(MINNEAPOLIS) — Former Minneapolis police officer Tou Thao’s attorney is asking a judge to acquit him on a state charge stemming from George Floyd’s death, contending he “never touched” the 46-year-old Black man and was only doing what he was trained to do during the 2020 incident that sparked protests across the globe.
Defense attorney Robert Paule and state prosecutors filed written closing arguments in the state criminal case on Tuesday, leaving it up to Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill to reach a verdict on a charge of aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter.
Cahill has until mid-February to reach a verdict based on a review of evidence stipulated by prosecutors and defense attorneys.
“Thao is innocent of the charges against him because he did not intend that his specific actions were done to assist in the commission of a crime,” Paule wrote in his closing argument. “Every one of Thao’s actions was done based upon the training he received from the Minneapolis Police Department.”
Prosecutors from the state Attorney General’s office asked Cahill to find Thao guilty, contending in their closing argument that “the evidence establishes beyond a reasonable doubt that Tou Thao aided and abetted the second-degree manslaughter of George Floyd.”
The prosecutors added, Thao “actively encouraged his colleagues’ dangerous prone restraint, and held back a crowd of concerned onlookers who begged the officers to render medical aid.”
The 36-year-old Thao has already been convicted on federal charges of violating Floyd’s civil rights and is currently serving a 3 1/2-year prison sentence.
Thao is one of four former officers to face both state and federal charges in Floyd’s death, including 46-year-old Derek Chauvin, who was captured on security video and witness cell phone footage digging his knee into the back of Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes, rendering the handcuffed and prone man unconscious and without a pulse.
Floyd was later pronounced dead at a hospital.
A Hennepin County jury convicted Chauvin in April 2021 of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Cahill, who presided over Chauvin’s trial, sentenced the veteran cop to 22 1/2 years in prison.
Chauvin later pleaded guilty to federal charges of violating Floyd’s civil rights and was sentenced to 21 years in federal prison, which he is serving concurrently with his state sentence.
Last month, Chauvin’s attorney filed an appeal of his state court conviction, arguing pretrial publicity, the ongoing civil unrest, alleged exclusion of evidence and “misconduct” from the prosecution led to an unfair trial.
Former officers J. Alexander Kueng, 30, and Thomas Lane, 40, both pleaded guilty last year to state charges of aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter after they were convicted along with Thao in the federal case.
Lane and Kueng are both serving 2 1/2-year prison sentences in the federal case. Lane also received a sentence of three years in the state case, while Kueng was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in the state case.
On Oct. 24, the day their state trial was set to begin, Lane and Kueng pleaded guilty. On the same day, Thao opted to proceed with the trial, but said didn’t want a jury to render a verdict. He asked Cahill to decide his fate.
On Memorial Day 2020, all four officers responded to a Cups Food store in Minneapolis on a complaint that Floyd attempted to use a fake $20 bill to buy cigarettes. When the handcuffed Floyd resisted getting into the back of a police SUV, Lane, Kueng and Chauvin held him in a prone position on the pavement as Thao stood by keeping witnesses at bay, according to evidence in the case.
In his written closing argument, Thao’s attorney claimed his client did not recognize Chauvin was committing a criminal act because the restraint he was using on Floyd, having his knee on the back of Floyd’s neck, was taught in the police academy, a claim disputed by prosecutors.
The defense attorney also argued that Thao, based on his training, thought Floyd was on drugs and experiencing “excited delirium,” a syndrome in which a subject displays wild agitation and violent behavior that can sometimes lead to death. Thao’s attorney contends that Thao suggested an alternative restraint of placing Floyd in a hobble, but Chauvin rejected the idea.
Thao’s attorney also claimed his client radioed for paramedics to step up their response to Code 3 with lights and sirens, and that he turned on the emergency lights of his squad car to pinpoint the location of the incident to paramedics.
Prosecutors noted in their closing argument that the Minneapolis Police Department’s motto is “to protect with courage, to serve with compassion.”
“But on May 25, 2020, Tou Thao acted without courage to serve and displayed no compassion,” prosecutors wrote.
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