09 December 2022

Former police officer jailed over role in death of George Floyd

09 December 2022

The former Minneapolis police officer who kneeled on George Floyd’s back while another officer pressed on his neck has been sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison.

Floyd died on May 25, 2020, after former officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck for nine and a half minutes as Floyd repeatedly said he could not breathe and eventually went limp.

J. Alexander Kueng knelt on Floyd’s back during the restraint while a third officer, Thomas Lane, held Floyd’s legs and a fourth, Tou Thao, kept bystanders from intervening.

The killing, which a bystander recorded on video, sparked worldwide protests as part of a broader reckoning over racial injustice.

Kueng pleaded guilty in October to a state count of aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter. In exchange, a charge of aiding and abetting murder was dropped.

Kueng is already serving a federal sentence for violating Floyd’s civil rights. The state and federal sentence will be served at the same time.

He appeared at his sentencing hearing via video from a federal prison in Ohio. When given the chance to address the court, he declined.

Mr Floyd’s family members had the right to make victim impact statements, but none did. Family attorney Ben Crump said in a statement before the hearing that Kueng’s sentencing “delivers yet another piece of justice for the Floyd family”.

“While the family faces yet another holiday season without George, we hope that moments like these continue to bring them a measure of peace, knowing that George’s death was not in vain,” he said.

All of the officers were fired and faced state and federal charges.

As part of his plea agreement, Kueng admitted that he held Floyd’s torso, that he knew from his experience and training that restraining a handcuffed person in a prone position created a substantial risk, and that the restraint of Floyd was unreasonable under the circumstances.

Kueng’s attorney, Thomas Plunkett, on Friday blamed the Minneapolis Police Department’s leadership and a lack of training for Floyd’s death.

He highlighted Kueng’s status as a rookie — saying he had only been on the job on his own for three days — and accused department leadership of failing to implement training to encourage officers to intervene when one of their colleagues is doing something wrong.

“On behalf of Mr Kueng, I’m not calling for justice. I’m calling for progress,” he said.

The sentencing brings the cases against all of the former officers a step closer to resolution, though the state case against Thao is still pending.

Thao previously told Judge Peter Cahill that it “would be lying” to plead guilty.

In October, he agreed to what is called a stipulated evidence trial on the aiding and abetting manslaughter count.

As part of that process, his attorneys and prosecutors are working out agreed-upon evidence in his case and filing written closing arguments. Cahill will then decide whether he is guilty or not.

If Thao is convicted, the murder count — which carries a presumptive sentence of twelve-and-a-half years in prison — will be dropped.

Chauvin, who is white, was convicted of state murder and manslaughter charges last year and is serving twenty-two-and-a-half years in the state case.

He also pleaded guilty to a federal charge of violating Floyd’s civil rights and was sentenced to 21 years.

He is serving the sentences concurrently at the Federal Correctional Institution in Tucson, Arizona.

Kueng, Lane and Thao were convicted of federal charges in February: all three were convicted of depriving Floyd of his right to medical care and Thao and Kueng were also convicted of failing to intervene to stop Chauvin during the killing.

Lane, who is white, is serving his two-and-a-half-year federal sentence at a facility in Colorado. He is serving a three-year state sentence at the same time.

Kueng, who is black, was sentenced to three years on the federal counts; Thao, who is Hmong American, got a three-and-a-half-year federal sentence.

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