Reaction to the across-the-board guilty verdicts Thursday in the federal civil rights trial of the three ex-Minneapolis police officers in George Floyd’s death were split between celebration for another example for police accountability and concern over a potential chilling effect on police.
“Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!!” came the social media proclamation from Nekima Levy Armstrong, a Twin Cities attorney who for years has been a strong critic of police abusing their use of force powers.
The legal team led by Ben Crump, which won a $27 million legal settlement for the Floyd family from the city of Minneapolis, said in a statement that “these officers tried to devise any excuse that could let them wash the blood from their hands, but following these verdicts, George’s blood will forever stain them.”
Crump said said the verdicts “should serve as the guiding example of why police departments across America should expand and prioritize instruction on an officer’s duty to intervene and recognize when a fellow officer is using excessive force.”
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison’s office led the successful prosecution of ex-officer Derek Chauvin last April and has charges pending against J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao in Hennepin County District Court.
“Once again, the principle that no one is above the law and no one is beneath it has been upheld,” Ellison said. “The verdicts vindicate the principle that officers have a duty and a responsibility to intervene and render medical care.”
Minneapolis Maj. Jacob Frey said in a statement: “I hope this verdict … sets a tone for officer intervention whenever misconduct takes place.”
Ben Feist, interim executive director of the ACLU of Minnesota, said: “Officers targeted a Black man for disparate treatment and then used the debunked theory of ‘excited delirium’ to attempt to justify their horrifying act of violence.”
He said the entire episode points anew to the need for “shift resources from traditional policing to community-based solutions like crisis response teams to keep everyone safe.”
Rob Doar, political director of the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus, said he knew Lane personally. “I struggle with the fact that he asked Chauvin twice to put Floyd in the recovery position and expressed concern about excited delirium,” he said. “That’s not the actions of someone showing willful disregard. … Furthermore, I have spent 30 minutes trying to resuscitate Floyd.”
Doar said he fears police recruiting efforts will suffer because potential officers might think they could be held responsible for the bad actions of a superior.
Brandon Mitchell of Minneapolis was one of the jurors who convicted Chauvin last year. “I’m surprised [Thao, Lane and Kueng] were all found guilty, but that does kind of match up” with what came out during Chauvin’s murder trial, he said.
Reaction from the legal community came in from well beyond the Twin Cities and Minnesota.
“The Justice Department will continue to seek accountability for law enforcement officers whose actions, or failure to act, violate their constitutional duty to protect the civil rights of our citizens,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement. He said the verdict showed the officers violated the constitution and added: “George Floyd should be alive today.”
“This verdict will ring out like an alarm bell to police officers across the country,” said Joshua Ritter, a Los Angeles defense attorney and former Los Angeles County prosecutor.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, who eulogized Floyd at his funeral in Minneapolis, called the convictions “a huge victory for civil rights and police reform. It sends a clear, definitive message that [fellow officers] cannot cooperate with police criminality.”
Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said: “We know this case is an anomaly because we know that police officers are rarely held accountable.”
Joseph Daly, professor emeritus at Mitchell Hamline School of Law, said the verdicts could push the defendants and state prosecutors to reach plea deals in the state case.
“One of the reasons that the government plea bargains is a practical reason – costs,” he said. “They have now been found guilty of a federal civil rights charge, and it’s a serious charge. I’m not sure the state wants to go through another monthlong trial.”
One of the main activists at George Floyd Square, a community shrine at the intersection where Floyd was killed, said Thursday’s verdicts alone were not enough.
“Justice is not granted by the thump of a gavel,” Marcia Howard wrote on Instagram. “We stand for systemic change to systemic problems.”
Star Tribune staff writers Chao Xiong and Kim Hyatt contributed to this report.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism