Completion of Federal Criminal Cases Over Killing of George Floyd

The federal criminal cases over the May 2020 Minneapolis killing of George Floyd started with the May 2021 grand jury indictment of the four ex-Minneapolis police officers who were involved (Derek Chauvin, J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao). The significant subsequent events in those cases were the December 2021 guilty plea of Chauvin; the January-February 2022 federal jury trial of the other three defendants and their guilty verdict; and the July 2022 sentencing of all four defendants. Here are some of the details of those events.

The Criminal Indictment[1]

On May 7, 2021, the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota unsealed the federal grand jury indictment of four ex-Minneapolis police officers (Chauvin, Lane, Kueng and Thao) for allegedly using the “color of the law” on May 25, 2020 to deprive  George Floyd of his constitutional rights to be “free from the use of unreasonable force” when Chauvin held Floyd down by the neck for more than nine minutes while the others did nothing to stop Chauvin. In addition, all four were charged with failing to help provide medical care to Floyd and “thereby acting with deliberate indifference to create a substantial risk of harm.”

Chauvin’s Guilty Plea[2]

On December 15, 2021, at the St. Paul federal courthouse Derek Chauvin pleaded guilty to two counts of depriving George Floyd of his federally-protected civil rights by pinning his knee against Floyd’s neck and by failing to provide medical care for Floyd on May 25, 2020, ultimately causing his death. Chauvin also pleaded guilty to separate federal charges for holding down with his knee a 14-year-old boy in 2007 and failing to provide medical care to the boy and thereby causing non-fatal injuries.

On May 4, 2022, U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson issued an Order accepting Chauvin’s plea agreement and stating that the court “will sentence Defendant in accordance with the terms of the plea agreement,” which provided that both sides agreed he should face a sentence from 20 to 25 years.

Federal Criminal Trial of the Other Three Defendants[3]

Lane , Kueng and Thao went to trial on these charges in January 2022. On February 24, 2022, the jury rendered its verdict that all three were guilty of all charges.

Federal Sentencing of Chauvin[4]

On July 7, 2022, in accordance with that approved plea agreement, Judge Magnuson  sentenced Chauvin to 245 months (20.4 years) in federal prison for these crimes. Said the Judge, ““I really don’t know why you did what you did. But to put your knee on another person’s neck until they expire is simply wrong and for that conduct you must be substantially punished. Your conduct is wrong and it is offensive. To put a knee on another person’s neck is unconscionable.” In addition, the Judge said that Chauvin’s taking control of the Floyd arrest had “absolutely destroyed the lives of three other young officers [Lane, Kueng and Thao].”

Federal Sentencing of Lane[5]

On June 29, 2022, federal prosecutors in a written brief asked the federal court to impose a sentence of up to 6.5 years for Lane’s conviction.

At the July 21st hearing on Lane’s sentencing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Manda Sertich argued, “It is fair and reasonable for a police officer to act when they both appreciate the seriousness of the situation and have the training to make a difference. But there has to be a line where blindly following a senior officer’s lead even for the newest officers cannot be acceptable and that line is surely crossed when someone is dying slowly in front of the new officer.” Moreover, she said, Lane’s decision not to provide Floyd with medical aid was a “catastrophic lapse” that resulted in Floyd’s death.

In response, Lane’s attorney, Earl Gray, argued that Lane should receive downwards departures from the sentencing guidelines because he was “substantially less culpable” than the other defendants and had accepted responsibility for the crime with his guilty plea to the state criminal charges.

Others who made comments at the hearing were George Floyd’s brother, Philonise Floyd, who asked the judge to impose the maximum sentence on Lane, and George Floyd’s girlfriend, Courtney Ross, who said she did not believe Lane was a bad guy, but still had to pay his dues while hoping that he would find his “inner hero” when he gets out of prison.

U.S. District Court Judge Paul Magnuson then sentenced Lane to 30 months (2 ½ years) in federal prison followed by two years of supervised release. The Judge noted the Court’s receipt of 145 letters with favorable comments on Lane and his being less responsible for Floyd’s killing as favoring a lesser sentence even though this was “a very serious offense wherein a life was lost. The fact that you did not get up and remove Mr. Chauvin from Mr. Floyd when Mr. Floyd became unresponsive is a violation of the law.”

Judge Magnuson also said he would urge the federal Bureau of Prisons to send Lane to a facility in Duluth and set a self-surrender date of October 4th after Lane’s September 21st state court sentencing on his guilty plea.

Afterwards a retired Bloomington, MN police officer, Richard Greelis, expresses his belief that Lane, a four-day officer, “should never have been charged with a crime” because “rookie officers are impressed . . . to follow the advice and example of both the FTO [here, Chauvin] and all veteran officers on the street. . . . Rookies would be totally out of their league without their FTO there to guide them. Believe me, all the training in the world does not and cannot prepare you for that first day in uniform.”

