ST. PAUL, Minn. – The federal trial of three former Minneapolis police officers charged with violating George Floyd’s rights was abruptly suspended Wednesday after one defendant tested positive for COVID-19.
Judge Paul Magnuson said the trial for J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao won't resume until Monday. They are accused of depriving Floyd of his rights when they failed to give him medical aid as Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on the Black man’s neck for 9 1/2 minutes while Floyd was handcuffed, facedown and gasping for air. Kueng and Thao are also accused of failing to intervene in the May 2020 killing that triggered protests worldwide and a reexamination of racism and policing.
The judge said that one of the defendants tested positive, but didn't name him, and a news release from the courthouse identified the person only as a “case participant.” Reporters in the courtroom said Kueng and Thao were there, while Lane was not. Lane's attorney declined to say whether his client had COVID-19.
The court's news release said the person would be tested again before the trial resumes, as will all other case participants who had been near that person.
Testimony began last week after a jury was quickly selected on Jan. 20. Magnuson ordered the selection of six alternates instead of the usual two in case any jurors became ill and had to drop out.
To ensure social distancing, Magnuson set limits on who can be in the courtroom. That includes allowing only four pool reporters plus a sketch artist, along with a limited number of family and friends of the officers and Floyd. Everyone entering the courtroom is asked about symptoms.
The general public and other journalists can watch a closed-circuit TV feed in separate rooms.
Masks are mandatory for most people in the courthouse, as they are in public buildings across St. Paul and neighboring Minneapolis. The judge made an exception for himself, citing a chronic lung condition, and for witnesses when they're testifying, so that their voices aren't muffled. He rejected a request from an emergency room doctor who wanted to keep his mask on while testifying.
The courthouse is otherwise closed and has been fenced off due to security concerns. Most other federal court proceedings in Minnesota are being conducted by video or teleconference due to the pandemic, while state courts are using a mix of in-person and remote proceedings.
Like other places in the U.S., Minnesota saw an increase in cases as the highly contagious omicron variant took hold, but some key pandemic metrics have improved in recent weeks. According to data from the Minnesota Department of Health, the state's positivity rate and new cases per 100,000 residents peaked around Jan. 11 at 23.6% and 238.6 cases, respectively and have fallen to 20.6% and 165.9 cases. New hospital admissions for COVID-19, a lagging indicator, are still close to their peak.
Testimony so far has come from the government's witnesses, with defense attorneys expected to call witnesses later. Lane's attorney has said his client will testify, but it's not known if the other officers will.
Floyd, 46, struggled with officers when they tried to put him in the vehicle and after they put him on the ground. Kueng knelt on Floyd’s back, Lane held his legs and Thao kept bystanders back.
Kueng, who is Black, Lane, who is white, and Thao, who is Hmong American, are charged with willfully depriving Floyd of his constitutional rights while acting under government authority. One count against all three officers alleges that they saw that Floyd needed medical care and failed to help. A count against Thao and Kueng contends that they didn't intervene to stop Chauvin. Both counts allege that the officers’ actions resulted in Floyd’s death.
Chauvin was convicted of murder and manslaughter in state court last year and pleaded guilty to a federal civil rights charge. He remains in prison. Lane, Kueng and Thao also face a separate state trial in June on charges alleging that they aided and abetted murder and manslaughter. All three have been free on bail since shortly after they were charged in June 2020.
Webber contributed from Fenton, Michigan.
Find AP’s full coverage of the killing of George Floyd at: https://apnews.com/hub/death-of-george-floyd