Four former Minneapolis police officers pleaded not guilty Tuesday on federal charges they abused their positions of authority to detain George Floyd. Clockwise from top left: Derek Chauvin, J. Alexander Kueng, Tou Thao, Thomas Lane. Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office/TNS

MINNEAPOLIS — Four former Minneapolis police officers pleaded not guilty Tuesday on federal charges they abused their positions of authority to detain George Floyd.

The charges, which run separate from the state’s cases against the same officers, allege Derek Chauvin, J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao used the “color of the law” to deprive Floyd of his constitutional rights to be “free from the use of unreasonable force” when Chauvin pinned Floyd down with a knee on his neck for more than nine minutes, and the other three did nothing to stop him. “This offense resulted in bodily injury to, and the death of George Floyd,” the charges state.

All four former officers appeared electronically for the hearing in U.S. Magistrate Judge Tony Lueng’s courtroom. Leung planned to hear about 40 motions, mostly on routine matters, such as filing deadlines and whether they plan to call expert witnesses at trial.

Attorneys for Lane and Kueng argued that the indictment inaccurately cites when the officers started working for the department, telegraphing the defense’s argument that they were rookies on the force who looked to their superiors for how to act. The charges say Lane and Kueng started with Minneapolis police in December 2019, but the defense attorneys said they were only in training at that time. When they detained Floyd, they had only worked a few shifts, said Earl Gray, Lane’s attorney.

“He did take the oath in 2019,” said Gray. “However, he was not on his own, and by that I mean not making decisions on his own, until four days before the incident on May 25,” said Gray. He said the language is important, given the charges deal with whether Lane should have done more to intervene.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Manda Sertich refuted the argument, saying the department records show them as sworn officers beginning in December. “It’s hard to see how there could be an argument made” to the contrary, Sertich said.

Kueng’s, Lane’s and Thao’s attorneys also asked Lueng to sever their cases from Chauvin, meaning they would be tried separately. A jury convicted Chauvin of second-degree murder in the state’s case earlier this year, and the high-profile verdict will prejudice the other three to a jury, their attorneys said.

“His actions are going to be held against us in this trial,” said Gray. “Everybody knows Derek Chauvin was convicted of murder. Are we going to be presumed innocent? I doubt it.”

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