Tou Tao testified in his own defense at a federal civil rights trial on Tuesday.
Tou Tao, one of three former Minneapolis cops on trial for violating George Floyd’s civil rights, told jurors Tuesday he didn’t realize a black man had been strangled when a white cop knelt on his neck for nine minutes.
Testifying in his own defense, Tao, 36, said he assumed Floyd’s heart was still beating because he had never seen other officers try to revive him as they were trained.
Tao, 36, appears before the U.S. District Court in St. Paul, along with J. Alexander Quang and Thomas Lane. They face life imprisonment if found guilty.
All three are accused of violating Floyd’s right to medical attention as he lay dying, unable to breathe normally, face down under the knee of his former colleague Derek Chauvin.
Three former police officers have also been charged with aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter, which carry penalties of up to 40 years in prison.
Mobile phone footage of Floyd being killed on a Minneapolis road on May 25, 2020 sparked protests against racism and police brutality in cities around the world. Chauvin was convicted last year in a separate state trial for the murder of Floyd, 46.
Federal prosecutors, who closed the case on Monday after about three weeks of testimony, said other officers at the scene were required to intervene to prevent Floyd’s death.
Minneapolis police officers attempt to get George Floyd into a police car in this image from a police body camera video presented as evidence in court on May 25, 2020.
Former Minneapolis cops J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Tao are facing federal court on charges of violating Floyd’s civil rights by failing to provide him with medical care.
Tao stepped forward to reassure the jury that he handled the chaotic scene in accordance with his training and concern for the well-being of Floyd and the officers who arrested him. His testimony marks the first extensive public comment by any of the officers involved in the arrest.
In the video, he can be seen steps away from Floyd holding back frightened onlookers while Chauvin kneels on Floyd’s neck in handcuffs for more than nine minutes. The arrest took place outside a grocery store where Floyd was accused of using a counterfeit $20 bill.
When questioned by his lawyer, Robert Paul, Tao said he believed Chauvin and two other officers sitting over Floyd were checking his pulse. He said he was falsely sedated because none of them performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
“Logically, if they don’t do CPR, I’m assuming he’s still breathing and okay,” Tao said, agreeing with his lawyer that police officers are trained to start CPR as soon as possible. if they can’t find a pulse.
Floyd received no medical attention until his limp body was loaded into an ambulance and driven several blocks away, minutes after he passed out.
Tao testified that he confirmed with other officers that an ambulance had been called and saw his role as a “human traffic cone”, making sure that oncoming traffic stayed away from the scene.
This image from video footage presented as evidence during the trial shows Minneapolis police officers Thomas Lane (left) and J. Alexander Kueng (right) escorting George Floyd.
The jury watched a video taken by Tao’s camera showing Tao arriving to find Kuang and Lane trying to get a handcuffed Floyd to stay in the back seat of a police car. Floyd constantly screams that he is claustrophobic and cannot breathe.
“I don’t want to denigrate, but I have never seen such a fight,” Tao testified, saying that by that time he had been an officer for eight years. “It was obvious that he was under the influence of some kind of drug.”
He said Floyd was incoherent and impossible to calm down, and he feared that Floyd might have a dangerous drug reaction. An autopsy later found fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, and methamphetamine in Floyd’s blood.
Tao said that during training it was normal to see an officer lying on the ground on top of an arrestee, using his knee near the neck to pin down the arrestee. The jurors were shown photographs of Tao and his classmates using such restrictions.
Have you ever been told that using your knees is the wrong technique? Paul asked his client.
“No,” Thao replied.
Deryck Chauvin, second from left, and J. Alexander Kueng restrain George Floyd in Minneapolis, May 25, 2020
Tao told jurors that his parents fled to the United States from Laos before he was born, refugees belonging to the Hmong ethnic group. He was the third of seven siblings, he said, and his parents could only afford to feed them once a day.
He said he was first inspired to become a police officer when, as a child, he helped Minneapolis police officers arrest his abusive father, who threatened Tao and his mother with a gun.
“I think those were the two most peaceful days of my childhood,” Tao testified, on the verge of tears, describing the immediate consequences of his arrest.
According to court documents based on police records, Tao was cited at least seven times while training in the field for several months in 2012 for evading his duties, sometimes pretending not to notice violations of the law to minimize his workload.
Federal officers also accused Chauvin, a white man, of violating Floyd’s civil rights, and in December he changed his plea.
Two other defendants, Lane and Kueng, also said they would testify. Tao, Lane and Kueng will also appear in separate state court in June on charges of aiding and abetting Floyd’s murder.