On Tuesday, Cahill’s ruling was released. He wrote that Thao “actively encouraged his three colleagues’ dangerous prone restraint of Floyd” despite his training and knowledge in how the position could cause fatal asphyxia, according to CNN.
Like the bystanders, Thao could see Floyd’s life slowly ebbing away as the restraint continued. 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.
On May 25, 2020, Thao stood nearby as ex-officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for nine-and-a-half minutes, causing him to suffocate to death.
While Thao was not involved in physically retraining Floyd, he watched as Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck and ordered the crowd not to interfere with police. According to prosecutors, he also repeatedly ignored bystanders’ pleas to help Floyd.
Thao argued that he was not able to interfere because he was trying to control the crowd and traffic. His attorney Robert Paule also claimed that Thao was not aware that Floyd was not breathing.
However, prosecutor Matthew Frank wrote that Thao “assisted their crime by holding back concerned bystanders” and that he knew his fellow officers were restraining Floyd in a way that was “extremely dangerous.”
Cahill also disputed Thao’s claim of innocence and wrote:
Thao was trained on MPD’s use of force and medical policies, which are consistent with generally accepted policing practices. Under those policies and practices, it was objectively unreasonable to (among other things): encourage fellow officers to engage in a dangerous prone restraint for 9 minutes and 24 seconds; encourage those officers not to use a hobble; actively assist their restraint by acting as a ‘human traffic cone’; and prevent bystanders from rendering medical aid.
Thao’s actions were even more unreasonable in light of the fact that he was under a duty to intervene to stop the other officers’ excessive use of force and was trained to render medical aid.
Chauvin was later convicted of murder and manslaughter in June 2021. The two other officers involved — J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane — were found guilty in federal court of violating Floyd’s civil rights and were also convicted of aiding and abetting manslaughter.
Thao’s sentencing is set for Aug. 7. He is currently serving a 3.5-year sentence for violating Floyd’s civil rights.
The verdict marks the end of state and federal trials for the former officers involved in Floyd’s death.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, who served as the lead prosecutor of Floyd’s murder, called Thao’s conviction “historic and the right outcome,” noting that “accountability is not justice, but it is a step on the road to justice.”
While we have now reached the end of the prosecution of Floyd’s murder, it is not behind us. There is much more that prosecutors, law-enforcement leaders, rank-and-file officers, elected officials, and community can do to bring about true justice in law enforcement and true trust and safety in all communities. To begin with, Congress must act: almost three years after his death, Congress has still not passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. That must change now.
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