Kueng pleads guilty to aiding manslaughter in George Floyd’s killing

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Former Minneapolis Police Officers J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao arrive with attorney Thomas Plunkett at the District Court in St. Paul on Jan. 11.
Kerem Yucel | AFP via Getty Images file

Updated: Oct. 24, 10:07 a.m. | Posted: Oct. 23, 4 a.m.

One of the former Minneapolis police officers involved in the killing of George Floyd agreed Monday morning to a plea deal while the other asked for a trial to be decided by the judge.

Jury selection was scheduled to start Monday in the trial of Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng, who are each charged with aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s May 2020 killing.

The deal Kueng accepted from the state is similar to the one taken by his former co-defendant Thomas Lane.

Under the terms of the plea agreement, Kueng will plead guilty to aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter. In exchange, the charge against him of aiding and abetting second-degree murder will be dropped. 

Thao has agreed to a bench trial on the charge of aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter. That means there will be no jury in the case, which will be decided by Judge Peter Cahill. There will be no need for witnesses to testify yet again about Floyd’s killing. The state is holding back the charge against Thao of aiding and abetting second-degree murder. 

For Thao’s bench trial, attorneys have agreed to get evidence to the court by Nov. 17. Cahill will then get 90 days to decide general and specific verdicts.

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Both Kueng and Thao previously rejected a plea deal from the state.

Thao and Kueng were found guilty in federal court in February of violating Floyd’s civil rights by refusing him medical treatment and neglecting to intervene with Derek Chauvin as he kneeled on Floyd’s neck. Both men are currently serving their sentences in federal facilities, but are seeking to overturn their federal convictions.

As Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes, Thao held back onlookers while Kueng pressed down on Floyd’s back. A fourth officer, Thomas Lane was charged with Kueng and Thao but pleaded guilty earlier this year to the state charges. Like the others, he is serving his sentence in federal prison.

In the plea agreement read Monday by attorney Thomas Plunkett, Kueng admitted that he should have known about the dangers of "positional asphyxia" due to his training as a police officer. He also admitted that he heard Floyd saying he couldn't breathe and had stopped talking, and that the "restraint of Mr. Floyd was unreasonable under the circumstances" and unconstitutional.

In the federal trial, Kueng said he tried to find a pulse for Floyd, but could not find one. Like Lane, Kueng was a rookie at the time of Floyd’s death, and said he was deferring to Chauvin, his former training officer, according to Plunkett.

In the same trial, attorney Robert Paule said Thao was the only one of the four officers not to touch Floyd. But prosecutors said bystanders urged Thao to do something as Floyd pleaded for his life.

Chauvin was found guilty of murder in state court last year and sentenced to 22 and a half years in prison. He pleaded guilty to federal charges that he violated Floyd’s civil rights in exchange for serving his sentences concurrently in federal prison.