"I assumed they were taking care of him": one of the police officers tried for his passivity in the murder of African-American George Floyd denied any responsibility in the tragedy on Tuesday, taking care to distinguish himself from his colleagues.
Dressed in a dark suit, Tou Thao, 35, testified in a federal trial opened on January 20 in Saint Paul, in the north of the United States, against three police officers involved in the death of the black man in his forties.
The first of the defendants to take the stand and speak publicly in this case that has shaken the world, this son of Laotian refugees insisted that during the agony of George Floyd, he stood at a distance.
"A different role"
“I had a different role to play,” he explained, posing as “a human traffic cone” positioned around the corner to prevent an accident, while his colleagues sought to master the Afro- American.
On May 25, 2020, Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane, two new Minneapolis police recruits, were called by a merchant who suspected George Floyd of having used a counterfeit $20 bill to pay for a pack of cigarettes.
As they struggled to get this imposing man into their vehicle, they were joined by two experienced agents, Tou Thao and Derek Chauvin.
"In eight years of career, I had never seen such a fight", declared Tou Thao, assuring that George Floyd had "superhuman strength" and "was under the influence of drugs" which, according to him, justified to pin him to the ground, handcuffed.
Derek Chauvin then knelt on his neck, the two new ones at his side, while Tou Thao kept the panicked passers-by at a distance.
The four men had not moved despite the groans of the forties.
The scene, filmed and posted online, sparked huge protests against racism and police violence across the United States.
In June, Derek Chauvin was found guilty of murder and sentenced to 22 and a half years in prison by the justice of the State of Minnesota.
His three colleagues will be tried in this context from June 13 for "complicity in murder".
At the same time, federal justice has opened proceedings for "violation of civil rights" of George Floyd.
In December, Derek Chauvin pleaded guilty in this part, admitting for the first time a share of responsibility in the drama.
His three colleagues have therefore been appearing without him for almost three weeks.
They are notably accused of not having brought the necessary help to the forties despite the signs of medical distress, when it is an obligation for the police.
At the helm, Tou Thao said he "had no idea" of the seriousness of George Floyd's condition before help arrived.
Pressed by the prosecution, he repeated that he "assumed" that his colleagues were dealing with it.
But he had to admit that he had seen Derek Chauvin put his knee on the neck of the forties.
He also admitted that he often watched what was happening behind him.
"Does that mean you knew George Floyd wasn't resisting?"
asked the prosecutor.
"It's possible," he replied, visibly struggling.
Cross-examination is due to resume on Wednesday.
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A fault ?