Kueng and State Agree on Guilty Plea while Thao Agrees to Judge Cahill’s Deciding His Case on Existing Record

Today, October 24th was to be the start of the state court criminal trial with jury selection for J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao on charges of aiding and abetting the manslaughter and murder of George Floyd.[1]

Instead today the selection of a jury for that trial did not happen when Kueng and the prosecution announced an agreement for his pleading guilty to aiding and abetting the second-degree manslaughter of Mr. Floyd and a prison sentence of three and a half years. Kueng’s attorney, Thomas Plunkett, said that the negotiated settlement included dismissal of a second count of aiding and abetting second-degree unintentional murder and Kueng’s state sentence will be served concurrently with the federal sentence for three years he’s serving at the federal prison in Elkton, Ohio.[2]

After that announcement, co-defendant Tou Thao told District Judge Peter Cahill that he was giving up his right to a jury trial and agreeing instead to a trial only on the aiding and abetting the second-degree manslaughter charge by stipulated evidence. Thao’s attorney, Robert Paule, said that means Cahill will review the evidence and issue a verdict within 90 days and that if the decision is guilty there will be a sentence of three to five years. By November 17th the parties will advise the court of the evidence to be considered and written closing arguments with the Judge to render his decision within the following 90 days.

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[1] E.g., Preparations for State Criminal Trial of Kueng and Thou Over Killing of George Floyd, dwkcommentaries.com (Oct. 13, 2022).

[2] Hyatt, Kueng pleads guilty to state charges in George Floyd killing, while Thao agrees to let judge decide his case, StarTribune (Oct. 24, 2022); Forliti, Ex-Minneapolis cop pleads guilty in George Floyd killing, AP News (Oct. 24, 2022); Bogel-Burroughs, Officer Pleads Guilty to Manslaughter in George Floyd’s Death, N.Y. Times (Oct. 22, 2022).

Preparations for State Criminal Trial of Kueng and Thao Over Killing of George Floyd     

On October 13, Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill entered an Amended Trial Management Order for the upcoming trial of J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao, former Minneapolis police officers, who face charges of aiding and abetting two crimes: (a) second-degree murder and (b) manslaughter  of George Floyd.[1]

Latest Trial Management Order

This Order provided great details on the following:

  • Trial Courtroom (No. 1856), the largest trial courtroom with maximal flexibility, in the Hennepin County Government Center (para. 1);
  • the Media Overflow Courtroom (No. C-2350) (para. 2);
  • the General Public Overflow Courtroom (No. 1659) (para. 3);
  • Court Administration discretion to combine overflow (para. 4);
  • Parties’ Work Rooms (para. 5);
  • Jury Anonymity (para. 6);
  • Clothing/Logos (para. 7), which bans all persons in attendance from “wearing any mask or article of clothing that contains any outwardly-visible image, logo, or letters, or is otherwise dressed in a coordinated fashion with other attending observers in any manner which . . . is designed to send a message to the jury hearing this trial;”
  • “All earlier administrative and trial management and decorum orders addressing other trial logistics and management-related matters . . . remain in effect, except as and only to the extent expressly superseded by this Order (para. 8); and
  • “All other rules of decorum found in Minn. Gen. R. Prac.2 will be followed unless specifically modified by this order or other orders of the presiding judge. The HCSO and court staff are authorized to enforce the rules of decorum” (Para. 9).

The trial is scheduled to start on October 24 with jury selection followed by opening statements on November 7. The trial testimony and closing arguments are expected to end by December 16th, when the jury is anticipated to commence its deliberations.

Pretrial Motions

Judge Cahill, however, has not yet released his rulings on the defendants’ 170 pretrial motions that were argued before the court on October 6 and 7.[2]

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[1] Amended Trial Management Order, State v. Thao & Kueng, (Oct. 13, 2022).

[2] Hyatt, Litany of motions heard ahead of ex-MPD officers’ trial this month for George Floyd’s killing, StarTribune (Oct. 7, 2022); Forliti, State, cops seek to bar evidence in trial over Floyd killing, AP News (Oct. 5, 2022)..

Kueng and Thao Reject Proposed Deals for State Guilty Pleas for George Floyd Killing     

On August 15, 2022, in Hennepin County District Court Minnesota Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank offered the following plea deal to J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao: (a) drop their convictions for aiding and abetting the second-degree murder of George Floyd in exchange for their pleading guilty to the lesser charge of aiding and abetting manslaughter and (b) recommending a three-year prison sentence to be served concurrently with their federal sentences of three years for Kueng and 3 ½ years for Thao.[1]

With Judge Peter Cahill presiding, both men rejected the proposed plea deal with Thao saying, “It would be a lie and a sin for me to accept a plea deal.”

Prosecutor Frank added that the proposed plea deal thus had expired, and the two men still faced their scheduled October 24th trial in this court.

Before the public hearing, Judge Cahill rejected a request from both defense attorneys to hold today’s proceedings in private chambers to avoid media attention. Thao’s attorney said allowing it to proceed in open court made it purely for “public consumption” and would impede a fair trial, while Kueng’s attorney said prosecutors have unfairly taken advantage of the media spectacle around the high-profile cases against the officers. Judge Cahill, however, said he didn’t see how their clients declining to plead guilty would harm their credibility with a jury. The Judge also denied Thao’s attorney’s request to gag prosecutors from talking to reporters.

In a subsequent public statement, Attorney General Keith Ellison said  it’s “a standard best practice” to make a record in court when prosecutors offer a plea agreement to ensure the defendant is making a knowing and free decision. The defendants have a right to decline the offer and proceed to trial. The State is ready for trial.”

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[1] Mannix, Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng reject plea deal offered by state prosecutors in George Floyd killing, StarTribune (Aug. 15, 2022);  Karnowski, Thao, Kueng say they rejected plea deal in Floyd killing, Assoc. Press (Aug. 15, 2022).

 

 

 

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]

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[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).

 

 

Federal Court Sentences Derek Chauvin to 245 months (20.4 years) for Depriving George Floyd (and John Pope) of Their Federal Civil Rights

On July 7, 2022, in the U.S. District Court in St. Paul, Minnesota, Judge Paul A. Magnuson sentenced Derek Chauvin to 245 months (20.4 years) in federal prison for (a) his depriving George Floyd of his federal 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 and (b) Chauvin’s holding down with his knee John Pope, then  a 14-year old boy in 2007, and failing to provide medical care to the boy and thereby causing non-fatal injuries. [1]

At the hearing, Judge Magnuson said, “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 [Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao].”

Other Comments at the Hearing

Before the Judge announced the sentence, the federal prosecutor, LeeAnn Bell, said the sentence “needs to reflect the intentionality. He wasn’t a rookie. He’d been a police officer for years. He knew what his training was. He knew what he was doing was wrong and he did it anyway.” The prosecution’s request for the longer sentence of 25 years reflected that fact that Chauvin’s crime against John Pope was not part of the state case over the killing of George Floyd, for which Chauvin previously was convicted and sentenced by the state court.

George Floyd’s brother, Philonise, said, “I haven’t had a real night’s sleep since this happened. Hearing my brother beg and plead for his life again and again, screaming for our mom.” His family had received a “life sentence. We will never get George back.”

Courtney Ross, Floyd’s girlfriend, in a written statement read by the Judge said, “I don’t hate you, Mr. Chauvin. I’m working on forgiving you because that’s what George Floyd would want me to do.”

John Pope told the court that his encounter with Chauvin had changed him from a “happy’ person to someone who saw his dreams “slip from my hands.” Pope hopes Chauvin takes this time to think about what he could have done differently and what he did to others,” noting that Chauvin’s actions against him had gone unchallenged until Floyd’s killing.

Chauvin’s attorney, Eric Nelson, told the court that Chauvin had received over 1,000 letters of support, evidencing his good “character and qualities as a human being,” that Chauvin had already been punished by [the State of Minnesota] for the offenses [against Mr. Floyd] and that Chauvin had accepted his wrongdoing and had expressed remorse for the harm that has flowed from his actions.

Chauvin himself said that he wanted “to wish [Floyd’s children] all the best in their life and have excellent guidance in becoming great adults.” To John Pope, Chauvin said, “I hope you have a good relationship with your mother and also your sister, and I hope you have the ability to get the best education possible to lead a productive and rewarding life.” But Chauvin did not apologize.

Chauvin’s mother, Carolyn Pawlenty, thanked his supporters and denounced the “misinformation” in media that her son is a racist and has no heart. Everyone in Minnesota needs to heal and realize that all lives matter, no matter the color of your skin. Every life matters.” She then asked for federal prison placement in Minnesota or Iowa to be close to his family.

