Former Minneapolis police officer Tou Thao, right, arrives with his lawyer Robert Paule, center, for a hearing at the Hennepin County Government Center in Minneapolis, Minn., on Tuesday, July 21, 2020. (Renee Jones Schneider/Star Tribune via AP)

Prosecutors depict ex-officer as complicit in Floyd’s death

MINNEAPOLIS — Prosecutors have urged a Minnesota judge not to dismiss the charges against one of four former Minneapolis police officers charged in the death of George Floyd, saying Tou Thao pushed back a crowd of concerned bystanders and prevented them from intervening as the other officers pinned Floyd to the ground.

In a filing late Monday, the attorney general’s office said there is “more than sufficient” evidence to support charges of aiding and abetting second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter against Thao. His attorney had filed a motion to dismiss.

Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill has scheduled a hearing for Sept. 11 to hear motions. The four were fired after the May 25 death of Floyd, a Black man, which sparked protests against racial injustice and police brutality worldwide.

Derek Chauvin, who kept his knee pressed to Floyd’s neck for nearly eight minutes, is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. J. Kueng and Thomas Lane face the same charges as Thao. Prosecutors want to try the four together. Trial is scheduled to begin March 8.

“In the first five minutes Floyd was on the ground, he told the officers at least 20 times that he could not breathe. He told them nearly 10 times that he was dying. And then he fell silent,” prosecutors wrote.

“As Floyd lost consciousness, a crowd of bystanders pleaded with Thao. They told him that the officers were killing Floyd. They screamed that Floyd had stopped moving. They alerted Thao that Floyd had stopped breathing. And they begged Thao almost 30 times to take Floyd’s pulse,” the filing continued. ”But instead of intervening on Floyd’s behalf, Thao continued to push the crowd of bystanders back to the sidewalk, allowing the other officers to continue to pin Floyd to the ground — with Chauvin on Floyd’s neck, Kueng on Floyd’s back, and Lane on Floyd’s legs.”

Thao has minimized his role in Floyd’s death, describing himself in an interview with investigators as a “human traffic cone” as he held back the onlookers. His motion to dismiss cited a lack of probable cause to support the idea that Thao knew the other officers were going to commit a crime or that he intended to further the commission of a crime.

Thao’s attorney, Bob Paule, did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment Tuesday.

Meanwhile, a federal review of the state’s autopsy report filed into evidence Tuesday said it agrees with the state’s findings that Floyd’s heart stopped while he was being restrained.

The federal evaluation was conducted by the Office of the Armed Forces Medical Examiner and requested by the U.S. Department of Justice, which is investigating whether the officers violated Floyd’s civil rights. The federal medical examiner found Floyd’s death happened due to the police restraint “in the setting of” his serious heart disease, and methamphetamine and fentanyl use.

According to prosecutors’ notes filed into evidence, Hennepin County Medical Examiner Andrew Baker told prosecutors that the level of meth in Floyd’s system was low, but that the level of fentanyl was high. Had Floyd been found alone with no other contributing factors, Baker said he could conclude Floyd overdosed, according to the notes.

A summary of findings from a separate autopsy commissioned by Floyd’s family found he died of asphyxia due to neck and back compression, which impeded blood flow to his brain.

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