A former Minneapolis police officer charged in George Floyd’s killing testified Wednesday that he knew Floyd’s pleas that he couldn’t breathe were becoming weaker, but still did not realize the Black man was in danger even as bystanders became increasingly vocal.
Under cross-examination by prosecutor LeeAnn Bell, Tou Thao said he did not relay any of the onlookers’ concerns about Floyd’s well-being to the other officers, and did not check his pulse after bystanders asked him to. He said he was relying on the other three officers at the scene to care for Floyd’s medical needs while he controlled the crowd and traffic and that he didn’t think Officer Derek Chauvin’s knee was on Floyd’s trachea.
Thao, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane are accused of depriving Floyd of medical care as Chauvin pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for 9 1/2 minutes as the 46-year-old man was handcuffed, facedown on the street. Kueng and Thao are also accused of failing to intervene to stop the May 25, 2020, killing, which triggered protests worldwide and a reexamination of racism and policing. The charges allege the officers’ actions resulted in Floyd’s death.
Kueng knelt on Floyd’s back, while Lane held his legs. They are also expected to testify.
Prosecutors rested their case Monday after calling to the stand doctors, police officers and bystanders to build an argument that the officers should have intervened to stop Chauvin and that they violated their training by not rolling Floyd onto his side so he could breathe or giving him CPR as soon as he stopped breathing and they could not find a pulse.
Defense attorneys are seeking to show that the Minneapolis Police Department provided inadequate training and taught cadets to obey superiors. Chauvin, who was convicted of state murder and manslaughter charges last year, was the most senior officer at the scene.
On Wednesday, prosecutor Bell asked Thao what steps officers took to help Floyd. He replied that they were waiting for paramedics. She also asked if he ever told Chauvin to get off Floyd.
“I did not,” Thao replied, adding later that, “I think I would trust a 19-year veteran to figure it out.”
When Bell asked Thao if he communicated any bystander concerns to his partners, he replied, “Nope.”
On Tuesday, Thao’s attorney, Robert Paule, asked Thao whether he saw any officers roll Floyd over and perform CPR. He said he did not, and presumed that meant Floyd was breathing.
“It indicated that Mr. Floyd was not in cardiac arrest,” said Thao, who later testified that he didn’t know there was anything seriously wrong with Floyd even as an ambulance took him away.
But Bell noted video shows Thao looking at the other officers much of the time and suggested that bystanders and traffic were not big threats.
Lane, who is white; Kueng, who is Black; and Thao, who is Hmong American, also face a separate state trial in June on charges alleging that they aided and abetted murder and manslaughter.
Chauvin, who is white, pleaded guilty in December to a federal civil rights charge.