gather and while some pleaded with the officers to lighten up. …

Lane was holding onto Floyd’s legs at the time. Kueng was holding onto Floyd’s back. Thao was managing a crowd nearby that had begun to gather and while some pleaded with the officers to lighten up.

The motion includes transcripts of footage from Kueng and Lane’s body cameras. Kueng’s attorney, Thomas Plunkett, confirmed that body-worn camera footage from Kueng and Lane were publicly filed as part of Lane’s motion. The state court website tracking all four former officers’ cases listed the transcripts but did not list the camera videos as having been filed. It’s unclear why; the courts could not be immediately reached for comment.

The body cam footage — or at least its description in court filings — give the most complete account of the incident yet. Floyd apparently didn’t entirely cooperate at first, ignoring commands to show his hands. Floyd apologized and said he had been shot once before by police and that he was flustered at the stop. Lane told investigators from the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension that Floyd had been “digging underneath the seat” when they first approached, however, which made them think he was potentially going to pull out a weapon. It’s unclear whether the body cam footage supports that version, but it would at least have contributed to heightened threat assessment right off the bat.

We also know now why Floyd was on the ground in the first place. The officers had tried to get him into the squad car, but Floyd refused and resisted, as WCCO reports from the body cam footage transcripts:

KUENG: Take seat!

FLOYD: I’m not that kind of guy! I’m not that kind of guy, man!

KUENG: You need to take a seat right now!

FLOYD: And I just had COVID man, I don’t want to go back to that.

Floyd also insisted that he was claustrophobic, and even an offer from one of the officers to sit in the back seat with him didn’t get any cooperation. Whatever else, it’s clear that there was at least some attempt to get Floyd into the car to process the arrest normally, and Floyd refused to comply.

That still doesn’t excuse what Derek Chauvin did — at all. However, Lane’s attorney argued that his client figured that the senior officer had a better grasp on threat assessment, and that Lane questioned Chauvin more than once about Floyd’s status. That much apparently was captured on the body cam:

In a memorandum filed along with the dismissal, Gray cited body camera footage of Floyd’s arrest in which Lane asks, “should we get his legs up, or is this good?” and Chauvin replies, “leave him.” Again, Lane says “should we roll him on his side” and Chauvin says “no, he’s staying put where we got him.” Lane replies, “Okay. I just worry about the excited delirium or whatever.”

According to the memorandum, Lane asks one more time, “should we roll him on his side?” and then once the ambulance arrives, offers to ride along and help with CPR.

Lane’s training emphasized the need to follow direction from senior officers, Gray emphasized — and noted that Lane had only completed his training five days earlier. He also cites the MPD’s own manual, which authorizes neck restraints, and wants the judge to determine whether Lane committed any crime at all:

Gray also cited the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) training manual, which outlines neck restraints and excited delerium [sic]. MPD has sinced banned chokeholds under an emergency injunction.

In his memorandum, Gray says that to prove aiding and abetting, “the state must show that the defendant played a knowing role in the commission of the crime. … Mere presence at the crime scene does not alone prove that a person aided or abetted, because inaction, knowledge, or passive acquiescence do not rise to the level of criminal culpability.”

That’s a good argument, but perhaps not in Hennepin County — at least in a pretrial hearing. A judge might be inclined to consider this an issue for a jury to decide rather than an argument that requires a directed verdict, especially at this early stage. If so, this will definitely be the argument coming from the three other officers charged in this case — they could not have abetted a crime when they didn’t see any crime in process. If the neck restraint was within the rules at the time, then the other three officers would have been expected to follow the lead of the senior officer.

Will that suffice if it has to go to a jury? Don’t forget that the jury will also see just how long Floyd suffered in that restraint until he died. The emotional takeaway will almost certainly be that if jurors could see it on tape, then those three officers should have seen it at the time — especially with an agitated crowd pointing it out to them. Gray and Lane probably only have the judge as the exit here.

Update: The Star Tribune has the transcript of the Lane body cam embedded here. It is very clear that Lane and Keung did try repeatedly to get Floyd into the squad car and that Floyd repeatedly refused to comply. The rest is tough to analyze without the video itself.