A federal judge on Wednesday sentenced ex-Minneapolis police officer J. Alexander Kueng to three years in prison and ex-officer Tou Thao to 3½ years on criminal civil rights charges related to the 2020 killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
The sentencings bring to a close the Justice Department’s criminal prosecution of the four ex-Minneapolis officers involved in Floyd’s death. Earlier this month, Senior U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson gave Derek Chauvin a roughly 20-year sentence and sentenced Thomas Lane to 2½ years.
Lane, Thao and Kueng were each convicted in February after a 21-day jury trial.
Magnuson has so far opted to impose sentences below what prosecutors have urged in Chauvin and Lane’s cases. He signaled last week that Kueng and Thao might also receive lesser sentences than they otherwise would have been given. After a half-hour hearing Friday to dispute sentencing guideline calculations, Magnuson sided, in part, with arguments raised by attorneys for the two ex-officers by finding that involuntary manslaughter and not second-degree murder should be used to calculate the offense levels in their cases.
“Defendants Kueng and Thao each made a tragic misdiagnosis in their assessment of Mr. Floyd,” Magnuson wrote in an order. “The evidence showed that Kueng genuinely thought that Mr. Floyd was suffering from excited delirium with a drug overdose, and Thao genuinely believed that the officers were dealing with a drug overdose with possible excited delirium.”
Magnuson found that those facts precluded the element of “malice aforethought” necessary to prove second-degree murder.
Kueng and Thao are still awaiting an Oct. 24 trial in Hennepin County on state charges of aiding and abetting second-degree murder and manslaughter, but their federal sentencings will bring to a close the Justice Department’s criminal civil rights prosecutions stemming from Floyd’s murder.
In the federal case, prosecutors want both men to be sentenced to a lesser term than what Chauvin received, acknowledging a different level of culpability for Kueng and Thao. Yet the government, without specifying, said it wants a “significantly higher” sentence for the two than what Lane received.
Robert Paule, an attorney for Thao, has argued in court filings that he believes the appropriate sentence for Thao should be between two and 2 ½ years. Thomas Plunkett, Kueng’s attorney, has not publicly stated his position.
Special Litigation Counsel Samantha Trepel, one of the prosecutors in the case, argued that Kueng facilitated Chauvin’s crime of second-degree murder by restraining Floyd’s back for eight minutes and that Thao did so while holding off bystanders who wanted to help Floyd as he became unresponsive.
“Had either or both of them acted while Mr. Floyd was still breathing, the evidence at trial was that Mr. Floyd would have lived, so that makes them deeply involved as participants here,” Trepel said.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism