Jury selected for trial of 3 officers accused of violating George Floyd's civil rights

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Eighteen people were selected to serve as jurors Thursday in the federal trial of three former Minneapolis police officers charged with violating George Floyd's civil rights.

The federal indictment unsealed in May alleges Derek Chauvin, Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao willfully deprived Floyd of his constitutional rights while "acting under the color of the law." All four initially pleaded not guilty, but Chauvin changed his plea in December and will not face trial.

Kueng and Lane were seen in bystander videos helping restrain Floyd as Chauvin knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes during the attempted arrest May 25, 2020. Thao kept bystanders away as Floyd, who was handcuffed and lying flat on his stomach, repeatedly said, "I can't breathe."

The video showed that the three officers “directly contributed to (Floyd’s) death and failed to intervene to stop the senseless murder," attorneys for Floyd's family said in a statement Thursday.

Judge Paul Magnuson questioned potential jurors, who filled out an extensive questionnaire, in St. Paul on Thursday about where they live, their job history, education, military service, hobbies and families.

Most of the jurors and alternatives selected appeared to be white. Although the court declined to provide demographic information, one juror and one of the six alternates appeared to be of Asian descent.

Lane is white, Kueng is Black and Thao is Asian.

Jury selection took just one day, much shorter than the two weeks needed to select a jury for Chauvin's state trial. Magnuson said expects the trial to last four weeks.

He also acknowledged the high-profile nature of the case: “I’m sure all of you know something about what happened to George Floyd.”

Here's what we know about the trial:

What are the charges?

The officers are accused of violating a federal law that forbids government officials from abusing their authority. Prosecutors must prove they willfully deprived Floyd of his constitutional rights.

All of the officers are charged with failing to provide medical aid to Floyd, a violation of his right "not to be deprived of liberty without due process of law." A second count charges Kueng and Thao, who saw Chauvin pinning Floyd to the ground, with violating Floyd’s right to be free from unreasonable seizure by not intervening.

These kinds of charges are rare. On average, on-duty law enforcement officers were charged with federal civil rights violations 41 times per year over the past two decades, according to data analyzed by Syracuse University.

The Justice Department tends to bring charges only in the "most egregious and relatively obvious cases of police misconduct," and federal cases generally end in convictions, Daniel Richman, a former federal prosecutor who teaches federal criminal law at Columbia University, told USA TODAY.

INDICTMENT: Chauvin, 3 others indicted on civil rights charges in George Floyd's death

What sentence is possible?

Violating someone's civil rights is punishable "by a range of imprisonment up to a life term, or the death penalty," depending on the circumstances and injuries resulting from the crime, according to the Department of Justice.

The harshest sentences are extremely rare, and federal sentencing guidelines use complicated formulas that indicate the officers would get much less if convicted.

The federal system has no parole.

Chauvin's guilty plea could help their case

Chauvin, who was convicted of state murder and manslaughter charges, pleaded guilty in December to two federal counts alleging he deprived Floyd of his rights by kneeling on his neck and failing to provide medical care.

As part of that plea deal, Chauvin pleaded guilty to a separate charge alleging he knelt on a 14-year-old boy's neck while he was prone and handcuffed in 2017.

Chauvin's plea could be positive for the other three officers, who asked for their trial to be separated from Chauvin's and were denied. Mike Brandt, a defense attorney not connected to the case, told The Associated Press a trial without Chauvin could reduce some of the inflammatory evidence jurors would see.

Brandt said Chauvin could be compelled to testify – which could benefit the others if he said he was the veteran officer who made the decision to do what he did.

Magnuson told jurors repeatedly Thursday that Chauvin’s cases should not influence the proceedings.

Chauvin pleads guilty: Former officer could spend more time behind bars for federal offenses

Officers also face state trial

Kueng, Lane and Thao also face state charges in Floyd's death.

The former officers were supposed to stand trial with Chauvin last year, but Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill severed the trials because of COVID-19 restrictions. Cahill agreed to postpone their trial again until June to allow the federal case to precede at the request of both defense attorneys and prosecutors.

Richman said there's no typical order or rule requiring the federal case to be resolved first.

Mary Moriarty, the former chief public defender for Hennepin County, told USA TODAY that Cahill probably believes that if the officers are convicted in federal court, the state court proceedings may be dismissed.

If convicted, the former officers could face up to 40 years in prison on charges of aiding and abetting second-degree murder and up to 10 years for aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter.

The recommended sentence for aiding and abetting second-degree murder for someone with no criminal history is 128 to 180 months. The recommended sentence for the lesser charge is 41 to 57 months.

'A harder case to prove': What Chauvin's guilty verdict means for three other officers

Contributing: Tami Abdollah, USA TODAY; The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: George Floyd death federal trial against Kueng, Lane, Thao begins