A former Minneapolis police officer involved in George Floyd’s arrest has told investigators he was focused on crowd control and minimised his role in the actions that led to Floyd’s death, video of the interview shows.
Tou Thao, one of the four former officers charged in Floyd’s death, described himself as a “human traffic cone” as he held back onlookers who became increasingly horrified at the police officers’ actions during the May 25 incident, the Star Tribune reported on Saturday, citing video that was released a day before.
Floyd, a handcuffed Black man, died after a white officer, Derek Chauvin, pressed his knee against his neck for nearly nine minutes on May 25 as Floyd repeatedly said he could not breathe and as bystanders pleaded with officers to help him.
“I don’t want anyone to die,” Thao told an investigator who asked what his reaction was to Floyd’s death. “It was kind of a sombre moment, especially for me. My heart kind of sank.”
Thao voluntarily participated in the one-hour, 40-minute interview with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension eight days after Floyd’s death. He said as the bystanders got louder, he became worried they might rush Chauvin and two other officers who were holding Floyd on the ground.
Floyd’s death has prompted a national reckoning over racial injustice and police atrocities that has seen months of protests across the United States.
Thao and Chauvin had gone to the scene to help two officers, Thomas Lane and J Alexander Kueng, who were attempting to arrest Floyd for allegedly passing a counterfeit $20 bill at a convenience store.
While they were on the way, Thao said dispatch cancelled the backup call. But Thao, who was driving, said he felt compelled to respond because Lane and Kueng were new officers and the intersection was known to be “especially hostile” to police.
In the interview, Thao said Floyd appeared to be on drugs, resisted arrest and used his legs to get out of a squad car.
As the officers restrained Floyd on the ground, Thao said he heard him say he could not breathe, adding, “but then he was obviously yelling and talking”.
Thao also said he has never used the manoeuvre that Chauvin used to pin Floyd to the ground.
Although a woman who identified herself as a Minneapolis firefighter approached Thao and demanded that officers check Floyd’s pulse, Thao told investigators his job was securing the scene and that he could not “be in two places at once”.
Thao, Lane and Kueng are charged with aiding and abetting both second-degree murder and manslaughter.
Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter. All four officers were fired and are scheduled for trial in March.
The video of Thao’s interview was made available on Friday after Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison’s office filed it to support a motion to have all four officers tried jointly.
The next court hearing for the four is scheduled for September 11.