Amy Forliti | Associated Press
- J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao were convicted in February of two counts of violating George Floyd’s civil rights.
- The recommended prison sentence ranges from 4 1/4 years to 5 1/4 years.
- The two men still face counts of aiding and abetting second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in state court.
ST. PAUL, Minn. — The last two former Minneapolis police officers who were convicted of violating George Floyd’s civil rights during his May 2020 killing were sentenced Wednesday in federal court to penalties that a judge said reflected their level of culpability in the case that sparked worldwide protests as part of a reckoning over racial injustice.
J. Alexander Kueng was sentenced to three years and Thao got a 3 1/2-year sentence. They were convicted in February of two counts of violating Floyd’s civil rights in the 2020 slaying. The jury found they deprived the 46-year-old Black man of medical care and failed to stop Derek Chauvin as he knelt on Floyd’s neck for 9½ minutes while Floyd gasped for air.
As Chauvin pinned Floyd’s neck, Kueng held Floyd’s back, former Officer Thomas Lane held his feet and Thao kept back bystanders, some of whom recorded video that led to worldwide protests.
The federal government brought the civil rights charges against all four officers in May 2021, a month after Chauvin was convicted of murder in state court. They were seen as an affirmation of the Justice Department’s priorities to address racial inequities in policing, a promise made by President Joe Biden before his election. And they came just a week after federal prosecutors brought hate crimes charges in the killing of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia and announced two sweeping probes into policing in two states.
Chauvin and Lane have already been sentenced on civil rights violations. 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 convicted of one count and was sentenced to 2 1/2.
The sentences raise questions about whether they will consider a plea deal or risk a state court trial on Oct. 24, when Kueng and Thao face counts of aiding and abetting second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
Former officers faced up to 5 years in prison
Federal prosecutors had requested that U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson sentence Kueng and Thao to less time than Chauvin, but “substantially” more than Lane.
Kueng and Thao got a victory last week when Magnuson issued rulings that affect how their federal sentences will be calculated and could mean far less prison time. The rulings – particularly one that cross-references their crimes with involuntary manslaughter instead of murder – mean the men head into Wednesday’s hearing with a recommended range of 4 1/4 years to 5 1/4 years. They might have faced a life sentence.
Mark Osler, a professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law and former federal prosecutor, said ahead of the hearings that once the men knew what their federal sentences are, they would likely seek a plea deal on the state charges that won’t exceed the federal sentence and will let them serve the sentences concurrently.
Kueng, Thao still face state charges
Kueng and Thao 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 been following the case. But it’s also hard to win a federal appeal, he said.
“Those are some of the calculuses they are going to have to make in terms of, `Do I go to trial and risk something worse? Do I think I have a good shot at appeal on the federal case?'” Brandt said.
Kueng, who is Black, and Thao, who is Hmong American, likely will remain free on bond after Wednesday sentencing and be allowed to self-report to prison, especially since they have a pending trial and will need to be in contact with their attorneys and be present for court proceedings.
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 bond 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 simultaneously.