Outcome of Thao’s state criminal case now in judge’s hands

A Hennepin County judge will soon determine whether to convict former Minneapolis police officer Tou Thao on charges connected to George Floyd’s death.

Thao, who’s charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter, waived his right to a jury trial in October and opted to have Judge Peter Cahill decide his case by stipulated evidence instead.

On Tuesday, state prosecutors and Thao’s defense attorney filed their closing arguments in the bench trial. Cahill will only rule on the lesser of two counts against Thao: aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter.

Videos of the arrest that led to Floyd’s death show Thao standing between bystanders on the sidewalk and his fellow officers, Derek Chauvin, Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng, who were all kneeling on Floyd’s neck and back.

In his closing arguments, defense attorney Robert Paule claimed Thao is innocent because he followed his police training and “did not intend that his specific actions were done to assist in the commission of a crime.”

On the other hand, state prosecutors wrote that police officers have a “legal and professional duty to intervene in the excessive use of force by another officer” and that Thao acted as a “human traffic cone,” thereby assisting his colleagues’ criminal actions.

Cahill will rule on Thao’s guilt within the next 90 days using evidence from Chauvin’s state trial and the federal civil rights trial for Thao, Kueng and Lane. Thao waived his right to have witnesses testify.

Thao is the last of the four ex-MPD officer charged in Floyd’s death awaiting adjudication on his state criminal case.

A jury found Chauvin guilty of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in 2021. He was later sentenced to 22½ years in prison.

Kueng and Lane both pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter; charges of aiding and abetting second-degree murder were dropped as part of their plea deals.

All four defendants either pleaded guilty or were convicted by a jury on charges of depriving Floyd of his civil rights.