Background for the Hearing[2]

On December 15, 2021, Chauvin pleaded guilty to two counts of depriving Mr. Floyd of his federally-protected civil rights and ultimately causing his death and to the charges for his 2017 misconduct with Mr. Pope, and under the negotiated Plea Agreement the prosecution and Chauvin agreed that the court could impose imprisonment of 20 to 25 years for these crimes.

This plea agreement was approved by Judge Magnuson on May 4, 2022, when he said the federal sentence would be in accordance with that plea agreement.

Conclusion[3]

Since his conviction on the state criminal charges, Chauvin has been in “administrative segregation” in Minnesota’s maximum security prison in Oak Park Heights, MN and largely confined to a 10-by-10-foot room with about one hour a day outside for exercise.

Now he will be transferred to a federal prison. The federal Bureau of Prisons will decide where Chauvin will be assigned, after evaluating his medical or programming needs, separation and security measures to ensure his protection and proximity to his release residence. Experts speculate that he probably will start in a medium-security facility. Former U.S. Attorney Tom Heffelfinger observed, “It’s dangerous to be an officer in any prison. It’s even more dangerous in state prison because of the nature of the inmate population. There are gangs, for example. And police officers just don’t do well there. Those risks are reduced in a federal prison.”

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1  U.S. Sentencing Memorandum, U.S. v. Chauvin, Criminal No. 21-108(01), U.S. Dist. Ct. MN (June 22, 2022); Defendant’s Position Regarding Sentencing, U.S. v. Chauvin, Criminal No. 21-108(01), U.S. Dist. Ct. MN (June 22, 2022); Montemayor, Derek Chauvin’s federal sentencing scheduled for Thursday, StarTribune (July 5, 2020); Karnowski (AP), Derek Chauvin to be sentenced Thursday in St. Paul on federal charges in George Floyd killing, Pioneer Press (July 5, 2022); Almasy, Derek Chauvin to be sentenced Thursday on  federal charges, cnn.com (July 7, 2022); Bailey, Derek Chauvin faces federal sentence for Floyd’s killing, Wash. Post (July 7, 2022); Collins & Sepic, George Floyd killing: Derek Chauvin sentencing underway in federal court, MPRNews (July 7, 2022); Karnowski (AP), Chauvin gets 21 years for violating Floyd’s civil rights, AP News.com (July 7, 2022); Bailey, Chauvin sentenced to 20 years for violating Floyd’s civil rights, Wash. Post (July 7, 2022); Sepic & Collins, Ex-cop Chauvin gets 20-plus years for violating George Floyd’s civil rights, MPRNews (July 7, 2022); Senter & Dewan, Killer of George Floyd Sentenced to 21 Years for violating civil rights, N.Y. Times (July 7, 2022).

[2] Federal Criminal Trial for Killing George Floyd: Jury Deliberations and Verdict, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 25, 2022); Derek Chauvin Pleads Guilty to Federal Criminal Charges Over George Floyd Killing and Excess Force Against Teenager, dwkcommentaries.com (Dec. 16, 2021); Comment: Federal Court Accepts Chauvin’s Plea Agreement, dwkcommentaries.com (July 7, 2022); Order, U.S. v. Chauvin, Criminal No. 21-108(01), U.S. Dist. Ct. MN (May 4, 2022).

[3]   EXPLAINER: Chauvin heads to federal prison for Floyd’s death. StarTribune (July 7, 2022).

Federal Prosecution Proposes Criminal Sentences for Ex-Officers Lane, Kueng and Thao’s Convictions for Involvement in the Killing of George Floyd

On June 29 , federal prosecutors asked the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota to impose a sentence of up to 6.5 years for Thomas Lane’s conviction for his involvement in the May 2020 killing of George Floyd. The prosecutors also asked on June 29 and 30 for higher sentences for ex-officers J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao, who also have been convicted for their involvement in that killing.[1]

The prosecution’s reasons for these recommendations were very detailed in compliance with the requirements of the federal statute for the imposition of sentences (18 U.S.C. sec. 3553).

All of these convictions are based upon a February 2022 federal jury’s verdict of guilty for these three men for violating Floyd’s civil rights by failing to give Floyd medical care while Kueng also was found guilty of not trying to stop Derek Chauvin from using excessive force. [2]

Reasons for Proposed Sentence of Lane[3]

According to the prosecution, a “within guideline range sentence of 63 months (5.25 years) to 78 months (6.5 years) [for Lane] is reasonable and appropriate in light of the serious consequences of . . . Lane’s criminal omissions and in consideration of the 18 U.S.C. sec. 3553(a) factors.”

“As the jury necessarily found, . . . [Lane] recognized that  . . . Floyd was suffering from a serious medical need and failed to provide him with the basic medical aid and that . . .[Lane] was trained and duty-bound to give such aid at a time when that would have made a difference. . . . . [Lane’s] failure to provide medical aid had serious consequences for Mr. Floyd, Mr. Floyd’s family, . . . Lane’s fellow law enforcement officers, and the broader community. . . . [This proposed sentence] is justified by the gravity and impact of his inaction.”

The prosecution then rejected, with appropriate legal citations, the following Lane objections to this proposed sentence:  (1)  the victim was lawfully restrained; (2) Lane was a minimal participant in the restraint; (3) there was double counting of Lane’s status as someone acting under color of law; and (4) Lane’s guilty plea justifies a downward adjustment because it came after conviction at trial.

Next the prosecution argued that the section 3553(a) factors justified a within-guidelines sentence for Lane: the nature and circumstances of the offense (Lane was well placed to save Floyd’s life) and Lane had information about Floyd’s condition and information and training of how to respond to this condition. In addition, a guideline-range sentence will most appropriately capture the significance of Lane’s inaction, the lasting harm his inaction inflicted on Floyd, the other officers and the larger community.”

Lane’s being a police officer is another reason justifying a higher sentence, and his relative inexperience as an officer is undermined by Lane’s recognition of Floyd’s condition and Lane’s initial training and knowledge.

A within-guidelines sentence of Lane “will remind other officers of their constitutional obligations as law enforcement officers, including an affirmative obligation to protect the lives and safety of those in their custody and thus serve to protect the American public by promoting respect for the law.

Therefore, Lane “should be sentenced to a within-guidelines sentence of 63 months (5.25 years) to 78 months (6.5 years).”

This statement by the prosecution also constitutes a rejection of Lane’s motion for a downward sentencing variance.

Reasons for Proposed Sentence of Kueng[4]

The prosecution argued that a sentence of Kueng should be “significantly more “ than the proposed sentence of 63 to 78 months for Lane because (1) Kueng abused state powers to cause the death of . . . Floyd; (2) Kueng lacked “acceptance of responsibility , including his (at time obstructive and incredible) trial testimony;” (3) the need to promote respect for the law and deter other police officers from standing by as their fellow officers inflict abuses on unresisting arrestees,” and (4) “the need for consistency with respect to other cases in which officers have been convicted of failing to intervene to protect an arrestee from abuse.” The prosecution also argued that Kueng’s sentence should be less than the expected sentence of 240-300 months of imprisonment for Derek Chauvin.

Reasons for Proposed Sentence of Thao[5]

The prosecution argued that Thao’s sentence would be less than the 240-300 months’ anticipated sentence for Chauvin and “significantly more that the Guidelines range applicable to . . . Lane . . . of 63 to 78 months’ imprisonment. Such a sentence is sufficient, but not greater than necessary, to comply with the requirements of 18 U.S.C. sec. 3553(a).”

This proposal, said the prosecution, was justified by the following: (1) ‘the offense resulted in the death of . . Floyd, and thus caused the gravest of harms;” (2) “Floyd was in [Thao’s] custody and care and [he] knew he had a duty to protect . . . [Floyd];” (3) Thao “had the knowledge, opportunity, information and time to recognize the need for action to stop the unreasonable force and to provide medical aid—and yet he failed to act;” (4) Thao’s “lack of acceptance of responsibility, including his (at times incredible)  trial testimony merits a significant sentence;” and (5)  “a significant sentence is needed to promote respect for the law and to deter other police officers from standing by as their fellow officers commit a crime.”

Thao, on the other hand, stated he believes the appropriate calculated Guidelines Range for him is 24-30 months  and requested the Court to impose a sentence of 24 months imprisonment. “This sentence would be sufficient, but not greater than necessary to achieve the goals outlined in [section] 3553.”

Conclusion

We all now wait to see if these defendants offer any other contrary arguments and the decisions on the sentences by Judge Magnuson.

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[1] Montemayor, Federal prosecutors seek up to 6 ½ years for ex-officers for violating George Floyd’s civil rights, StarTribune (June 29, 2022); Karnowski (AP), Prosecutors seek prison for 3 ex-cops in Floyd killing, StarTribune (June 29, 2022); Montemayor, Feds ask for up to 6 ½ years  in prison for ex-MPD officer Thao for failing to help George Floyd, StarTribune (June 30, 2020).

[2] Federal Criminal Trial for Killing George Floyd: Jury Deliberations and Verdict, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 25, 2022).

[3]  United States’ Sentencing Memorandum, U.S. v. Lane, Case 0:21-cr-0018, U.S. Dist. Ct., D. MN (June 29, 2022); Ex-Officer Thomas  Lane Pleads Guilty State Charge of Aiding and Abetting Manslaughter of George Floyd, dwkcommentaries.com (May 18, 2022).

[4]  Government’s Position with Respect to Sentencing, U.S. v. Kueng,, Case 0-21-cr-00188, U.S. Dist. Ct. MN (June 29, 2022); Defendant Kueng’s Motion for a Sentencing Variance, U.S. v. Kueng,, Case 0-21-cr-00188, U.S. Dist. Ct. MN (June 29, 2022).

[5] Government’s Position with Respect to Sentencing, U.S. v. Thao, U.S. Dist. Ct. MN, Case No. 0:21-cr-00108 (June 30,2022); Defendants’ Position with Respect to Sentencing, U.S. v. Thao, U.S. Dist. Ct. MN, Case No. 0:21-cr-00108 (June 30,2022).

 

Resetting State Criminal Trial Date for Kueng and Thao for Killing of George Floyd

On June 6, Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill, in a well-reasoned opinion, postponed the date for the criminal cases against J. Peter Kueng and Tao Thao  to January 5, 2023.[1]

On June 21, Judge Cahill heard arguments on two motions for changing the date for the start of the trial.

Prosecution’s Motion[2]

The prosecution’s one-page letter merely stated, “On behalf of the family of George Floyd, the state requests a speedy trial as provided in the Victim’s Rights Act, Minn. Stat. sec. 611A.033(a), and Minn. R. Crim. P. 11.09(b).”

Kueng’s Motion[3]

Kueng’s motion requested a continuance to a date after April 3, 2023. For background, his motion stated, “On June 17, 2022 the State entered a speedy trial demand. . . . The State’s demand for a speedy trial followed a teleconference . . . [on June 27] wherein the instant continuance request was discussed [and] Counsel for Mr. Thao has informed the Court that he has no objection to this continuance request.” In addition, “On March 9, 2022 and May 27, 2022 the Court conducted chambers conferences with the parties to discuss plea negotiations, trial scheduling and other matters. During each of those meetings Counsel for Mr. Kueng informed the Court and parties that he was unavailable for trial from January through March 2023. Counsel’s unavailability is due a scheduling conflict of a personal nature.”

The Court’s Decision[4]

After hearing from the attorneys, Judge Cahill apologized to Thomas Plunkett, the attorney for Kueng, that he had forgotten that the attorney previously had told the Judge that he had a personal commitment ‘etched in stone’ in January and that he’d rather give up his law license than miss it. Judge Cahill then announced that he was changing the date for commencement of the trial to October 24, 2022 although he was still weighing the need for publicity from the federal trial and former officer Thomas Lane’s May guilty plea to aiding and abetting manslaughter to die down.

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[1] State Criminal Trial for Thao and Kueng Postponed to January 2023, dwkcommentaries.com (June. 6, 2022); Walsh, State requests speedier start for state trial of ex-officers Thao and Kueng in George Floyd killing, StarTribune (June 20, 2022).

[2] Letter, Frank (Assist. Att. Gen.) to Judge Cahill, June 17, 2022).

[3] Defendant Kueng’s Notice and Motion for Continuance, State v. Kueng, Henn. Cty. Dist. Ct. File No. 27-CR-20-12953 (June 19, 2022).

[4] Olson, Judge agrees to move trial of two former Minneapolis officers to October in George Floyd’s death, StarTribune (June 21, 2022).

