More officers involved in the death of George Floyd have now been convicted in a federal court for their part in his fatal arrest. A U.S. judge sentenced them to less than four years in prison, but they will wear the stain of the history-altering event for the rest of their lives.
On Wednesday, July 27, Judge Paul A. Magnuson convicted J. Alexander Kueng, 28, and Tou Thao, 36, two former Minneapolis Police officers, of all federal charges leveled against them in the tragic 2020 death. The men were minimally sentenced for “depriving Floyd of his constitutional rights,” with Kueng receiving 3 years in prison and Thao, 3.5 years, CNN reports.
The Feds argued the men should receive “significantly more” time than another officer, Thomas Lane, who was sentenced a week prior and sentenced to 2.5 years in prison.
On Wednesday, May 18, Lane took a plea deal on his first case pleading guilty to second-degree manslaughter. His attorney Earl Gray said Lane took the deal because he didn’t want to risk losing the first trial and receiving the mandatory 12 years in jail
“My client did not want to risk losing the murder case, so he decided to plead guilty to manslaughter with a 3-year sentence, to be released in 2 years, and the murder case dismissed,” Gray explained. “The sentence will be concurrent with his federal sentence, and he will serve his time in a federal institution.”
Lane’s federal sentencing was lighter than the other police officers associated with Floyd’s death, including Derek Chauvin who knelt on Floyd’s neck for over 9 minutes, because the judge said he had a “minimal role” in the man’s death. Lane held the Houston native’s legs during the altercation.
Kueng held down Floyd’s torso, during the police-involved killing on May 25, 2020, that sparked international civil unrest. Thao held back angry bystanders, blocking them from interfering with Chauvin’s actions.
The ex-cops were also ordered to pay a special assessment of $200 and will be subjected to supervised release for 2 years after completing their sentences.
The judge was critical in his address, explaining his decision and acknowledging the role of hierarchy that played out that day.
Court filings state he took into account that Kueng was a new member of the force and deferred to the authority of Chauvin, the “much more senior officer” on the scene.
Magnuson also stated Kueng and Thao “each made a tragic misdiagnosis in their assessment” of the suspect that day.
“The evidence showed that Kueng genuinely thought that Mr. Floyd was suffering from excited delirium with a drug overdose,” he wrote. “And Thao genuinely believed that the officers were dealing with a drug overdose with possible excited delirium.”
Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division spoke on the culmination of a two-year journey to justice.
In a statement for the DOJ’s official release on the convictions, “All four officers involved in the tragic death of George Floyd have now been convicted in federal court, sentenced to prison, and held accountable for their crimes.”
“George Floyd’s death could have been prevented if these defendants had carried out their affirmative duty to intervene to stop another officer’s use of deadly force,” she continued. “While these defendants have now been held accountable, law enforcement officers and leaders must take seriously the affirmative duty under the Constitution to intervene to stop misconduct by fellow officers and the duty to render medical aid.”
“The federal prosecution of all officers tied to the death of George Floyd 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,” she concluded.
U.S. Attorney Andrew M. Luger for the District of Minnesota also released his comment on the federal conviction and sentencing.
He said, “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.”
“These sentences reaffirm that every law enforcement officer, whether rookie or senior, has an affirmative duty to protect individuals in their custody,” he added.
In February, the men were convicted in a civil lawsuit of violating Floyd’s “constitutional rights to be free from an officer’s unreasonable force when each willfully failed to intervene to stop former Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) Officer Derek Chauvin’s use of unreasonable force.”
“The jury also found that Thao and Kueng deprived Floyd of his constitutional right to be free from a police officer’s deliberate indifference to serious medical needs when they saw Floyd restrained in police custody in clear need of medical care and willfully failed to aid him,” official documents state.
Earlier this year, Chauvin pleaded guilty to violating Floyd’s civil rights and was sentenced on Thursday, July 7, to 21 years in federal prison, a penalty to be served concurrently with his 22.5-year sentence on state murder charges.
Kueng did not give a statement after the sentencing, but his colleague Thao released a statement. In it, he revealed he has become a born-again Christian since he has been incarcerated.
Floyd’s significant other gave a statement, addressing the men in the court.
Courteney Ross said to Thao, “I will never forget you speaking to the onlookers when you said, ‘This is why you don’t do drugs.’”
“No one deserves to be treated as less,” she remarked. “That’s not how Floyd treated others.”