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'Willfulness' Is Key to The Second George Floyd Trial

Prosecutors in the federal trial of three former Minneapolis police officers accused in George Floyd’s killing needed to convince jurors that the officers “willfully” deprived Floyd of his civil rights. It was a significant challenge. Jurors are likely to struggle with the concept as they deliberate, much as courts have for a century, the Associated Press reports. Deliberations are expected to begin Wednesday. Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng are all charged with willfully depriving Floyd of his liberty without due process, specifically the right to be free from an officer’s deliberate indifference to his medical needs. The indictment says they knew what Chauvin was doing and that Floyd was handcuffed, unresisting and eventually unresponsive. In legal contexts, willfulness is intent to commit a crime plus the prior knowledge an action is illegal. Usually, whether someone knew that something was illegal is irrelevant. Still, it is germane to some charges, including those Kueng, Lane and Thao face. In such cases, ignorance is a defense.


Prosecutors spent much time presenting evidence of the officers’ training. They argued that the officers knew they had a duty to render medical care to a suspect in obvious need of it. Lane and Keung, while rookies, were trained about the need to turn handcuffed suspects onto their sides so that they can breathe more easily, prosecutors said. Prosecutor Manda Sertich explained to jurors in her closing argument that “willfulness” doesn’t mean the government must prove the officers acted with ill will toward Floyd or intended to hurt him. She said the fact that the officers knew Floyd was in distress but did nothing after many red flags is proof of willfulness. Lane attorney Earl Gray argued that his client was concerned for Floyd and did, per his training, ask if officers should turn him on his side, but was rebuffed.

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