Chauvin sentenced to 21 years in federal court for civil rights violations 

Minnesota Department of Corrections Derek Chauvin

Before former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin was sentenced to 21 years with credit for time served at the Federal Courthouse in St. Paul, his attorney Eric Nelson addressed the court on why he decided to become a police officer. 

“Talking to Chauvin about what he liked best [about being an officer,] and why specifically the Third Precinct, he said he felt that was where he could actually make an impact on people’s lives,” said Nelson.

Indeed, Chauvin, who appeared in court in an orange jumpsuit and was accompanied by his wife and mother, has made an impact on people’s lives. George Floyd is dead and his family is without their loved one because on May 25, 2020, Chauvin placed his knee on his neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds.

Chauvin’s actions resulted in days of protests, an abandoned Third Precinct, many activists and a photojournalist with one less eye, many of his former colleagues filing for workers’ compensation because of post-traumatic stress disorder, and a community struggling over what public safety should look like. 

“I really don’t know why you did what you did, but to put your knee on another’s neck until they expire is simply wrong. For that you must be substantially punished,” said Judge Paul A. Magnuson as he sentenced Chauvin to 21 years in federal prison for violating George Floyd’s civil rights, as well as the civil rights of John Christopher Pope, Jr. by bashing his head with a flashlight when Pope was fourteen.

Judge Magnuson added Chauvin destroyed the lives of J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane, two former officers who were working their first days on the job when Chauvin knelt on George’s neck and had them help.

Chauvin will serve the sentence concurrently with his state sentence. He will also have to pay restitution, an amount to be determined at a later date. He will also serve five years of supervised release and not be allowed access to guns, lines of credit, contact Pope, his family, or George Floyd’s family, or be a police, security, or corrections officer. 

Photo by Cole Miska John Pope (l) and attorney Robert Bennett

Chauvin also received credit for time served for when he was in jail between May 2020 and October 2020 and from April 2021 to June 2021. 

His defense requested 20 years with credit for time served, plus five years of supervised release, because of his work ethic and how serving time in prison as a former cop, mostly in segregation, as well as his diagnosis of heart disease, would affect his life. The prosecution opposed the sentence because it would not punish Chauvin for depriving Pope, who is suing Chauvin, of his civil rights. 

Pope addressed the court before he was sentenced, saying what Chauvin did to him traumatized him. “All of my dreams began to slip out of my hands on September 4, 2017, when I was personally subjected to and experienced police brutality firsthand,” said Pope. “I was a bright school kid full of motivation. I had big dreams. And I tried to achieve good grades in school and chase my dreams and go to college. I was looking forward to [having] a positive impact in my community.”

“The day I met Derek Chauvin was the day that I feared for my life,” Pope later said in his statement. “Sometimes I get very emotional to the point where I don’t want to think about it anymore and want it to go away. Sometimes I feel sorry for myself.” 

Addressing the media outside of the courtroom, Pope said he feels powerless and out of control. “I’m still figuring it out mentally getting to a place I want to be.”

Philonise Floyd addressed the court on behalf of the family, saying how he still has nightmares as his brother George begged for his life, the smirk on Chauvin’s face forever etched into his consciousness. “My family and I have been given a life sentence. We would never be able to get George back,” said Floyd. 

Photo by Cole Miska Attorney Jeff storms Philonese Floyd (middle), and Floyd’s wife Keeta Floyd

Floyd later told reporters outside of the courthouse that he wished Chauvin was sentenced to life in prison. “I just thought [what] everybody seen on the video … was a motion cinema picture; he had his knee on my brother’s neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds, Chauvin showed that he had no conscience, he showed no empathy, he showed no compassion. I just don’t understand, in this world, why,” said Floyd.

George’s fiancé Courtney Ross provided a victim impact statement that was read aloud in court by court staff. “I do not hate you, Mr. Chauvin. I’m working on forgiving you because that is what Floyd would want me to do,” said Ross in her statement. “I hope you use this time in your life to change your life, change your mindset, and try to change others so they do not follow in your footsteps.”

Fighting back tears, Chauvin’s mother Carolyn Pawlenty pleaded for leniency for her son, attesting to his work ethic. “Derek is a caring man who also put his family and friends’ needs before his own. My son did not wake up [on] May [25,] 2020, and decide ‘I’m going to go out today and kill someone,’” said Pawlenty.

The three officers involved in murdering George Floyd and violating his civil rights, Kueng, Lane, and Tou Thao, will be sentenced in federal court at a later date. Kueng and Thao await trial in state court over charges of aiding and abetting Floyd’s murder, which will begin in October. Lane will be sentenced in state court on September 21 after reaching a plea agreement on the same charges.