State Criminal Trial for Thao and Kueng Postponed to January 2023

On June 6, Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill granted motions byTou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng to postpone their criminal trials with a new date of January 5 for their commencement. The court also denied the defendants’ motion to change venue and the motion of the Media Coalition to reconsider the court’s previous barring of audio and video coverage of this trial.[1]

The Reasons for Changing the Trial Date

 The Minnesota Supreme Court has recognized that “continuance of a trial date has been recognized as an effective tool to diminish the effect of prejudicial pretrial publicity.” Here, the defendants have cited two such events.

  • First, on May 18, 2022 (less than four week prior to the scheduled start of the trial co-defendant Thomas Lane pled guilty to aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter. [2]
  • Second, on February 24, 2022, Thao, Kueng and Lane were found guilty by a federal jury of violating George Floyd’s civil rights “based largely on the same evidence as will be introduced in Defendants Thao’s and Kueng’s joint state trial.”[3]

“These two recent events and the publicity surrounding them are significant in they . . could make it difficult for jurors to presume Thao and Kueng innocent of the State charges.” A postponement of the trial for nearly seven months should “diminish the impact of this publicity on the Defendants’ right and ability to receive a fair trial from an impartial and unbiased jury.”

The Reasons for Denial of Change of Venue

Although there has been “saturation news coverage in the Twin Cities in print and broadcast media” of the George Floyd killing and subsequent court proceedings, the same is true “throughout the entire State of Minnesota—not to mention nationally.”

Moreover, “a prospective juror’s exposure to pretrial publicity does not alone create a reasonable likelihood of an unfair trial. . . . Instead, the issue is whether a prospective juror can set aside his or her impressions or opinions based on pretrial publicity, be fair and impartial, and render an impartial verdict.” In addition, this court has taken extensive measures in the earlier Chauvin trial and is now implementing those same measures for the trial of Thao and Kueng.

In addition, postponing the trial to January 2023 will put more than two and one-half years since the killing of Mr. Floyd; more than 20 months since the jury verdict in the Chauvin case; [4] almost eleven months since the jury verdict against Thao and Kueng in the federal civil rights trial; and probably four to six months since their upcoming sentencing in that federal trial.

Finally, this court has continued to impose “appropriate steps to ensure the selection of an impartial jury” and Hennepin County is “the most populous and diverse county in the state.”

The Reasons for Denial of Audio/Video Coverage

“With the reduction in the number of defendants, . . . [the trial courtroom] can now be configured, with the relaxed COVID protocols, to accommodate at least eighteen seats for the public . . . [which] does not amount to a courtroom closure.”

However, “if there is a significant rule change in place by [the commencement of this trial next January], the court would reconsider allowing audio and video coverage.”

Another Consideration

Another consideration favoring the postponement of the trial not mentioned by Judge Cahill was providing additional time for these two defendants, especially after their federal sentencing, to consider attempting to negotiate an agreement with the prosecution for their pleading guilty to the state charges.

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[1] Walsh, State Trial for fired Minneapolis officers Thao, Kueng delayed until January, Star Tribune (June 6, 2022); Order and Memorandum Opinion Concerning Trial, State v. Thao & Kueng, Court Files Nos. 27-CR-20-12949 & 27-Cr-20-12953, Hennepin County District Court (June 6, 2022).

[2] Ex-Officer Thomas Lane Pleads Guilty to State Charge of Aiding and Abetting Manslaughter of George Floyd, dwkcommentaries.com (May 18, 2022). Comment: More Details on Lane’s Guilty Plea, dwkcommentaries.com (May 19, 2022).

[3]  Federal Criminal Trial for Killing George Floyd: Jury Deliberations and Verdict, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 25, 2022).

[4] Derek Chauvin Trial: Week Seven (Conviction), dwkcommentaries.com (April 21, 2021); Derek Chauvin Trial: Chauvin Sentenced to 22.5 Years Imprisonment, dwkcommentaries.com (June 28, 2021).

