The convictions for the three former Minneapolis police officers who were found guilty of violating George Floyd‘s civil rights should send a clear message to members of law enforcement who ignore their sworn duties, civil rights leaders said following the end of the federal trial on Thursday.
J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao were all found guilty of willfully violating Floyd’s rights by not helping him as Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck for more than nine minutes until he died. Kueng and Lane were also found guilty of not trying to stop Chauvin.
The trio’s defense was based on the premise that they were outranked by Chauvin, whose command they were under when Floyd’s was being killed — a premise the jury rejected following about 13 hours of deliberations that began Wednesday.
Attorney General Merrick Garland said that Floyd should still be alive and pledged that his office “will continue to seek accountability for law enforcement officers whose actions, or failure to act, violate their constitutional duty to protect the civil rights of our citizens.”
Those comments were particularly welcomed by civil rights leaders, who all but echoed Garland’s sentiments.
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who has represented Floyd’s family, was among those who said the guilty verdicts were a glaring example of why police reform is so sorely needed in the U.S.
“Today’s guilty verdicts should serve as the guiding example of why police departments across America should expand and prioritize instruction on an officer’s duty to intervene and recognize when a fellow officer is using excessive force,” Crum said in a statement emailed to NewsOne before adding later: “Nothing will bring George Floyd back to his loved ones, but with these verdicts, we hope that the ignorance and indifference toward human life shown by these officers will be erased from our nation’s police departments, so no other family has to experience a loss like this.”
The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) called the convictions “significant” and suggested they would have vast implications for police officers moving forward.
“Officers must know that they will be held responsible for their failure to intervene to stop the criminal acts of fellow officers. Officers must understand that it is in their own interest to interrupt violent, unconstitutional conduct committed by fellow officers, and that their duty to intervene is an affirmative obligation under the law,” LDF Associate Director-Counsel Janai S. Nelson said in a statement. “‘We followed orders’ is not and never has been a defense for officers of the state who participate in the violation of human or civil rights.”
Of course, the true test of accountability will come in the form of prison sentences, as the world saw last week when Kim Potter was given just two years in prison for killing unarmed motorist Daunte Wright last year, allegedly by mistake. A sympathetic judge handed down a very lenient sentence that was not only well below sentencing guidelines but also a far cry from the more than seven years prosecutors were asking for.
While that was a state case and the three ex-officers were tried in federal court, Judge Paul A. Magnuson has broad latitude when determining the former cops’ sentences. The New York Times reported that Magnuson could sentence them anywhere from probation up to life in prison, making the convicts’ future even less clear.
Either way, the convictions were expected to set a precedent moving forward.
“It shifts the entire narrative from misconduct being about just acts of commission to misconduct also being about acts of omission,” Christy E. Lopez, a professor at Georgetown University Law Center, told the Times.
As of late Thursday night, a sentencing hearing had not been set.