Lawyer for ex-officer charged as accomplice in killing of George Floyd says he 'did nothing wrong'

©Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

Former Minneapolis police officer Thomas Lane, right, walked out of the Hennepin County Public Safety Facility on June 29 afternoon with his attorney Earl Gray. - Glen Stubbe/Minneapolis Star Tribune/TNS

MINNEAPOLIS — Former Minneapolis Police officer Thomas Lane’s attorney is accusing prosecutors in a new court filing of misstating the facts and law to defend their decision to charge him as an accomplice in the May 25 killing of George Floyd.

“Officer Lane did nothing wrong,” attorney Earl Gray wrote Monday in a blistering, 21-page reply to the state’s defense of the charges against his client.

The filing also offers a detailed account of Floyd’s criminal background in Texas and Minnesota, and says that his persistent use of illegal drugs left him in a familiar position with police the night he died.

Floyd’s aunt, Angela Harrelson, and uncle, Selwyn Jones, said they were disappointed Gray used their nephew’s past to condone the officers’ actions.

“Regardless of his past, nothing justifies the way he died,” Harrelson said. “I just feel that to go after someone’s character to justify his death — I’m not pleased with that. I’m not saying that he was a perfect person. He made mistakes. And he had a disease that he was working hard to fight against and it’s a tough disease to fight.”

Prosecutors had responded last week to a motion Gray filed in early July to dismiss the charges as legally deficient. They wrote that Lane recognized the officers were inflicting harm, and that the senior officer, Derek Chauvin, was violating police training and policies by kneeling on Floyd’s neck for about 9 minutes while he was handcuffed, stomach-down, in the street.

The prosecutors said that Lane continued to participate in the risky restraint even after Floyd complained that police were killing him.

Gray said they have already amassed 20,000 pages of evidence that reveal some facts he says the court should consider when deciding whether to dismiss Lane’s charges before a trial.

Gray’s memo details Floyd’s arrest step by step. He argues that Lane and his partner, J. Alexander Kueng, responded to a report of someone who seemed “awfully drunk” and “not in control of himself” passing counterfeit bills. If convicted of state or federal charges, that carries maximum penalties of 20 years in prison, Gray said, so it is not a minor crime.

He noted that when Lane approached Floyd’s car, he did not respond immediately to Lane’s commands that he place his hands on the steering wheel, and that a woman in the car said, “Stop resisting, Floyd.” He said Floyd had ingested a potentially lethal amount of fentanyl, which constrains respiratory function, and had methamphetamines and marijuana in his system as well.

Gray noted that the tissue in Floyd’s neck showed no damage, arguing that the neck restraint applied by Chauvin was not excessive. And he referenced a police training video in which a similar neck restraint was used, arguing that Lane had no reason to challenge Chauvin, a senior officer with 19 years of experience.

Gray launched into Floyd’s criminal background, citing a May 2019 arrest in north Minneapolis during a narcotics investigation. He was a passenger in a vehicle “with unlicensed plates” that was stopped on a tip.

“Just as he behaved a year later at 38th and Chicago, Officers who approached his car found Mr. Floyd ‘moving all around and acting extremely nervous,’ how ‘he wouldn’t listen to my commands.’ How he ‘continued to order him several times to stop moving around and to see his hands,’?” Gray wrote.

“Just like our case, Mr. Floyd had to be ‘physically remove(d) from the vehicle.’ He ‘then began to cry.’?”

Floyd’s uncle, Jones, said Floyd struggled with addiction for years, and moved to Minnesota for treatment.

“What does that got to do with them holding him down in the middle of the street … and killing him by cutting his air off?” Jones said of his nephew’s past. “You don’t live in the past. You live in the now. And the now is three police officers restrained my nephew.”

Gray alleges that oxycodone, cocaine and rock cocaine were found in the car in the 2019 case, and Floyd was taken to the hospital where he was found to be ‘agitated and confused’ and admitted to drug use.

Court records do not reveal charges against Floyd in that incident, and Gray does not disclose whether Floyd was charged.

Harrelson, Floyd’s aunt, who worked as a nurse caring for addicts for nine years, said addiction is a disease that should be treated with empathy.

“Anyone who is suffering from a disease, they’re not themselves,” she said. “They’re in a bad place in their life and they need help. They have ups and downs. It’s a daily fight for them.”

Gray also cited a 2007 robbery in Texas in which Floyd and others robbed a woman at gunpoint. Floyd was convicted of robbery and sentenced to five years in prison.

“With this background in mind, the State’s suggestion that Officer Lane was required somehow to believe Mr. Floyd’s denial of culpability invites an adventure into Pollyana(sic) land,” Gray wrote.

Gray also disputed prosecution arguments that Lane was actively restraining Floyd’s legs while Chauvin was pinning him to the ground with his knee on Floyd’s neck. He said police body camera videos show that’s not true.

Gray argues that the prosecution misstated the law when it said that he did not need to know that Chauvin’s conduct was criminal at the time it was committed for him to be guilty of aiding and abetting the crime. He says the U.S. Supreme Court specifically rejected that theory in 2014.

Harrelson remained diplomatic about Gray’s filing.

“I know that every attorney has to try to provide the best defense that they can for their clients,” she said, “and I’m just giving him the benefit of the doubt that’s what he’s trying to do.”

Jones saw Gray’s memo as an attempt to grasp at straws.

“It’s a sign of desperation,” Jones said. “I want to know: when did police officers get their law degrees, when did they get voted into being judges, and when does four people do the job of … (a) jury…?”

Tou Thao, Kueng and Lane are each charged with aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter. Chauvin is charged with one count each of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

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©2020 Star Tribune (Minneapolis)