The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Defense rests after testimony from former Minneapolis officer who said he tried to get Chauvin to reposition Floyd

Thomas K. Lane was the last of three former officers to testify in their federal trial over Floyd’s killing, paving the way for closing arguments Tuesday

This sketch shows Thomas K. Lane in federal court in St. Paul, Minn., on Feb. 21. (Cedric Hohnstadt/AP)
8 min

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Defense testimony in the federal trial over George Floyd’s death concluded Monday as the last of the three former Minneapolis police officers charged with violating his civil rights took the stand, paving the way for closing arguments in the case to begin Tuesday.

Thomas K. Lane, one of three former officers on trial on charges of violating Floyd’s civil rights during the fatal May 2020 arrest, testified he twice pressed Derek Chauvin, then also a police officer, to roll Floyd onto his side after he had stopped resisting but was rebuffed and did nothing to further challenge the officer. Chauvin was convicted in April 2021 of murdering Floyd.

Lane said he wanted a “better assessment” of Floyd because he was concerned he might be suffering from excited delirium or an “adrenaline overdose” and officers had been trained to place such subjects on their side.

Lane testified that Chauvin rejected him the first time, telling him and another officer — J. Alexander Kueng — to keep a handcuffed Floyd facedown on the street because an ambulance was coming. Lane said he later pressed the issue with Chauvin again after he heard bystanders yelling at the officers that Floyd was no longer breathing.

Lane, who was holding Floyd’s legs, testified he could still see movement on Floyd’s back that suggested he was still breathing but again asked Chauvin whether they should reposition the man. Chauvin, who was pressing his knees into Floyd’s neck and upper back, said nothing, according to Lane.

“I think Officer Chauvin just kind of avoided that,” Lane testified.

Body-camera footage shows struggle leading to George Floyd’s fatal police encounter

Lane claimed that he directed Kueng, a fellow rookie who was his partner that day, to check for a pulse on Floyd’s wrist. When Kueng announced he could not find one, Lane said, he checked for a pulse near his ankle and also did not detect a heartbeat. Lane acknowledged under prosecution questioning that he did not press Chauvin further on moving Floyd into a “side recovery” position, even though he was aware Floyd had stopped talking and moving.

“No, ma’am,” Lane told prosecutor Samantha Trepel.

Lane testified he was reassured because he saw the veins on Floyd’s arms “sticking up,” which he believed indicated blood pressure — though he could not tell Trepel precisely where he had learned that.

Echoing Kueng’s testimony last week, Lane said it was “kind of reassuring” when he witnessed a paramedic reach around Chauvin’s knee to check Floyd’s neck pulse and react “casually” — a move he interpreted to mean the emergency medical technician had found a pulse and Floyd was “all right.”

But Lane appeared to choke up as he recalled seeing Floyd’s body flipped over to be placed on a medical stretcher, giving him a full view of his face for the first time since he had been placed on the ground. Asked by his attorney Earl Gray about what had gone through his mind, Lane, who cleared his throat several times and grabbed a tissue, replied, “He didn’t look good.”

Lane said he immediately asked whether paramedics needed help and jumped in the ambulance, where he began chest compressions in an ultimately futile attempt to revive Floyd. He said he left the ambulance believing Floyd was in cardiac arrest but did not know until later that he had died.

When Trepel asked Lane about an interview he gave to state investigators six days after Floyd’s death, the former officer repeated for the jury what he had said at the time. “It could have been handled differently,” Lane said.

Lane’s attorney rested his case after the testimony — concluding the defense case, which began Feb. 15 and included testimony from Kueng and Tou Thao, another officer at the scene. U.S. District Judge Paul A. Magnuson, who is presiding over the case, said closing arguments would begin Tuesday.

A federal grand jury indicted Chauvin, Kueng, Lane and Thao in May 2021 on charges that they violated Floyd’s constitutional rights during the fatal arrest. Kueng and Thao were charged with violating Floyd’s right to be free from unreasonable seizure by not intervening as Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck. All four officers were charged with failing to render medical aid to Floyd. Kueng, Lane and Thao each pleaded not guilty.

Chauvin, who was convicted on state charges of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in Floyd’s killing, pleaded guilty in December to the federal charges. Chauvin, who is serving a 22½-year state sentence, is awaiting sentencing in the federal case.

Prosecutors began presenting their case Jan. 24 with a litany of video that captured Floyd’s arrest, including footage filmed by teenager Darnella Frazier and other eyewitnesses. They called 21 witnesses over 13 days, including an off-duty firefighter who tried to get the officers to check Floyd’s pulse, other law enforcement officers and medical experts.

Three Minneapolis police officers testified that Kueng, Lane and Thao had been trained to stop force when it was no longer necessary and to intervene when another officer used excessive force or a restraint that was not allowed under department policy.

What to know about the federal trial of the three former Minneapolis police officers charged in George Floyd’s death

Defense attorneys have sought to discredit that testimony, repeatedly pointing out to the jury that the department is facing state and federal investigations of its policies and training practices. They have argued that officers were given conflicting training on use of force and presented videos of academy training that showed a cadet placing his knee on someone’s neck without intervention by instructors.

Defense attorneys have also sought to shift responsibility to Chauvin for Floyd’s death, arguing he “took control” at the scene and became the “shot caller.” But the three officers have presented differing defenses on how they viewed the scene and the decisions made — potentially pitting them against one another as a jury considers whether any federal laws were broken by the officers by not intervening with Chauvin and rendering medical aid to Floyd.

Last week, Thao countered a claim made by Lane and Kueng that they believed Chauvin was in charge of the scene because of his seniority. The former officer, an eight-year veteran, said under department policy, Lane and Kueng were in charge of the scene. Thao emphasized that he never touched Floyd said he relied on the other officers to monitor Floyd’s condition, assuming because they did not perform CPR that he was “fine.”

Kueng, meanwhile, claimed he was taking cues from Chauvin, his former field training officer, because of Chauvin’s nearly two decades of experience on the force and because he felt senior officers such as Chauvin him were “always in charge.” The former officer claimed that he never detected a “serious medical need” in Floyd, even as the man repeatedly complained he couldn’t breathe before losing consciousness and a pulse.

On the stand Monday, Lane testified he raised using a device called a hobble to restrain Floyd, allowing the officers to tie the man’s feet to his waist and to step off the man and place him onto his side. But he recalled that Thao suggested that if they used the hobble that a sergeant would have been called to the scene to assess the officer’s use of force.

Thao claimed last week that he thought tying Floyd up would have delayed medical care because a sergeant would have had to photograph the force before paramedics could care for the man — a claim prosecutors strongly challenged.

Lane testified Monday he felt using a hobble “seemed kind of excessive” since an ambulance was responding to the scene to check on a cut to Floyd’s face. “There’s no point in going through the whole process of putting him in a hobble, because we’re just going to have to take it off,” Lane recalled.

Prosecutors have pointed to body-camera footage showing Kueng reaffirming Chauvin’s decision to keep Floyd on the ground as they seek to prove he not only did not intervene with Chauvin but was actively making decisions about the restraint. Kueng testified last week that he was merely passing on Chauvin’s decisions to Lane because of concerns his partner could not hear Chauvin, because of noise at the scene.

Pressed on his observations Monday, Lane seemed notably reluctant to weigh in on Kueng’s actions, repeatedly saying he did not recall or could not hear. But Lane acknowledged hearing Floyd repeatedly complain of struggling to breathe and that “everything hurts.”

“You heard Mr. Floyd saying he couldn’t breathe? … You heard him say that multiple times,” Trepel said.

“Correct,” Lane replied.