Tou Thao was a veteran officer in the Minneapolis Police Department for close to ten years, when a viral video seemed to show him playing a supporting role in the controversial killing of George Floyd, on May 25, 2020.
Thao had been with the Minneapolis Police for eleven years at the time of the killing of George Floyd. Personnel records released to the Press in early June 2020 showed his conduct had been reviewed six times by a Police board.
The city made a $25,000 settlement over a 2014 incident. Thao and another officer encountered a man and his girlfriend walking home from a visit to his grandmother. Thao handcuffed the man and he and his partner administered a beating so brutal it chipped the citizen's teeth. Thao took the man to an emergency room, for medical treatment, but did not allow him to get redressed, following his medical examination. Thao threw out some of the citizen's property, including some prescription medication. Thao took him to the Police station clad only in his underwear. Thao claimed he apprehended the man because he believed he had an outstanding warrant. But the lawsuit claimed Thao arrested him, and had his partner take his wallet and run his name for outstanding warrants, and his partner found nothing.
The citizen faced charges for resisting arrest. A lawyer suggested he sue the Police, when those charges were dropped. The city reached an out-of-court settlement for $25,000 in December 2017 - over three years after the incident. The citizen had to be spend four days in hospital, following the beating, had to wear a back brace for two weeks, and was left with fears that required counseling. He said he recognized Thao, right away, when the viral video of the killing of George Floyd were made public. He said he felt compelled to come forward so the public knew it wasn't an isolated incident.
Following George Floyd's death
Thao, his partner, Derek Chauvin, and two officers with less than a week of active duty, were fired shortly after the video went viral. Chauvin was first charged with third degree murder. On June 3, 2020, prosecutors escalated his charges to second degree murder, and charged Thao and the other two officers with aiding and abetting murder.
Reporters have found that the Minneapolis Police Department had policies, on the books, that should have called for the junior officers to have intervened, and prevented Chauvin, the senior officer, from killing Floyd. The viral video recorded both Thomas K. Lane and Andrew Keung voicing concerns that Chauvin's use of force was putting Floyd at risk. The video shows Thao standing between the crowd of onlookers who had gathered and his three colleagues who were restraining Floyd. The video shows Thao shove a bystander who may have been approaching the officers to intervene.
Records released to the Press, on June 15, 2020, included a transcript of a call from a 911 dispatcher to her supervisor. She saw the incident unfold, in real time, via security camera with a feed to the 911 dispatch headquarters. The transcript shows she told her superior she was so concerned she didn't care if the call got her labelled "a snitch."
Although the four officers were prompty fired, and soon faced criminal charges, they continued to hold licenses to work as police officers. According to the Star Tribune the Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) did not start a review of their licenses to work as police officers until June 17, 2020.
- Bernard Condon; Todd Richmond; Michael R. Sisak. "What to know about 4 officers charged in George Floyd's death". ABC7 Los Angeles. Archived from the original on 2020-06-05. https://web.archive.org/web/20200605004540/https://abc7.com/6229951/.
- Liz Navratil (2020-06-05). [https://web.archive.org/web/20200620200540/https://www.startribune.com/minneapolis-oks-ban-on-police-choke-holds-neck-restraints/571048892/ "Tentative agreement would ban chokeholds, neck restraints by Minneapolis police The agreement, still needing approval by a judge, arises from a state human rights investigation. By Star Tribune JUNE 5, 2020"]. Star Tribune (Minneapolis). Archived from the original on 2020-06-20. https://web.archive.org/web/20200620200540/https://www.startribune.com/minneapolis-oks-ban-on-police-choke-holds-neck-restraints/571048892/. Retrieved 2020-06-24. "Four Minneapolis police officers were fired and later charged in Floyd’s death. According to the latest court documents, former officer Derek Chauvin held his knee on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Prosecutors have said officer J Alexander Kueng held Floyd’s back and Thomas Lane held his legs. A fourth officer, Tou Thao, was seen on video watching nearby."
