US court sentences two former policemen in George Floyd case

Tou Thao has been sentenced to three and half years in prison on federal charges, and J Alexander Kueng to three years.

J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao
The jury found that J Alexander Kueng, 28, left, and Tou Thao, 36, right, had deprived George Floyd of medical care and failed to help as their colleague Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd's neck with his knee [File: Hennepin County Sheriff's Office via AP]

Two former police officers in the United States have been sentenced on federal charges for their role in the murder of George Floyd, the Black man who was killed when Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, kneeled on his neck during an arrest in May 2020.

At a hearing in St Paul, Minnesota on Wednesday, US District Judge Paul Magnuson sentenced Tou Thao, 36, to three and a half years, and J Alexander Kueng, 28, to three years. A third officer, Thomas Lane, 39, was sentenced last Thursday to two and a half years in prison.

In February, the three were convicted by a federal jury of depriving Floyd of his civil rights and failing to come to Floyd’s aid while Chauvin was choking him with his knee for nine minutes. Chauvin was sentenced in February to 20 years and five months for federal charges related to Floyd’s murder in May 2020.

As Chauvin pinned Floyd’s neck, Kueng held Floyd’s back, officer Thomas Lane held his feet and Thao kept bystanders back during the killing, which was recorded on video by witnesses.

The federal government brought the civil rights charges against all four officers in May 2021, a month after Chauvin was convicted of murder and manslaughter charges in state court. They were seen as an affirmation of the Department of Justice’s priorities to address racial inequities in policing, a promise made by President Joe Biden before his election.

Those charges came just a week after federal prosecutors brought hate crimes charges in the February 2020 killing of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia and announced two sweeping probes into policing in two states.

Arbery, a Black man, was chased by white residents of a Georgia neighbourhood while jogging. The three men cornered him with two vehicles and then shot him dead. They were convicted of murder, kidnapping and hate crimes, among other charges in state and federal courts in 2021 and 2022.

A mobile phone video of the dying, handcuffed Floyd pleading with Chauvin for his life before falling motionless prompted outrage, spurring huge daily protests against racism and police brutality in cities around the world.

The four officers were called to a Minneapolis grocery store on May 25, 2020, and had tried to take Floyd into custody on suspicion he used a fake $20 bill to buy cigarettes.

George Floyd poster
The killing of George Floyd in May 2020 spurred daily nationwide protests calling for an end to police violence and racial injustice in the United States [File: Eric Miller/Reuters]

Chauvin was also convicted of intentional second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in a state trial in 2021. He is serving a concurrent sentence of 22 and a half years on that conviction.

Lane in May pleaded guilty to state aiding and abetting manslaughter charges and agreed to a sentence of three years in prison. A state trial is scheduled to begin in January for Thao and Kueng.

Federal prosecutors argued that the three men 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.

Kueng and Thao got a victory last week when Magnuson issued rulings that affected how their federal sentences would be calculated. The rulings — particularly one that cross-references their crimes with involuntary manslaughter instead of murder — meant the men headed into Wednesday’s hearings with a recommended range of four and a quarter years to five and a quarter years. They might have faced a life sentence.

Source: News Agencies