Federal Sentencing of Kueng and Thao[6]

On July 22, 2022, Judge Magnuson held a hearing to announce that he would calculate the offense levels for the sentences on Kueng and Thao on the involuntary manslaughter charge, not the second-degree murder charge. This was because the Judge said, “the evidence showed that Kueng genuinely thought that Mr. Floyd was suffering from excited delirium with a drug overdose, and Thao genuinely believed that the officers were dealing with a drug overdose with possible excited delirium.” As a result, said the Judge, these facts precluded the element of “malice aforethought” necessary to prove second-degree murder.

At this hearing, the Judge also rejected the two men’s claims that they were entitled to lesser sentences because they were acting under “color of law” because their positions in law enforcement were addressed in their criminal convictions.

Kueng. At a July 27th hearing Judge Magnuson sentenced Kueng to three years in prison. According to the Judge, there was no question that Kueng violated Floyd’s rights by failing to get off him when Floyd became unresponsive. But there was “an incredible number “ of letters supporting Kueng from other police officers that emphasized his rookie status. The prison term will begin this coming October.

Thao. At a second July 27th hearing, Thao spent over 30 minutes reading aloud several Biblical passages. Judge Magnuson sentenced Thao to 3 ½ years, to begin this coming October.

Conclusion

Absent an appeal by either or both Kueng and Thao from their convictions and/or sentences, the four federal criminal cases over the death of George Floyd have been concluded.

Both Kueng and Thao, however, still face an October 24th trial in Minnesota state court on charges of aiding and abetting both second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Now, however, there is an incentive for these two men to seek a guilty plea to the state charges for sentences not exceeding these federal sentences, to be served concurrently in federal prison. [7]

=============================

[1] Federal Criminal Charges Against Ex-Minneapolis Policemen Over George Floyd Killing, dwkcommentaries.com (May 7, 2021).

[2] Derek Chauvin Pleads Guilty to Federal Criminal Charges Over Killing of George Floyd, dwkcommentaries.com (Dec. 16, 2021); Comment: Federal Court Accepts Chauvin’s Plea Agreement, dwkcommentaries.com (July 7, 2022);

[3] Federal Criminal Trial for Killing George Floyd: Jury Deliberations and Verdict, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 25, 2022). Further details of this criminal prosecution are provided in posts listed in the “Federal Criminal Cases Against Ex-Minneapolis Policemen Over Killing of George Floyd (and Against Derek Chauvin over Excess Force Against Teenager)” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: George Floyd Killing.

[4] Federal Court Sentences Derek Chauvin to 245 Months (20.4 years) for Depriving George Floyd (and John Pope) of Their Federal Civil Rights, dwkcommentaries.com (July 8, 2022).

[5] Federal Prosecution Proposes Criminal Sentences for Ex-Officers Lane, Kueng and Thao’s Convictions for Involvement in the Killing of George Floyd, dwkcommentaries.com (July 2, 2022); Montemayor, Ex-officer Thomas Lane sentenced to 2 ½ years in prison for violating George Floyd’s civil rights, StarTribune (July 21, 2022); Kummer & Bogel-Burroughs, Ex-Officer Who Held George Floyd’s Legs Sentenced to 30 Months in Prison, N.Y. Times (July 21, 2022); Collins, Ex-cop Lane gets 2 ½ years for violating George Floyd’s civil rights, MPRnews (July 21, 2022); Judgment in a Criminal Case, U.S. v. Lane, Case No. 0:21-CR-00108 (4), U.S. Dist. Ct., D. MN (July 21, 2022); Greelis, George Floyd murder: Reduced sentence for rookie officer makes sense, StarTribune (July 25, 2020).

[6] Montemayor, Kueng sentenced to 3 years, Thao 3 ½ years for violating George Floyd’s civil rights, StarTribune (July 27, 2022) Forliti (AP), Ex-cops Kueng, Thao sentenced for violating Floyd’s rights, Wash. Post (July 27, 2022); Kummer & Bogel-Burroughs, Last 2 Officers Involved in George Floyd’s Death Are Sentenced to Prison, N.Y. Times (July 27, 2022) .

[7] Judge agrees to move trial of two former Minneapolis officers to October in George Floyd’s death, StarTribune (June 21, 2022). Resetting State Criminal Trial Date for Kueng and Thao for Killing of George Floyd, ddwkcommentaries.com (June 21, 2022). [Comment:] District Court Order Regarding New Trial Date, dwkcommentaries.com (June 24, 2022).

 

 

Published by

dwkcommentaries

As a retired lawyer and adjunct law professor, Duane W. Krohnke has developed strong interests in U.S. and international law, politics and history. He also is a Christian and an active member of Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. His blog draws from these and other interests. He delights in the writing freedom of blogging that does not follow a preordained logical structure. The ex post facto logical organization of the posts and comments is set forth in the continually being revised “List of Posts and Comments–Topical” in the Pages section on the right side of the blog.

Leave a Reply