- Jennifer Bjorhus; Liz Sawyer (2020-06-04). "Personnel records shed light on four Minneapolis police officers charged in George Floyd's death". Star Tribune (Minneapolis). Archived from the original on 2020-06-05. https://web.archive.org/web/20200605145223/https://www.startribune.com/personnel-records-shed-light-on-four-minneapolis-police-officers-charged-in-george-floyd-death/571019902/. Retrieved 2020-06-24. "Thao and another officer were the subjects of a 2017 police brutality lawsuit. Lamar Ferguson alleged that in 2014 the two officers told him they were serving a warrant for his arrest, then beat him, breaking his teeth, while he was handcuffed. The city of Minneapolis paid $25,000 to settle the civil rights case."
- Chao Xiong (2020-06-05). "Two ex-Minneapolis police officers charged in George Floyd's death cast blame on more senior colleague". Star Tribune (Minneapolis). Archived from the original on 2020-06-21. https://web.archive.org/web/20200621001805/https://www.startribune.com/two-fired-minneapolis-police-officers-charged-in-george-floyd-death-cast-blame-on-derek-chauvin/571009922/. Retrieved 2020-06-24. "Thao is a lifelong resident of the metro area, is married and has children, Paule said in arguing for a lower bail."
- Beer (2020-05-28). "Minneapolis Mayor Says Anger ‘Not Only Understandable, It’s Right’—As Bodycam Footage Reportedly Obtained". Forbes magazine. https://www.forbes.com/sites/tommybeer/2020/05/28/minneapolis-mayor-says-anger-is-not-only-understandable-its-right-but-city-must-restore-peace/. Retrieved 2020-06-24. "Tou Thao, another one of the four officers fired for his involvement in Floyd's death, was part of a 2017 excessive force lawsuit that was settled by the city of Minneapolis, according to a settlement obtained by CNN and confirmed by the attorney for the plaintiff in the case."
- Andy Mannix (2020-05-26). "What we know about Derek Chauvin and Tou Thao, two of the officers caught on tape in the death of George Floyd". Star Tribune. Archived from the original on 2020-05-27. https://web.archive.org/web/20200527041830/https://www.startribune.com/what-we-know-about-derek-chauvin-and-tou-thao-two-of-the-officers-caught-on-tape-in-the-death-of-george-floyd/570777632/.
- Dakin Andone; Hollie Silverman; Melissa Alonso (2020-05-28). "The Minneapolis police officer who knelt on George Floyd's neck had 18 previous complaints against him, police department says". Albany Herald. Archived from the original on 2020-06-12. https://web.archive.org/web/20200612130321/https://www.albanyherald.com/news/world_nation/the-minneapolis-police-officer-who-knelt-on-george-floyds-neck-had-18-previous-complaints-against/article_f5e2cc67-df92-572c-a287-8a9452bc3d58.html. Retrieved 2020-06-24. "A physical altercation broke out, according to the lawsuit, then Thao threw Ferguson to the ground and began hitting him. Thao allegedly lifted Ferguson's head up by grabbing the back of Ferguson's hoodie as the other officer allegedly kicked him in the mouth."
- Katy Forester (2020-05-28). "'I WAS HORRIFIED' Black man ‘beaten’ in an alley by George Floyd cop was hospitalized for four days after ‘terrifying attack’". The Sun. Archived from the original on 2020-06-22. https://web.archive.org/web/20200622020446/https://www.the-sun.com/news/894770/black-man-beaten-george-floyd-cop-hospitalized/. Retrieved 2020-06-24. "In a deposition at the time, Thao claimed they arrested Ferguson due to an outstanding warrant and he only punched him after his hand slipped out of the handcuffs. They ran Ferguson's ID through the National Crime Information Center, but no warrant showed up in the system, the lawsuit said."
