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‘It Would be Lying for Me to Accept Any Plea Offer’: Two Former Officers Connected to the Death of George Floyd Reject Plea Deal, Headed to Trial

Two of the four former Minneapolis police officers charged with the death of George Floyd have rejected a plea deal that would have resulted in them serving three years in prison. The men have opted to go forward with an October trial to determine their fate.

During a brief hearing on Monday, Aug. 15, lawyers representing Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng formalized their rejection of the state’s offer for a plea deal for their part in the 2020 death of a Black man who was arrested on suspicion of using a counterfeit $20 bill. Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill received their decision.

Thao and Kueng have been charged with aiding and abetting second-degree unintentional murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter for their role in the fatal restraint of Floyd on May 25, 2020.

When given a chance to speak on why he is not taking the deal, Thao, a Hmong American, said, “It would be lying for me to accept any plea offer.”

Kueng, who identifies as African-American, shared no reason for his decision.

Though the state knew their decision, they had to have the men say it officially in the hearing. 

Attorney General Keith Ellison said in a statement, “It’s a standard best practice to make a record in court when the State offers a plea agreement, in order to ensure the defendant’s decision is freely and knowingly made. The defendants have a right to decline the offer and proceed to trial.”

“The state is ready for trial,” he declared.

The prosecution seeks to hold them partially responsible for his death, claiming neither man stopped then-cop Derek Chauvin from killing Floyd as he pressed his knee into the 46-year-old’s neck for over 9 minutes. The men dismissed the calls of bystanders calling for them to provide relief for the Black man and ignored his own cries — including him wailing for his mother and saying he could not breathe.

Floyd’s death, along with that of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, sparked a summer of civil unrest across the globe.

The altercation was captured and leaked first by a teen bystander. Later community surveillance cameras and the police’s own bodycam, showed in detail what the courts have deemed as negligence in preserving a citizen’s life and the disregard for his personal well-being. 

The two, along with Thomas Lane, were convicted in February by a federal court of violating Floyd’s civil rights.

Lane, who is white, was sentenced to 2½ years in prison for holding down Floyd’s legs while Chauvin secured him with his body weight on his upper body, neck, and head. During this time, he asked twice if he could turn Floyd on his side. That request was denied.

In May, Lane accepted a deal where he admitted to the state manslaughter charge in exchange for an agreement similar to the one his former colleagues rejected. He is scheduled to be formally sentenced, based on the agreement of the plea deal, at the end of September, and then taken into federal custody in October, MPR News reports.

Thao, who held the crowd back, was sentenced to 3 1/2 years and Kueng, who pinned Floyd’s back, was sentenced to 3 years. 

The negotiations started in May and were in discussion until June. The offers would have dropped the charges of aiding and abetting murder and allowed both men to have their state time run concurrently with the federal sentences. The decision for cops has been consistent.

Kueng’s attorney, Thomas Plunkett, said Attorney General Keith Ellison even offered him a different deal, one that would afford his client a promise of serving only 2 years in confinement. Kueng rejected that deal also.

Apparently, the deal was not offered to Thao’s attorney, Robert Paule. He said he asked for that deal and the state rejected it when they proposed it.

Assistant attorney general Matt Frank said he didn’t remember the discussions about the deal playing out that way but that his office offered to drop certain charges.

Currently, Thao and Kueng are appealing their federal convictions.

Refusing to take the plea deal could be a risky gamble for the two men, as prosecutors are already saying they will seek longer sentences than the state’s recommended sentencing guidelines of 12 1/2 years for the murder count and four years for the manslaughter count, according to Frank.

If convicted, and assuming they don’t get in trouble while locked up, defendants typically serve two-thirds of their sentences in prison and the last third on parole.

But by rejecting the plea agreements, Thao and Keung possibly will receive significantly longer state sentences on the state level than their federal sentences if they’re convicted on both counts.

The men were asked if they understood how their sentences might be heavier, and both men replied in the affirmative.

The trial is scheduled to start on Oct. 24. Opening statements are set to begin on Nov. 7.

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