Justified Or Unjustified: The Verdict Of Minneapolis Police Officer Tou Thao
By Kim Yang
The trial of former Minneapolis police officer Tou Thao ended in a guilty verdict on May 1st, 2023. This article will provide a summary of the events leading up to the verdict.
The Murder Of George Floyd
On the evening of May 25th, 2020, George Floyd was sitting in the driver’s seat of a vehicle in front of Cup Foods in Minneapolis when police were called to investigate a possible forgery in progress. Officers Tou Thao, Derek Chauvin, J. Alexander Kueng, and Thomas Lane arrived on the scene and Floyd was arrested.
As the officers were trying to get Floyd into the squad car, he resisted, resulting in three officers pining Floyd facedown – Chauvin kneeling on his neck, Kueng kneeling on his upper legs and holding his wrist, and Lane holding Floyd’s legs. (Thao was keeping bystanders away.)
Floyd slowly lost consciousness. During this time, no officer intervened to help Floyd, who was pronounced dead later that night at a hospital.
The officers’ lack of action in both intervening and providing aid that could have saved Floyd’s life was seen as a violation of the 4th amendment, protecting citizens’ rights against unreasonable seizures and arrests. This led to the indictment of Chauvin for third degree murder. Chauvin agreed to a plea deal, which was then rejected and after a weeklong trial, Chauvin was found guilty on April 20, 2021 of second degree murder, third degree murder, and second degree manslaughter. Chauvin was subsequently sentenced to 22.5 years in prison.
Thao, Kueng and Lane, who were each charged with aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter, respectively. Lane pleaded guilty to a state charge of aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter in the killing of George Floyd was sentenced to three years. Lane was also convicted of violating George Floyd’s civil rights and was sentenced to a two and a half year federal sentence. Kueng and Thao were also convicted on federal civil rights charges and were sentenced to three and a half years respectively.
The Trial Of Officer Tou Thao
In October 2022, Thao agreed to a trial by stipulated evidence in the state case, waiving his right to a trial by jury and allowing his fate to be decided by Judge Peter Cahill. Tou Thao’s trial was scheduled to begin in January 2023.
During his trial, Tou Thao’s attorney asked Judge Cahill to acquit him on a state charge stemming from George Floyd’s death, contending he “never touched” Floyd and was only doing what he was trained to do.
Defense attorney Robert Paule and state prosecutors filed written closing arguments in the state criminal case on January 31st, 2023, leaving it up to Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill to reach a verdict on a charge of aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter.
“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 that “the evidence establishes beyond a reasonable doubt that Tou Thao aided and abetted the second-degree manslaughter of George Floyd.”
On May 1st, Judge Cahill wrote in his 177-page verdict that Thao “actively encouraged his three colleagues’ dangerous prone restraint of Floyd” contrary to his training that the positioning could cause fatal asphyxia.
“Like the bystanders, Thao could see Floyd’s life slowly ebbing away as the restraint continued,” Cahill wrote in the verdict. “Yet Thao made a conscious decision to actively participate in Floyd’s death: he held back the concerned bystanders and even prevented an off-duty Minneapolis firefighter from rendering the medical aid Floyd so desperately needed.”
“The conviction of Tou Thao is historic and the right outcome,” Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, the lead prosecutor of Floyd’s murder, said in a statement. “It brings one more measure of accountability in the tragic death of George Floyd. Accountability is not justice, but it is a step on the road to justice.”
I ask you, what do you think – was the guilty verdict in Tou Thao’s case justified, or unjustified? Go the Hmong Times’ Facebook page and let us know your thoughts.