The indictment handed up by the federal grand jury in Minnesota names as defendants all four Minneapolis police officers who were involved when George Floyd was killed in May 2020. But not all counts applied to all of the defendants, who were fired soon after the killing.
Derek Chauvin — the veteran officer who kept his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes and was convicted of second-degree murder in April — pleaded guilty in December to the federal charges against him. He was the only defendant named in Count 1 of the indictment, so that count is not at issue in the trial.
The other three former officers — Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane — are being tried in federal court in Minneapolis on the indictment’s two remaining counts. Their state trial has been put off until after the federal trial has concluded.
Here is a guide to understanding the charges.
Deprivation of rights under color of law.
Each count in the indictment involves a version of the same federal offense: depriving Mr. Floyd of constitutionally protected rights “under color of law.”
A section of the U.S. Code that has been on the books in various forms for more than a century makes it a crime for any government official, including a police officer, to willfully deprive any person of rights “secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States” while performing official duties or purporting or pretending to do so.
Failure to intervene.
Applies to Mr. Thao and Mr. Kueng.
One count is grounded in the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee against unreasonable search and seizure.
It accuses Mr. Thao and Mr. Kueng of willfully failing to intervene when they knew Mr. Chauvin was using unreasonable force in restraining Mr. Floyd, continuing to kneel on his neck even after Mr. Floyd became unresponsive.
Mr. Lane is not charged in this count, apparently because he spoke up during the encounter to suggest that Mr. Floyd be repositioned so he could breathe.
Failure to render assistance.
Applies to Mr. Thao, Mr. Kueng and Mr. Lane.
The other count is grounded in the Fifth Amendment, accusing the defendants of depriving Mr. Floyd of liberty without due process. The particular liberty it cites is an arrested person’s “right to be free from a police officer’s deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs.”
The officers are accused of willfully failing to aid Mr. Floyd even though they were aware that he was lying on the ground in clear need of medical care and at substantial risk of harm.
Mr. Chauvin was also named in this count, and has pleaded guilty.
Wide range of possible sentences.
The federal statute calls for punishing each offense with a fine, a prison term or both, with escalating maximum sentences depending on whether bodily injury or other aggravating factors were involved.
In this case, the indictment specifies that the offenses resulted in bodily injury and death for Mr. Floyd. Under the statute, that would theoretically open the door to any sentence up to and including death or life in prison.
But prosecutors are not expected to seek a sentence quite that severe if they secure convictions in this case. For Mr. Chauvin, who pleaded guilty to two counts, they have recommended a sentence of 300 months, or 25 years.