(ST. PAUL, Minn.) — Two former police officers convicted on federal charges in the death of George Floyd were both sentenced Wednesday to prison terms.
Former Minneapolis police officers J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao were sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Paul Magnuson in back-to-back hearings.
Magnuson, who noted that Kueng was a rookie cop at the time of Floyd’s death, sentenced him to serve three years in federal prison, followed by two years of supervised release, according to St. Paul ABC affiliate KSTP.
In a separate hearing, Magnuson sentenced Thao, who had been a nine-year veteran of the Minneapolis Police Department at the time of Floyd’s death, to 3 1/2 years in prison, also followed by two years of supervised release, KSTP reported.
Kueng was sentenced first in U.S. District Court in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Prior to Kueng being sentenced, Floyd’s cousin Sabrina Montgomery and his girlfriend, Courtney Ross, gave victim impact statements.
Ross addressed Kueng directly with compassion, telling him, “This sentence will not define you,” and urging him to “define your purpose,” KSTP reported.
“This does not mean you cannot find your footing to stand up for what’s right in the future,” Ross told Kueng.
Montgomery asked Magnuson to give both Kueng and Thao the maximum sentence.
“All of these men deserve to serve longer sentences,” Montgomery said, according to KSTP. “The system these officers operated in is flawed, but again, where is their humanity?”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Manda Sertich told Magnuson that Kueng, who was a rookie cop at the time of Floyd’s death, admitted during his trial testimony that he was aware that it was his duty to intervene, but he failed to act.
“All he had to do per MPD policy was attempt to intervene … but he didn’t say a word. Not one word,” Sertich said, according to KSTP.
Kueng declined to make a statement in court before he was sentenced. But his attorney, Thomas Plunkett, spoke on his behalf, telling Magnuson, “He’s a nice young man that attempted to help the community by taking on a difficult role … and now he’s being sentenced for that.”
Both Kueng, 28, and Thao, 35, were convicted by a federal jury in February along with their former police colleague Thomas Lane, 39, who received a sentence last week of 2 1/2 years in prison for violating Floyd’s civil rights.
Federal prosecutors had asked for a sentence of 6 1/2 years for Lane, which according to federal sentencing guidelines, was the maximum.
All three men were convicted of using the “color of the law,” or their positions as police officers, to deprive Floyd of his civil rights by willfully being indifferent to his serious medical needs.
During Thao’s sentencing hearing, Montgomery again asked for the maximum sentence. Ross also spoke at Thao’s sentencing, but did not offer him words of encouragement like she did when she addressed Kueng and called for a maximum sentence.
“Mr. Thao, as you watched my love being suffocated under the knee of your co-officer, I will never forget you saying to the onlookers, ‘This is why you don’t do drugs,'” said Ross, citing video played at the officers’ trial.
Thao’s lawyer, Robert Paule, described Thao as “a decent person who was just trying to do his job.”
Thao gave a statement in court, telling Magnuson he found God after being arrested in Floyd’s death and saying that he had learned to lean on his faith.
Prosecutors said Kueng, Thao and Lane, who was also a rookie cop, all failed to intervene as the handcuffed, unarmed 46-year-old Black man was pinned under the knee of their senior officer, Derek Chauvin, for more than nine minutes on May 25, 2020, outside a Minneapolis convenience store where Floyd was accused of using a phony $20 bill to buy cigarettes.
Thao and Kueng were also convicted of violating Floyd’s right to be free of an unreasonable seizure by willfully failing to intervene to prevent Chauvin from applying bodily injury to Floyd.
Prosecutors had requested a “substantially higher” federal sentence than Lane’s, but far less than what Chauvin received.
Chauvin was sentenced on Thursday by Magnuson to serve 21 years in prison after pleading guilty in December to violating Floyd’s civil rights and admitting he kept his knee on Floyd’s neck even after he became unresponsive. Chauvin also pleaded guilty to depriving a then-14-year-old boy of his constitutional right to be free from the use of unreasonable force by an officer, which resulted in bodily injury to the teen, according to the Justice Department.
Magnuson also sentenced Lane.
The length of the sentences for Kueng and Thao are lower than the recommended federal sentencing guidelines, which called for 4 1/4 years to 5 1/4 years.
“The facts of this case do not amount to second-degree murder under federal law,” Magnuson wrote in a ruling last week. “Defendants Kueng and Thao each made a tragic misdiagnosis in their assessment of Mr. Floyd.”
Magnuson noted that Kueng and Thao believed Floyd was suffering from a drug overdose and “excited delirium” — a syndrome in which a subject displays wild agitation and violent behavior that can sometimes lead to death.
Lane was the only police officer involved in Floyd’s fatal arrest to express concern for the man’s well-being. Police body-camera video played at the three former officers’ federal trial captured Lane asking twice if they should roll Floyd onto his side from a prone position to help ease his breathing.
Chauvin, 46, was also convicted in state court in April 2021 on charges of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. He was sentenced in June 2021 by Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill to 22 1/2 years in state prison.
Chauvin will serve his sentence in federal prison concurrently with his state sentence.
Lane also pleaded guilty to state charges of aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter. In exchange for the plea, prosecutors agreed to dismiss the top charge against him of aiding and abetting second-degree unintentional murder. Lane is awaiting his sentence in state court.
Kueng and Thao are scheduled to be put on trial in state court on Oct. 24 on charges of aiding and abetting in murder and aiding and abetting in manslaughter. They have both pleaded not guilty.
Following Wednesday’s sentencing hearings, Ross expressed disappointment in the punishment handed down, especially for Thao.
“The sentence, particularly for Tou Thao, didn’t really seem to match the crime to me,” Ross told reporters outside the courthouse. “I’m saddened, but I suppose we have to take all these little small triumphs and know that we’re going to move forward even though there just little crumbs that they kind of keep giving us, but maybe one day we’ll get a loaf of bread.”
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