Seven years ago, 17-year-old Laquan McDonald was shot 16 times as he walked away from police officers in Chicago. In the aftermath of McDonald's death, officers were accused of aiding and abetting McDonald's murder by altering case files to suggest that the teenager attempted to attack the officers beforehand. With no public evidence to support these case files, demonstrators took to the streets to protest police brutality. Ultimately, former police officer Jason Van Dyke was charged and convicted of second-degree murder. However, the three officers accused of altering case files were acquitted. In 2021, legal experts believe the same could happen after the murder of George Floyd.
“To me, it feels like the most analogous case," sociologist Nicole Gonzalez Van Cleve told the HuffPost.
This week, Derek Chauvin was convicted of the murder of George Floyd. Set to reappear in court this summer, Chauvin faces up to 40 years in prison for his crimes. Two months after his sentencing, three more ex-police officers will face charges in connection to Floyd's murder. J. Alexander Keung, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao were present and working with Chauvin as he kneeled on Floyd's neck for nearly ten minutes on May 25. Like Chauvin, the three men were removed from the police force and charge with aiding and abetting Chauvin. While Chauvin was convicted, former federal prosecutors say that it is "no slam dunk" that Keung, Lane and Thao will be as well.
“The defendants in this case ... can only be found guilty if in their trial it’s proved that they aided and abetted Chauvin’s criminal conduct, which is going to have to be reproved,” Howard University School of Law Professor Adam Kurland explained.
“You can’t take for granted that you’re going to get the same result," former New Jersey Attorney General John Farmer Jr. added.
Judge Peter Cahill will also oversee the trial of the three ex-cops, but that could possibly be the only similarity between the two trials. Different prosecutors, defense attorneys and jurors will partake in the trial. With that said, there is a possibility that the case will not go to trial depending on Chauvin's sentencing. Few federal cases go to trial and Chauvin's next court hearing could lead to one or more of his colleagues entering a plea bargain.
“Only a sliver of a fraction of criminal cases in federal court go to trial,” Kurland said to the HuffPost.
“Statistically, I think it’s unlikely that all three of the defendants are going to go to trial, which means at least one is going to be resolved by plea.”
Aside from a plea bargain, the three officers could also try to move the trial to a different location or pursue a bench trial. A bench trial is a legal proceeding in which there is no jury and a judge hand down the verdict. Officers involved in the killings of McDonald in Chicago and Freddie Gray in Baltimore were acquitted through bench trials.
“There is a shared culture between prosecutors and their partners in law enforcement,” Van Cleve said.
“And there are still many judges who ... believe the ‘bad apple’ narrative that’s been part of the PR script that police departments across the nation continue to rely upon.”
At this time, it is too early to tell what the trio will do next. Chauvin's sentencing is set for the week of June 14 and the three ex-officers are scheduled to stand trial during the week of August 23.
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