Ex-officer gets 3 years for violating George Floyd’s rights

Former Minneapolis police officer J. Alexander Kueng was sentenced in federal court to three years in prison on Wednesday for violating the civil rights of George Floyd in the May 2020 killing.

Kueng’s co-defendant, Tou Thao, was due to be sentenced later Wednesday.

Kueng and Thao were convicted in February of two counts of violating Floyd’s civil rights. The jury found they deprived the 46-year-old black man of medical attention and failed to arrest Derek Chauvin as he knelt on Floyd’s neck for 9½ minutes. Kueng, who is black, was sentenced to three years on each count, to be served concurrently.

The lower sentence for Kueng raises questions about whether he would consider a plea deal or risk a trial in state court on Oct. 24, when he and Thao face charges of aiding and abetting murder at the second degree and second degree manslaughter.

Former Minnesota police officer Tou Thao poses for a photo booking at the Hennepin County Jail in Minneapolis on June 3, 2020. (Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office/Reuters)

Kueng held Floyd’s back, former officer Thomas Lane held his feet and Thao held back bystanders, some of whom recorded video that led to protests around the world.

The US federal government filed a civil rights lawsuit against the four officers in May 2021, a month after Chauvin was convicted of murder and manslaughter in state court. They were seen as an affirmation of the priorities of the US Department of Justice to address racial inequality in policing, a promise made by President Joe Biden before his election. And they came just a week after federal prosecutors filed hate crime charges in the murder of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia and announced two full police investigations in two states.

Chauvin, who pleaded guilty last year to violating Floyd’s civil rights and the civil rights of a teenager in an unrelated case, was sentenced to 21 years in federal prison. Lane, who twice asked if Floyd should be rolled onto his side so he could breathe, was found guilty on one count and was sentenced last week to 2½ years in prison – a sentence that Floyd’s brother, Philonise, called “insulting”.

For Kueng, prosecutors asked for less time than Chauvin and “substantially” more than Lane. Kueng’s lawyer had asked for two years, according to prosecutors.

A woman walks past a George Floyd mural in Montreal on June 13, 2020. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

Kueng and Thao secured a victory last week when U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson issued rulings that affect how their federal sentences will be calculated. The rulings – particularly one that referred to their crimes as manslaughter instead of murder – meant the men headed to Wednesday’s hearings with a recommended age range of 4¼ to 5¼. They could have been sentenced to life.

Mark Osler, a professor at the University of St. Thomas Law School and a former federal prosecutor, said before the hearings that once the men know what their federal sentences are, they’ll likely seek a plea deal on the charges. state charges that would win. t exceed the federal sentence and let them serve the sentences concurrently.

Kueng and Thao, who is Hmong American, can still appeal their federal convictions. If they plead guilty in state court, any federal appeal would be moot, said Mike Brandt, a criminal defense attorney who has followed the case. But winning a federal appeal is also difficult, he said.

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“Those are some of the calculations they’re going to have to make in terms of ‘Should I go to trial and risk something worse? Do I think I have a good chance of appealing in the federal case? ‘” Brandt said.

Lane, who is white, pleaded guilty to a state charge of aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter and is awaiting sentencing in that case. He was allowed to remain free on bail after his federal sentencing.

Chauvin, who is white, was convicted of second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in state court and is serving a 22½-year state sentence. His federal and state sentences are being served concurrently.