2nd trial at Floyd killing centers on shock of duty, code

CHICAGO (AP) — A federal lawsuit against three former Minneapolis police officers seeks to hold them accountable for failing to stop the killing — and perhaps dealing a blow against it is breeding an unwillingness to rein in colleagues.

The circumstances of Floyd’s death — pinned below Officer Derek Chauvin’s knee for more than nine minutes, recorded from multiple camera angles — may help prosecutors clear the sentencing bar on a , in part because it can be difficult to prove. Either way, several former federal prosecutors and legal experts see an accusation of violation of Floyd’s civil rights.

“It sends a real message to counterbalance that set of very strong cultural influences in policing that often prevent an officer from moving forward and reporting or stopping misconduct,” said Jonathan Smith, former Chief of the departmental division that oversees police civil rights investigations.

The federal charges require prosecutors to prove the ex-officers deliberately deprived Floyd of his constitutional rights — meaning they knew what they were doing was wrong and went ahead anyway.

Chauvin was and . Kueng, Lane and Thao are also charged with aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter.

Police departments and local prosecutors have their own means of punishing officers who do not intervene. But high-profile examples show how risky it is, both personally and professionally, for officers intervening or cooperating with colleagues’ investigations.

In Chicago, a key police witness testified that she was called a “rat” by fellow officers who said her calls for help while on duty should be ignored.

In Florida late last year, an officer with less than three years’ experience pulled a sergeant by the belt away from a handcuffed suspect, apparently frightened he was about to spray pepper spray on the man. The sergeant, a 21-year veteran, grabbed the officer – at one point placing his hand to his throat.

And in Buffalo, New York, officer Cariol Horne was fired in 2008 after an arbitration process ruled she put other officers at risk when she arrested a fellow officer whose arm was around the neck of a handcuffed suspect.

The Florida officer won the backing of his chief to intervene, although his public comments did not come until after the dispute had ended. Horne, the Buffalo officer, was — but only after a long court battle and pressure to change state law.

Floyd’s killing in May 2020 prompted many police chiefs to step up their own training when a fellow officer puts someone in danger.

As of mid-2020, 21 of the nation’s 100 largest police departments have adopted officer duty-to-response policies and lawmakers in 12 states have approved similar laws, according to the council’s police task force. of criminal justice.

Minneapolis added a “duty to intervene” policy in 2016. Days after Floyd’s murder, city officials agreed to strengthen it. The state human rights department can now sue the Minneapolis Police Department for any violations.

Joseph Giacalone, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a retired New York police sergeant, said officers knew the consequences of federal prosecutions far outweighed those of domestic sanctions.

“Police know there’s no limit to what the federal government can do,” Giacalone said. “I really think now the risk of a federal indictment is in the back of my mind.”

Federal civil rights violations that result in death are punishable by up to life in prison or even death, but these penalties are extremely rare. Federal sentencing guidelines rely on complicated formulas that say officers involved in Floyd’s killing would get significantly less if found guilty.

During opening statements to jurors in the Floyd case, Kueng’s defense attorney noted that Chauvin was the highest ranking officer present and called “.” Later that week, the attorney sought to show that the department instilled a sense of obedience in recruits and failed to show effective ways to intervene when force was misused.

For some experts, the case’s spotlight on Kueng, Lane and Thao represents another opportunity to jolt police officers and department heads into action and potentially prevent dangerous misconduct that is eroding trust across the community. profession.

“We can’t stop and think it was just Chauvin,” said Kami Chavis, a professor at Wake Forest University School of Law. “Typically, within a police department, it’s a small percentage of officers who are going to behave that way. But when that small group is allowed unchecked, you telegraph to others what the culture is and that it’s tolerated.

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Associated Press writer Mohamed Ibrahim in Minneapolis contributed.

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