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Trial to begin for 3 ex-officers charged in connection with George Floyd's death

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Jury selection gets underway this week at the federal courthouse in downtown St. Paul. That's for the trial of three former police officers charged in connection with the May 2020 killing of George Floyd. Jon Collins of Minnesota Public Radio reports.

JON COLLINS, BYLINE: Thomas Lane and his partner J. Alexander Kueng were the first officers on scene in south Minneapolis on May 25, 2020. That's after workers at a corner store called 911 to report that someone tried to pass a counterfeit $20 bill. Lane's body camera recorded the initial confrontation with George Floyd, who was sitting in a car outside the store.

(SOUNDBITE OF STREET AMBIENCE, KNOCKING ON GLASS)

COLLINS: After they tried to wrestle Floyd into the back of a squad car, veteran Derek Chauvin took Floyd to the ground and kneeled on his neck for more than nine minutes while a fourth officer kept bystanders at bay. Floyd died at the scene. Chauvin was found guilty in state court this spring and sentenced to 22 1/2 years. He pleaded guilty last month to federal charges that he violated Floyd's civil rights. Now the other three former Minneapolis police officers at the scene during Floyd's killing are set to go on trial for violating George Floyd's constitutional rights.

Mark Osler is a former federal prosecutor and a law professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law in St. Paul. He says the federal trial will be quite different from the state murder trial against Chauvin.

MARK OSLER: This trial is really unique and important because it does present the question of the duty of officers on what they didn't do, as opposed to reviewing actions themselves, and how that's perceived by the jury and by the nation is going to be really interesting to watch.

COLLINS: Former officers J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao are charged with failing to provide Floyd with medical aid. Kueng and Thao also face charges that they failed to intervene with Chauvin's use of force on Floyd. Lane's case is seen by legal observers as the strongest. He repeatedly asked Derek Chauvin whether they should flip George Floyd over. Body camera video also captured Lane assisting paramedics as they tried to save Floyd's life.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: You do CPR.

THOMAS LANE: All right.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: And...

COLLINS: Former officer Tou Thao kept bystanders to Floyd's killing away from Chauvin and Floyd. And former officer J. Alexander Kueng helped Chauvin hold Floyd down. Going on trial without Chauvin could benefit the other former officers, Osler says.

OSLER: I think they'll add to one another in the sense that they're all going to point at Derek Chauvin as the primary actor here, maybe as someone that they were scared of or intimidated by even.

COLLINS: Angi Porter is a research fellow at Georgetown University Law Center with roots in the Twin Cities. She says the outcome of the federal trial of these former officers could change how prosecutors approach the upcoming state trial.

ANGI PORTER: They want to do justice, but they also tend to negotiate because if they can avoid pulling together all those resources to put on a whole trial, they will.

COLLINS: Floyd's killing sparked unrest in the Twin Cities and calls for police accountability nationwide. Nekima Levy Armstrong is a civil rights attorney and activist. She says recent prosecutions of police officers are largely due to public pressure.

NEKIMA LEVY ARMSTRONG: Change has happened as a result of people consistently taking to the streets over the last several years and demonstrating and raising public awareness regarding police officers being able to kill people with impunity and how unfair that entire process has been, not to mention deadly.

COLLINS: The judge has said he hopes to conclude the trial within two weeks.

For NPR News, I'm Jon Collins.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALFA MIST'S "FIRST LIGHT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.