Judge Delays Trial of Three Officers in Death of George Floyd

The delay in the trial of three officers who are charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder allows for a separate federal case against the officers to move forward.

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MINNEAPOLIS — The trial of three former Minneapolis police officers charged in the death of George Floyd has been delayed several months to allow for a federal case against the officers to move forward.

The decision was announced Thursday by Judge Peter A. Cahill during a pretrial hearing for the three officers, and comes weeks after another officer, Derek Chauvin, was convicted of two counts of murder and one of manslaughter for kneeling on Mr. Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes.

The three other officers, who were scheduled to face trial on Aug. 23, will now be tried in March, Judge Cahill said. The three officers face charges of aiding and abetting second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter.

Two of the officers, all of whom were fired shortly after Mr. Floyd died last May, were rookies: J. Alexander Kueng, 27, who was positioned on Mr. Floyd’s back, and Thomas Lane, 38, who held Mr. Floyd’s legs down. Another officer, Thou Tao, 35, a veteran police officer, was positioned nearby and kept bystanders, who grew increasingly angry as they watched Mr. Floyd repeatedly say he couldn’t breathe, from intervening.

All four officers were seen in a widely circulated cellphone video taken by a bystander that captured Mr. Floyd’s last moments and reverberated around the world, prompting weeks of social unrest in American cities.

The delay in the second trial will have the effect of both allowing a recently announced federal case to move forward, while also putting some distance between the second trial and the enormous publicity generated by Mr. Chauvin’s trial, which was live-streamed and shown on television networks around the world.

“What this trial needs is some distance from all the press that has occurred and is going to occur this summer,” Judge Cahill said in court Thursday.

Mr. Chauvin’s conviction was handed down April 20, and about two weeks later the Department of Justice announced indictments against the four officers on federal criminal charges of violating Mr. Floyd’s civil rights. The indictments were not a surprise, but they were unusual, partly because Mr. Chauvin had already been convicted of murder in Minnesota.

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The decision was announced Thursday by Judge Peter A. Cahill during a pretrial hearing for the three officers.Credit…Still image, via Court TV

In similar cases, the federal government has often only filed charges if officials believe that justice was not served at the state level. For instance, after four officers accused in the beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles in the early 1990s were acquitted, they were indicted on federal charges.

At the same time, federal charges often only come after the conclusion of state cases, so some legal experts were surprised to see that the three other officers were indicted by a federal grand jury before their case went to trial in Minnesota.

Still, even though Judge Cahill cited the federal case as a reason for delaying the trial in Minneapolis, it is uncertain that a federal trial would happen before March 7, when the three officers are now scheduled to go on trial in state court. A spokeswoman for the Department of Justice in Minneapolis said Thursday that no date has been set for a federal trial of any of the officers.

Mr. Chauvin is scheduled to be sentenced on the highest charge for which he was convicted — second-degree murder — on June 25. Judge Cahill ruled this week that Mr. Chauvin could receive a higher sentence than the 15-year maximum that Minnesota’s sentencing guidelines call for in a case similar to Mr. Chauvin’s. Judge Cahill ruled that Mr. Chauvin was “particularly cruel” in killing Mr. Floyd. He also found that several other so-called aggravating factors apply and could justify a higher sentence: that he committed the crime in front of children, abused his authority and did so with the participation of at least three other people.

Legal experts say Judge Cahill is likely to sentence Mr. Chauvin to up to 30 years in prison, although the maximum sentence possible is 40 years.

The trial of Mr. Chauvin was deeply traumatic for the city of Minneapolis, especially its Black community, with the harrowing video being shown repeatedly and emotional testimony from bystanders who witnessed Mr. Floyd’s murder. At its conclusion, the city almost immediately began bracing for the second trial of the other officers.

But now that the trial is delayed, some activists said it would have been better to hold the next trial on time, rather than push it off to allow for the publicity generated by Mr. Chauvin’s trial to subside.

“I think they should have just moved forward,” said Nekima Levy Armstrong, a lawyer and prominent civil rights activist in Minneapolis.

She added, “I don’t think it helps our community in a positive way to have to wait about another year.”

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