Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, convicted earlier this year of the murder of George Floyd, has pleaded guilty to federal charges of violating Floyd’s civil rights.
Chauvin, 45, had previously pleaded not guilty to the federal charges but had faced a potential penalty of life in prison if convicted. His guilty plea on Wednesday averts a trial but will likely extend the time he is already spending behind bars.
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The former officer appeared in US District Court in St Paul, Minnesota in an orange jumpsuit to waive his right to a trial by changing his plea to guilty in an agreement with prosecutors.
Asked by US District Judge Paul Magnuson how he pleaded, Chauvin said, “At this time, guilty, your honour.”
Prosecutors recommended a 25-year sentence for Chauvin after he switched his plea and said he would be moved to a federal penitentiary.
Chauvin has been held in solitary confinement in a Minnesota prison where he is serving a 22.5-year sentence for murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death last year.
Chauvin, who is white, was recorded kneeling on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes during an arrest in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020.
Floyd’s killing ignited months of Black Lives Matter protests and calls for racial justice and an end to police violence in the US.
Judge Magnuson said he would hold a sentencing hearing at a later date, where Chauvin and Floyd’s relatives will have a chance to address the court.
Chauvin was asked by prosecutors on Wednesday if he willfully deprived Floyd of a constitutional right and whether he had his knee on Floyd even after the man was unconscious. “Correct,” Chauvin replied.
The plea agreement signed by Chauvin in court requires him to pay an unspecified amount of restitution and prohibits him from ever being a law enforcement officer again.
Lawyers for Floyd’s family said Chauvin’s plea made them “hopeful for our future”.
“Thanks to marches and cries for justice echoing through our streets, and the courage and wisdom of a jury, significant change is afoot,” lawyers Ben Crump, Antonio Romanucci and Jeff Storms said in a joint statement.
“Not only did we see it with the conviction in a Minnesota state court, but we also now see it at the federal level in the form of landmark civil rights charges.”
The first federal count against Chauvin had alleged he violated Floyd’s right to be free from unreasonable seizure and unreasonable force by a police officer when he kept his knee on Floyd’s neck even after Floyd was unresponsive.
A second count had alleged Chauvin willfully deprived Floyd of liberty without due process, including the right to be free from “deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs”.
Prosecutors said additional federal charges that had been pending against Chauvin of violating the civil rights of a teenage boy he arrested in 2017 would be dismissed, CBS’s Minneapolis affiliate WCCO-TV reported.
Three other officers involved in Floyd’s arrest – who were fired from the Minneapolis Police Department after the incident – still face state and federal charges.
Thomas Lane, J Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao face a federal trial in January on charges they deprived Floyd of his constitutional right to be “free from unreasonable seizure”. They also face charges in a state trial due to begin in March that they aided and abetted the killing of Floyd.
According to evidence in the state case against Chauvin, Kueng and Lane helped restrain Floyd as he was on the ground; Kueng knelt on Floyd’s back and Lane held down Floyd’s legs. Thao held back bystanders and kept them from intervening during the restraint.