- Jennifer Bjorhus (2020-05-30). "Derek Chauvin in custody; other officers lay low". Star Tribune. Archived from the original on 2020-05-31. https://web.archive.org/web/20200531035855/https://www.startribune.com/a-deeper-look-at-the-four-officers-fired-after-george-floyd-death/570885592/. Retrieved 2020-06-24. "Tou Thao, videotaped watching as Chauvin continued to press on Floyd’s neck with his knee, has left Minnesota, his lawyer confirmed Friday. Criminal defense attorney Robert Paule said Thao is “safely elsewhere” and that he couldn’t comment further."
- Brendan O'Brien (2020-06-03). "New charges against Minneapolis policemen as protests continue". Reuters (Minneapolis). https://www.reuters.com/article/us-minneapolis-police-protests/new-charges-against-minneapolis-policemen-as-protests-continue-idUSKBN23A1FY. Retrieved 2020-06-24. "The three men - Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao - have also been taken into custody. Aiding and abetting second-degree murder carries the same maximum punishment as the underlying offense - 40 years in prison."
- Bernard Condon; Todd Richmond (2020-06-07). "Minneapolis requires cops to stop unreasonable force, but officers in George Floyd's arrest didn't intervene". ABC 7 News. Archived from the original on 2020-06-16. https://web.archive.org/web/20200616073938/https://abc7news.com/j-alexander-kueng-thomas-lane-tou-thao-derek-chauvin/6236151/. Retrieved 2020-06-24. "Lane held Floyd's legs and Kueng held his back while Chauvin placed his knee on Floyd's head and neck. That's when Floyd repeatedly said "I can't breathe, "Mama" and "please." At one point, Floyd said, "I'm about to die." Nevertheless, Chauvin, Lane and Kueng didn't move. And a fourth officer, Tou Thao, continued standing nearby keeping onlookers back."
- Bill Chappell (2020-06-03). "Chauvin And 3 Former Officers Face New Charges Over George Floyd's Death". National Public Radio. Archived from the original on 2020-06-05. https://web.archive.org/web/20200605183728/https://www.npr.org/2020/06/03/868910542/chauvin-and-3-former-officers-face-new-charges-over-george-floyds-death. "After Thao watched his fellow officers subduing Floyd, the complaint states, 'The defendant then became concerned about a number of citizens who had gathered and were watching the officers subdue Mr. Floyd, and potential traffic concerns, and so the defendant stood between those citizens and the three officers.' It adds, 'When one citizen stepped off the curb, imploring Chauvin to get off of Mr. Floyd, the defendant put his hands on the citizen to keep him back.'"
- Amy Forliti (2020-06-15). "Dispatcher unafraid of being 'snitch' reports Floyd arrest". Star Tribune. Archived from the original on 2020-06-15. https://web.archive.org/web/20200615224306/https://www.startribune.com/dispatcher-unafraid-of-being-snitch-reports-floyd-arrest/571273092/. Retrieved 2020-06-24. "The three other officers, Thomas Lane, J. Kueng and Tou Thao, have been charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and manslaughter. All four officers were fired. Widely seen video recorded by a bystander shows Chauvin's actions and Floyd, with his face smashed against the street as he gasps for air. It also shows Thao, who was facing the bystanders. In the bystander video, Lane and Kueng are obscured by a squad car."
- Greg Stanley (2020-06-17). "Minnesota licensing board to review four ex-officers' roles in George Floyd killing: POST Board has the power to revoke the four former Mpls. cops' licenses.". Star Tribune. Archived from the original on 2020-06-18. https://web.archive.org/web/20200618030832/https://www.startribune.com/minnesota-licensing-board-to-review-four-ex-officers-roles-in-george-floyd-killing/571300012/. Retrieved 2020-06-24. "While all four officers who have been charged in the killing of Floyd were fired from the Minneapolis Police Department, they are still licensed Minnesota peace officers."