A former police officer was sentenced to two and half years in prison on federal charges stemming from his role in the killing of George Floyd, an incident that sparked protests around the globe against police brutality and racism.
Thomas Lane was sentenced on Thursday for depriving Floyd of medical care as he lay dying under officer Derek Chauvin’s knee in May 2020.
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“Mr Lane, this is a very serious offence, in which a life was lost,” sentencing judge Paul Magnuson said. “The fact that you did not get up and remove Mr Chauvin when Mr Floyd became unconscious is a violation of the law.”
The sentencing came more than two years after the killing of Floyd, who was Black, sparked protests in Minneapolis and around the world over racial injustice in policing, and launched a national reckoning on race.
Lane, 39, who is white, held Floyd’s legs as Chauvin pinned Floyd for nearly nine and a half minutes. Two other officers, J Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao, were also convicted of violating Floyd’s civil rights and will be sentenced later. Lane faces a separate sentencing on September 21 in state court after changing his plea there to guilty to a reduced charge of aiding and abetting manslaughter.
Magnuson on Thursday held up 145 letters of support for Lane — he said he had never received so many on behalf of a defendant — and faulted the Minneapolis Police Department for sending him out with another rookie on the call that ended with Floyd’s killing.
Federal prosecutors had asked for a sentence of up to six and a half years, in line with federal guidelines. Earl Gray, Lane’s lawyer asked for a little more than two years saying his client was the least culpable of the officers.
Gray had argued during the trial that Lane “did everything he could possibly do to help George Floyd”. He pointed out that Lane suggested rolling Floyd on his side so he could breathe, but was rebuffed twice by Chauvin. He also noted that Lane performed CPR to try to revive Floyd after the ambulance arrived.
Lane had testified at trial that he did not realise how dire Floyd’s condition was until paramedics turned him over. Prosecutor Manda Sertich countered that his expressions of concern showed he knew Floyd was in distress but “did nothing to give Mr Floyd the medical aid he knew Mr Floyd so desperately needed”.
Floyd’s family members said they were angered at the judge’s sentence.
Philonise Floyd, one of Floyd’s brothers, had urged Magnuson on Thursday to “hand down the highest level of punishment”. He rejected the idea that Lane had tried to intervene in the restraint, saying none of the officers repositioned George Floyd or tried to administer aid.
He later called the sentencing “insulting that he didn’t get the maximum amount of time.” He said Lane was “an accessory to murder” and said he thought “the whole criminal system needs to be torn down and rebuilt,” according to the AP news agency.
A nephew of Floyd’s, Brandon Williams, said he was “angry and fed up”, the AP reported.
During the trial, federal prosecutors argued that the three police officers knew from their training and from “basic human decency” that they had a duty to help Floyd as he begged for his life before falling limp beneath Chauvin’s knee.
When Lane pleaded guilty in state court in May, Gray said Lane hoped to avoid a long sentence. “He has a newborn baby and did not want to risk not being part of the child’s life,” he said.
Earlier in July, Chauvin was sentenced to 21 years in prison on federal charges of violating Floyd’s civil rights. He was sentenced to 22 and a half years in prison in June 2021 by a Minneapolis court after being convicted in April 2021 of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The sentences will be served concurrently.
Thao and Kueng are free on bond pending sentencing. They have turned down plea deals and are scheduled to go on trial on October 24 on state charges of aiding and abetting both second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.