ST. PAUL, Minnesota (AP) — A federal judge on Wednesday sentenced two former Minneapolis police officers who were convicted of violation of the civil rights of George Floyd in milder terms than those recommended in the sentencing guidelines, calling one “truly a rookie officer” and describing the other as “a good cop, father and husband”.
U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson sentenced J. Alexander Kueng to three years in prison and Tou Thao to 3½ years for violating Floyd’s rights on May 25, 2020, a murder in which then-officer Derek Chauvin pinned Floyd’s neck with his knee for over nine years. minutes like the 46 year old black man said he couldn’t breathe and finally froze. The killing, captured in bystander video, sparked worldwide protests and a reckoning with racial injustice.
Kueng pinned Floyd’s back, Thao restrained worried bystanders, and a fourth officer, Thomas Lane, held Floyd’s feet. way was sentenced last week to two years – also short of the guidelines and a sentence that Floyd’s brother Philonise called “insulting” – while Chauvin was sentenced earlier to 21 years. Members of Floyd’s immediate family did not attend Wednesday’s hearings or comment immediately afterwards.
The lower sentences for Kueng, who is black, and Thao, who is Hmong American, raise questions about whether they would consider a plea deal or risk a trial in state court on October 24, when they face charges of accessory to second degree murder and second degree manslaughter. Lane, who is white, pleaded guilty to a state charge of aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter and is awaiting sentencing in that case.
Sentencing guidelines on the federal charges called for a sentence of 4 ¼ to 5 ¼ years for Kueng and 5 ¼ to 6 ½ years for Thao. For both men, prosecutors argued for sentences in that range or higher, arguing in Kueng’s case that he “didn’t say a word” as Floyd lay dying. They also disputed that Thao’s role was minor, with prosecutor LeeAnn Bell saying he had “a big picture of what was going on” with Floyd pinned to the sidewalk, and had “years on the force”, which meant he should have known better. . She said Thao sometimes looked directly at Floyd and sometimes passersby told her exactly what was going on.
The federal government brought civil rights charges against the four officers in May 2021, a month after Chauvin was convicted of murder and manslaughter in state court. They were seen as an affirmation of Department of Justice priorities to address racial inequities in policing, a promise made by President Joe Biden before his election. And they came just a week after federal prosecutors filed hate crime charges in the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, 25, in Georgia and announced two sweeping investigations into policing in two states.
Magnuson said there was no doubt that Kueng violated Floyd’s rights by not leaving him when Floyd became unresponsive. But he also mentioned what he called “an incredible number” of letters supporting Kueng that he said came from other officers.
“You really were a rookie officer,” Magnuson told Kueng.
Thao was sentenced at a subsequent hearing, where he spoke for more than 20 minutes, frequently citing scripture as he said his arrest and time in prison caused him to turn to God, but did not did not directly address his actions or offer words to Floyd. family. Thao – like Lane and Kueng – remains free on bail, but spent several weeks in jail following his 2020 arrest on state charges.
Magnuson again acknowledged the letters supporting the former officer, including one he said had 744 signatures, and cited what he called Thao’s “completely clean file.”
“You had a difficult childhood and you did well to become a good policeman, father and husband,” Judge said.
Mark Osler, a professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law and a former federal prosecutor, said ahead of Wednesday’s sentencing hearings that Kueng and Thao would likely seek a plea deal on the charges. State that would not exceed the federal sentence and would let them serve their sentences concurrently.
The two men are must report to federal prison on Oct. 4, though Magnuson noted that may change due to their state trial. Magnuson said he would recommend that they be allowed to serve their sentences in minimum-security federal facilities in Duluth or Yankton, South Dakota, so they can be close to family. The final decision rests with the Bureau of Prisons.
Chauvin, who is white, was the highest-ranking officer at the scene and was sentenced to a 22-and-a-half-year state sentence which he is serving concurrently with his federal sentence. He has been held in solitary confinement in the state’s maximum security prison in Oak Park Heights for his own safety since his murder conviction and will eventually be transferred to a federal prison.
Associated Press/Report for America reporter Trisha Ahmed contributed.
Find full AP coverage of the murder of George Floyd at: https://apnews.com/hub/death-of-george-floyd