Three former officers involved in George Floyd’s murder sentenced

All three were convicted of violating Floyd’s civil rights in February and sentenced to federal prison.

The+Hennepin+County+Government+Center%2C+on+Sunday%2C+Feb.+28+during+the+trial+of+Derek+Chauvin%2C+the+police+officer+charged+with+the+murder+of+George+Floyd.

Shannon Doyle

The Hennepin County Government Center, on Sunday, Feb. 28 during the trial of Derek Chauvin, the police officer charged with the murder of George Floyd.

by Devlin Epding

Former Minneapolis police officers J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao were sentenced to federal prison on Wednesday for their involvement when former officer Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd in May 2020.

U.S. District Court Judge Paul Magnuson sentenced Kueng to 3 years in prison and Thao to 3 ½ years in prison after they were convicted of violating Floyd’s civil rights in a federal trial in February along with their former colleague Thomas Lane. Lane was sentenced to 2 ½ years in prison as part of a plea agreement on July 21.

All three sentences are lower than federal guidelines, according to the Associated Press. Those guidelines recommended Kueng and Lane to 5 ¼ years and Thao to between 5 ¼ and 6 ½ years in prison.

“Former officers Thao and Kueng each had an individual duty and opportunity to intervene in the excessive force that resulted in the agonizing death of Mr. Floyd, but both men failed to take any action,” U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger said in a statement. “These sentences reaffirm that every law enforcement officer, whether rookie or senior, has an affirmative duty to protect individuals in their custody.”

Justice Magnuson echoed similar sentiments during Lane’s sentencing, telling Lane the “fact that you did not get up and remove Mr. Chauvin when Mr. Floyd became unconscious is a violation of the law.”

Lane and Kueng helped restrain Floyd as Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes, while Thao held back bystanders who were telling the officers to stop. Chauvin has been convicted of second- and third-degree murder, second-degree manslaughter and depriving Floyd of his civil rights. Chauvin is currently serving a more than 20-year prison sentence.

Floyd’s murder caused nationwide protests amplifying activists’ calls for racial equity and systemic police reform.

Although Kueng, Lane and Thao did not directly kill Floyd, prosecutors were seeking “significantly longer” sentences than those were handed down by Judge Magnuson for the three former officers, according to the New York Times.

“Right now, I’m really disappointed,” said Courteney Ross, Floyd’s partner, in a statement. “The sentence, particularly for Tou Thao, didn’t really seem to match the crime to me. I was asking for the maximum sentence … I’m saddened.”

Both Kueng and Lane were working as rookie officers with Chauvin as a senior officer, while Thao had roughly nine years of experience with the Minneapolis Police Department.

Neither Kueng nor Lane addressed the court during their sentences, according to the Star Tribune. Conversely, Thao spoke for more than 20 minutes. He did not apologize for his actions and instead quoted various scripture passages.

“For [Lane and Kueng], I did find empathy. I feel like they’re still searching for something and I feel like they are looking for forgiveness. Tou Thao on the other hand, I did not feel that way,” Ross said. “Only when you repent that you find forgiveness, and he hasn’t made any attempt to feel anything that we’re feeling, to reach out, even in the courtroom to say something to the family.”

In his ruling, Magnuson emphasized that the three former officers did not hold the same level of accountability for Floyd’s death compared to Chauvin, the Star Tribune reported. However, Magnuson said they were responsible for failing to prevent Floyd from being killed.

Kristen Clarke, assistant attorney general for the Department of Justice, said in a statement that they hope these convictions lead to more police accountability.

“George Floyd’s death could have been prevented if these defendants had carried out their affirmative duty to intervene and stop another officer’s use of deadly force,” Clarke said. “The federal prosecution … should send a clear and powerful message that the Department of Justice will never tolerate the unlawful abuse of power or victimization of Americans by anyone in law enforcement.”

A state trial is scheduled for Oct. 24 where Kueng and Thao will face charges of aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter. Unlike Lane, who pleaded guilty in May and whose court sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 21, both Kueng and Thao have pleaded not guilty so far. If they accept a plea deal, they will report to federal prison on Oct. 4.