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Former Minneapolis police officers plead not guilty to violating George Floyd's civil rights

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Four former Minneapolis police officers charged with violating George Floyd's civil rights pleaded not guilty Tuesday during an arraignment in federal court.

In May, a federal grand jury indicted Derek Chauvin, Thomas Lane, J. Kueng and Tou Thao, nearly a year after Chauvin was seen kneeling on Floyd's neck for more than nine minutes in videos that sparked nationwide protests over police brutality and systemic racism.

Floyd, who was handcuffed and prone, repeatedly said "I can't breathe" as Kueng and Lane helped restrain him and Thao kept bystanders away.

The officers are accused of violating a federal law that forbid government officials from abusing their authority, and prosecutors must prove they willfully deprived Floyd of his civil rights. Kueng and Thao, who saw Chauvin pinning Floyd to the ground, were charged with failing to intervene. All four were charged with failing to provide medical aid to Floyd.

If convicted of causing bodily injury while violating the federal civil rights statue, the four men could face fines or up to 10 years in jail, according to the Justice Department. Actions resulting in death can lead to a life sentence or the death penalty, but legal experts told MPR that's unlikely.

If Chauvin is convicted in the federal case, that sentence would be served at the same time as his 270-month state sentence in the death of Floyd. A jury convicted him in April of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

The four men appeared via video conference in Minneapolis so attorneys can argue 40 pretrial motions. Chauvin appeared from a room in the state’s maximum security prison.

From May: Derek Chauvin, 3 other former Minneapolis police officers indicted on civil rights charges in George Floyd's death

At the start of the hearing Tuesday, Magistrate Judge Tony Leung indicated that the issue of separating Keung, Thao and Lane's trials from Chauvin's would be addressed.

In August, attorneys for Kueng and Thao asked to separate their federal trials from Chauvin's, arguing jurors would be unfairly prejudiced if they stood trial with him. Lane's attorney asked to join this request, which prosecutors oppose.

At the time, attorneys for the prosecution and defense had agreed the request was premature and asked to set it aside until more information develops, according to court documents.

Leung may also hear arguments on how much evidence prosecutors must turn over to the defense, according to MPR. Prosecutors have already turned over more than 370 gigabytes of documents, audio and video footage, the outlet reported citing court documents.

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

The federal indictment is separate from the state's case against the officers. Lane, Kueng and Thao face charges of aiding and abetting in Floyd's death.

In May, Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill, who presided over Chauvin's trial, postponed the state trial until March 2022 so the federal case can move forward first. Cahill said he felt the need to put distance between their trial and Chauvin's conviction given the intense public interest.

Chauvin, who made his first appearance on federal charges in June, is also expected to return to federal court Thursday for a separate charge alleging he knelt on a 14-year-old boy's neck in 2017.

Sweeping changes could be coming to policing in Minneapolis following the reckoning over Floyd's death.

The Justice Department launched a civil investigation into the city's policing practices, which will determine if there is a pattern or practice of unconstitutional or unlawful policing and may result in major changes.

Meanwhile, Minneapolis residents will vote in November on a ballot question that would change the city's charter and replace the police department with a department of public safety.

Contributing: The Associated PressFirst court appearance: Chauvin, convicted of George Floyd's murder, appears on federal charges

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: George Floyd federal case: Chauvin, Lane, Kueng, Thao plead not guilty

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