Ex-officer charged with violating George Floyd’s civil rights testifies

Fired Minneapolis police officer Tou Thao claimed that pinning a suspect with a knee was part of his police academy training.

Tou Thao, one of the former Minneapolis police officers charged with violating the civil rights of George Floyd during his fatal arrest on May 25, 2020, testified Tuesday in his own defense at the federal trial. 

Thao testified that pinning a suspect with a knee was part of his training at the police academy, which he attended in 2009. His attorney, Robert Paule, showed the jury a photo of Thao and another cadet pinning an actor posing as a suspect to the ground, according to ABC News.

Former Minneapolis Police officer Tou Thao (left) exits the Hennepin County Government Center, after a courthouse appearance, on July 21, 2020, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

Thao noted that the move was a commonly practiced restraint where the knee is used as leverage to prevent a suspect from rolling around or getting up. 

“Just to be clear, is this something that was typically taught at the academy when you were there?” Paule asked as he showed the jury several photos of police cadets in training sessions with their knees on the backs and necks of actors pretending to be suspects. Thao replied, “Yes.”

Thao also recounted the circumstances of the day saying that he was more focused on the people who were looking on during the arrest and testified that they were getting increasingly “upset.”

According to The Washington Post, Thao testified that it was not his “role” to check on Floyd’s health condition, despite Minneapolis Police Department policy where an officer is tasked with intervening or stopping excessive force and to render medical aid when it is needed. 

Additionally, Thao revealed that he and his partner, Derek Chauvin, were called off the call to Cup Foods where Floyd had been accused of passing a fake $20 bill. However, they continued to the fateful call.

Thao also invoked the racist trope that Floyd had ”super-human strength that more than three officers could handle,” saying that he had ”never seen this much of a struggle,” in his eight-year police career.

He also said that the grocery store was a “well-known Bloods hangout” that was ”hostile to police.”

Thao, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane are all charged with violating Floyd’s constitutional rights to be free from unreasonable seizure and from unreasonable force by a police officer. Kueng and Thao were charged with violating Floyd’s right to be free from unreasonable seizure by not intervening as Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck. Lane was not hit with the additional charge because he expressed concern for Floyd’s well-being during the arrest. 

In December, Chauvin pleaded guilty to the federal charges. He faces up to 25 years in prison which will likely be served concurrently with his state sentence of 22-and-a-half years in prison for Floyd’s murder. 

Thao, Kueng, and Lane are all expected to testify on their own behalf. Darnella Frazier—whose videotape of the incident prompted global outrage against police violence is also on the witness list, according to The Washington Post. 

Additionally, use-of-force experts and Genevieve Hanson — the off-duty firefighter who testified during the state trial that she was blocked by Thao when she asked to check Floyd’s pulse — have also testified. 

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