UPDATED: Kueng felt he ‘had no control’ with trying to get Floyd in squad

Kueng, 28, took the stand in St. Paul's federal courthouse Wednesday, speaking publicly for the first time in the trial against him and two other former officers charged with depriving Floyd of his civil rights during the fatal encounter.

J. Alexander Kueng, left, and his attorney Thomas Plunkett leave the Hennepin County Public Service building following a court appearance in 2020.
Judy Griesedieck / MPR News file photo

ST. PAUL -- Former Minneapolis police officer J. Alexander Kueng told a federal jury Wednesday he'd never encountered such a difficult struggle as when he tried to push George Floyd into a squad car on May 25, 2020.

Floyd pushed back, said Kueng, slamming his own face on plexiglass separating the front and back of the squad car. "His behavior just went to extreme measures," said Kueng. "He started shaking very violently."

Floyd seemed to have no pain response, and Kueng wondered if he suffered from excited delirium.

"I felt I had no control," he said. "I felt like any moment he could shove me off."

Kueng, 28, took the stand in St. Paul's federal courthouse Wednesday, speaking publicly for the first time in the trial against him and two other former officers charged with depriving Floyd of his civil rights during the fatal encounter. Kueng described how he responded to what began as a routine-sounding call that quickly escalated.


Kueng was new to the force. And though policy dictated the first squad on scene is in control, everyone knew "it's always the senior officer" in practice. In this case, that meant Derek Chauvin, his recent training officer.

He described Chauvin, who's already pleaded guilty in this case, as very quiet, by the book, knowledgeable and commanding respect from other officers, who would defer to him on what to do on scenes. "Fair but tough," said Kueng, in perhaps the most detailed description on record of Chauvin's personality.

Under direct questioning, Kueng began with the easiest part of his testimony, talking about how he grew up in North Minneapolis, the oldest of five children. He went to Sheridan Elementary School and graduated from Patrick Henry High School before enrolling in college in New Rochelle, N.Y., to play soccer.

But he tore his ACL and returned home to Minnesota, eventually completing a four-year degree at the University of Minnesota in sociology and criminology. He worked in security and loss prevention at Macy's on Nicollet Mall and became a community service officer with the Minneapolis police department shortly before the 2018 Super Bowl at U.S. Bank Stadium.

As a child growing up in North Minneapolis, Kueng testified that police officers often came to his home because of problems with his younger siblings and that they didn't always treat the family well. Kueng said he decided to become an officer to do a better job.

Before Kueng took the stand, his mother Joni Kueng testified briefly that he was the peacekeeper among the siblings in the family.

Thao continues testimony

Earlier in the day, former officer Tou Thao took the stand under cross examination for a second day. A federal prosecutor pressed him on his failure to say anything to his partners about the crowd's concerns about Floyd falling silent while he was restrained on the street.

Former Minneapolis police officer Tou Thao is flanked by his attorneys as he arrives at the Hennepin County Courthouse before a motions hearing in Minneapolis on Tuesday, July 21, 2020. Thao testified for a second day Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022, in a federal trial in St. Paul. Thao, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane face federal civil rights charges for failing to provide aid to George Floyd, who died in police custody on May 25, 2020.
Evan Frost / MPR News file photo

Assistant U.S. Attorney LeeAnn Bell asked Thao if he had communicated to his partners that Floyd had "stopped speaking, went unconscious and that you had gotten requests from the crowd to check his pulse?"


Thao responded, "How would I know all those things?"

Bell said, "I'm asking if you communicated about any of that."

Thao responded, "No."

Thao, 36, finished his testimony Wednesday morning and his defense rested after his wife Seng Yang took the stand very briefly to describe her husband as law-abiding.

Former officer Thao's testimony was much more intense. He was on the stand much of the day Tuesday, initially coming off as calm and mostly direct in response, but Wednesday the cross examination was rocky and halting with his defense attorney Robert Paule objecting more often than not to Bell's questions.

He was the first of the three former officers to take the stand in his defense. Thomas Lane is expected to testify before the conclusion of this federal trial, now in its fourth week of testimony. The three face federal civil rights charges for failing to provide aid to Floyd. Thao and Kueng are also charged with failing to intervene on Floyd's behalf.

Floyd died on May 25, 2020, after Chauvin knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes while Kueng and Lane helped pin Floyd stomach-down in the street. Floyd's hands were handcuffed behind his back.

Thao testified multiple times that it was important to restrain Floyd until paramedics arrived because Thao said he believed Floyd had taken drugs, was experiencing excited delirium and might revive and become violent.


Chauvin was convicted of murder by a jury last year and sentenced to more than 22 years in prison in state court last year, but did not take the stand on his own behalf.

Throughout his testimony, Thao maintained that he was focused on controlling the bystanders at the scene and trusted the officers to take care of Floyd. Multiple times Wednesday morning, he referred to a "19-year veteran" knowing how to care for Floyd. That was a reference to Chauvin, his partner that day.

Bell asked if Thao was in a position to talk to the officers about the restraint on Floyd, who had stopped speaking seconds before Thao told a bystander that someone who was talking could breathe.

Bell said, "You could have called out to your partners from where you were standing."

Thao responded, "It's a possibility."

She asked if he told Chauvin to get off of Floyd at any point.

Thao said, "I did not."

Bell asked a series of questions about his duty to stop someone - even fellow police officers - from committing a crime.


Thao said, "Correct."

During the more than an hour of continued cross examination Wednesday, Paule even protested Bell's reactions to his extensive objections, saying she was "using facial expressions to express her own displeasure which is inappropriate and unprofessional."

Thao broke his public silence for the first time since George Floyd's killing on Tuesday. Under questioning from Paule, Thao testified that he didn't realize Floyd was in medical distress until Minneapolis firefighters arrived on the scene after an ambulance had already taken Floyd away.

Thao kept bystanders at bay as they yelled at the officers to relent and to check Floyd's pulse once he grew unresponsive. Thao characterized his job as "full-time crowd control."

Paule ended his 2-hour, 45-minute questioning of Thao with a pointed question. "At any point did you touch Mr. Floyd?" he asked.

"I did not," Thao said.

Several police body camera and bystander cellphone videos showed that none of the officers performed CPR on Floyd before paramedics arrived. Lane boarded an ambulance with Floyd and began chest compressions at a paramedic's direction.

Before court started Wednesday, Judge Paul Magnuson announced that a juror had been excused because he had stomach flu or had eaten improper food. He specifically said the juror didn't have COVID-19.


The juror was an alternate, a retired man who had lived in Hennepin County for 71 years and had an MBA. His dismissal leaves the court with 12 jurors and now four alternates. There were six alternates when the trial started, but another juror was previously dismissed.

©2022 StarTribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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