One of the former Minneapolis police officers involved in the death of George Floyd has been found guilty of aiding and abetting manslaughter for his role in the killing nearly three years ago. A judge in Hennepin County, Minnesota, issued the ruling for Tou Thao, one of four ex-officers who have faced charges in the aftermath of Floyd’s death, on Monday night.
Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man accused of trying to make a convenience store purchase with a counterfeit bill, died on May 25, 2020, after officer Derek Chauvin, who is white, pinned him to the ground with his knee on Floyd’s neck for 9 1/2 minutes. Thao held back bystanders while his colleagues restrained Floyd. Bystander video footage of the violent arrest went viral online and shook the country, precipitating a nationwide reckoning over racism and police brutality.
In body camera footage subsequently released by the Minneapolis Police Department, Thao could be heard telling a crowd of people gathering at the site of the arrest, “This is why you don’t do drugs, kids.” He also instructed an off-duty firefighter to “back off” when she asked to check Floyd’s pulse,reported.
Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill issued his ruling in a 177-page decision on Monday, calling Thao’s actions “objectively unreasonable” during the arrest that led to Floyd’s death.
“Thao knew that this prone restraint was extremely dangerous because it can cause asphyxia— the inability to breathe—the exact condition Floyd repeatedly told the officers he was suffering,” Cahill wrote, noting that Chauvin, along with former Minneapolis police officersand , used their knees to “forcefully and unrelentingly” pin down Floyd’s “neck, his middle back, and his lower back and with arms also restraining Floyd’s legs and his handcuffed arms (held behind his back while he was in the prone position).”
“Yet Thao made the conscious decision to aid that dangerous restraint: he actively encouraged the other three officers and assisted their crime by holding back concerned bystanders, declining to render medical aid to Floyd, not instructing any of the other three officers to render medical aid to Floyd, and not permitting any of the bystanders to render medical aid to Floyd, including the off-duty Minneapolis firefighter on the scene trained in CPR,” the decision read.
Cahill ordered a pre-sentence investigation and scheduled a sentencing hearing for Thao on Aug. 7. Thao, Kueng and Lane were previously convicted ofin connection with Floyd’s killing and respectively sentenced to 3 1/2 years, 3 years, and 2 1/2 years in prison. Kueng and Lane have already been convicted on state charges as well, with the former officer sentenced to 3 1/2 years imprisonment and the latter sentenced to 3 years.
Chauvin was convicted in April 2021 on state charges for murder and manslaughter during a trial also presided over by Cahill, who sentenced him to 22 1/2 years in prison. Although Chauvin appealed the conviction, it was upheld in a decision by the Minnesota Court of Appeals last month. He was additionally sentenced to 21 years imprisonment for his federal conviction on civil rights violations.
All four former officers will serve their state and federal sentences concurrently. Thao is the only one who has not admitted wrongdoing and never pleaded guilty to charges, at the state or federal level, brought in the wake of Floyd’s killing.
While both Kueng and Lane entered guilty pleas in their own state trials, Thao rejected a similar deal, instead agreeing to a stipulated evidence trial, which in Minnesota asks opposing parties to stipulate to “a body of evidence containing contrary versions of events.” When he rejected the plea deal, Thao said, “it would be lying” if he were to plead guilty.
However, in Monday’s decision, Judge Cahill concluded that “[i]n this case, the evidence overwhelmingly proves that Tou Thao aided and abetted manslaughter in the second degree on May 25, 2020,” writing earlier that, under Minnesota law, “a person is liable for aiding and abetting manslaughter in the second degree when he knowingly and intentionally aids a principal’s grossly negligent act that results in a death.”
“Where the principal and the knowing and intentional accomplice act together with conscious disregard of a risk, both are culpable for their respective actions,” Cahill wrote.
With Thao’s conviction for aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter, another charge for aiding and abetting second-degree murder was dropped. The latter, more serious charge carried a presumptive prison sentence of 12 1/12 years.