 

Remaining Ex-Cops in Criminal Case Over Killing of George Floyd Ask for Delay and Change of Venue for Trial

On May 31st Defendants Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng asked Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill to postpone their criminal trial now scheduled to start on June 13 to after federal sentencing and to change the venue for the trial to another county outside the Twin Cities.[1] They contend that it will be impossible to select an impartial jury in light of the following recent developments: the recent guilty plea from their co-defendant, Thomas Lane;[2] the February guilty verdicts for all three former officers in federal court;[3] the settling of costly civil rights lawsuits and public comments from politicians like Attorney General Keith Ellison; and the May 31st premier of the PBS Frontline/StarTribune documentary of the George Floyd killing and its aftermath.[4]

The prosecution (State of Minnesota) opposes these motions.[5] It states that this is a belated attempt “to move this case to somewhere else in Minnesota or delay proceedings for yet another year. This newest motion—Defendant Kueng’s fourth such request—does not offer new facts that warrant this court revisiting its earlier decisions and changing course at this late hour. . . . [This] latest filing is nothing more than a last-ditch attempt to evade judgment.”

Conclusion

These motions, in the opinion of this blogger, will promptly be denied.

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[1] Defendant’s Fourth Motion for Change of Venue or Continuance, State v. Kueng, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12953 (May 28, 2022); Notice of Motion and Motion for a Change of Venue or in the Alternative a Motion for Continuance, State v. Thao, Hennepin County District Court, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12949 (May 30, 2022); Mannix, Two former Minneapolis officers charged in George Floyd killing ask judge to delay, relocate trial, StarTribune (May 31, 2022).

[2] Ex-Officer Thomas Lane Pleads Guilty to State Charge of Aiding and Abetting Manslaughter of George Floyd, dwkcommentaries.com (May 18, 2022);

[3] Federal Criminal Trial for Killing of George Floyd: Jury Deliberations and Verdict, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 25, 2022).

[4] ‘Frontline’ teams up with StarTribune for documentary on Minneapolis police, StarTribune (May 31, 2022).

[5] State’s Opposition to a Change of Venue or a Continuance, State v. Kueng & Thao, Hennepin County District Court, Court File Nos. 27-Cr-20-12953 & 27-CR-20-12949 (May 30, 2022).

Kueng and State Agree on Guilty Plea While Thao Agrees to Judge Cahill’s Deciding His Case on Existing Record

On May 18, 2022, former Minneapolis Police Officer Thomas Lane in state court pleaded guilty to the charge of aiding and abetting manslaughter of George Floyd on May 25, 2020. [1]

Before Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill, this guilty plea was part of a plea agreement which dismissed the separate charge of aiding and abetting second-degree murder and for a sentence of three years imprisonment in federal prison to be served concurrently with his upcoming sentence for his February 2022 conviction in federal court for violating Floyd’s civil rights. The state court sentencing is scheduled for September 21.[2]

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison issued a statement saying, “Today my thoughts are once again with the victims, George Floyd and his family. Nothing will bring Floyd back. He should still be with us today.” Ellison then said, “I am pleased Thomas Lane has accepted responsibility for his role in Floyd’s death. His acknowledgment he did something wrong is an important step toward healing the wounds of the Floyd family, our community, and the nation. While accountability is not justice, this is a significant moment in this case and a necessary resolution on our continued journey to justice.”  Lane’s attorney, Earl Gray, however, declined to comment on this development.

Two other ex-MPD officers, Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng still face state charges of aiding and abetting second-degree murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death. That trial is scheduled to commence on June 13. [3]

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[1] Olson, Ex-MPD officer Thomas Lane pleads guilty to manslaughter charge for role in George Floyd’s murder, StarTribune (May 18, 2022); Forlitti & Karnowski (AP), Ex-cop pleads guilty to manslaughter in George Floyd killing, Wash. Post (May 18, 2022); Ex-Minneapolis police officer pleads guilty to manslaughter in George Floyd’s death, NBC News (May 18, 2022); Minnesota Attorney General, ‘Pleased Thomas Lane has accepted responsibility ‘: Attorney general Ellison statement on guilty plea in death of George Floyd (May 18, 2022). Apparently in April, Lane, Kueng and Thao rejected a plea deal (details not publicly available) offered by the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office. (Jimenez, 3 former police officers charged in George Floyd’s death reject plea deal, CNN.com (April 13, 2022).

[2] Federal Criminal trial for Killing George Floyd: Jury Deliberations and Verdict, dwkcommentareis.com (Feb. 25, 2022).

[3] Hennepin County District Court Enters Order Regarding Trial of Three Former Minneapolis Policemen Over Killing of George Floyd, dwkcommentaries.com (April 30, 2022).