All four officers involved in George Floyd’s murder have now been sentenced in federal court.
But it was far from an uneventful sentencing. In back-to-back hearings that happened on the morning of July 27, Judge Paul Magnuson sentenced J. Alexander Kueng to 36 months and Tou (pronounced ‘too’) Thao, who read a rambling sermon, to 42 months for their roles in Floyd’s May 25, 2020, murder.
“This is a serious offense that resulted in death. This must be avoided at all costs if possible, and it was not avoided,” Magnuson said to Kueng for violating Floyd’s civil rights by failing to render medical care. “For this violation, you must be punished.”
Kueng and Thao asked to be sentenced based on manslaughter guidelines because both thought Floyd was experiencing excited delirium. The judge granted the request. The officers’ requests not to be sentenced under a color of law enhancement were not granted.
Both officers also asked for a sentence reduction, which Magnuson granted for Kueng but not for Thao because he was a rookie officer. “Kueng was a new officer who deferred to the authority of a much more senior officer,” said Magnuson. “Thao is a longer-serving officer and therefore could have more easily intervened in the situation.”
Magnuson added that both would be sentenced to their respective term regardless of the mitigating factors, as the range for manslaughter and second-degree murder were similar.
Family members of the officers were present, as were Courtney Ross and Subrina Montgomery, Floyd’s second cousin once removed. Both Ross and Montgomery made a statement in court.
Ross was more forgiving to Kueng than she was to Thao. Outside the courtroom, she told reporters that she believed Kueng was lost. “However long a sentence you’re given, you will still have a life ahead of you. This sentence will not define you, yet you will be defined by how you decide to move forward,” said Ross in the courtroom, fighting back tears. “Find your purpose and make a difference.”
But in a retort to Thao’s comment where he told those witnessing Floyd’s murder “this is why you don’t do drugs,” Ross said to Thao in the courtroom: “When you get scared in that small prison cell, remember how Floyd felt. Hopefully, that will give you the opportunity to experience empathy. This is why you don’t violate a person’s civil rights.”
Ross also asked the judge to sentence Thao to the maximum sentence possible. Montgomery agreed, reading a statement that both officers deserved longer sentences given as they had a duty to protect people in their custody, much like surgeons or airplane pilots. She left immediately after sentencing without speaking to reporters.
Kueng did not make a statement in court, while Thao, unrepentant, made a rambling statement citing various scriptures from the Bible, ruminating about how he was made a pariah because of Floyd’s death. “I never seen so much corruption early in this case. I only thought this happened in Hollywood,” said Thao, who included a Bible verse that condemned homosexuality and hinted that those who prosecuted him would face retribution.
Nonetheless, Magnuson imposed Thao’s sentence because of his difficult upbringing—his father was abusive—and “quiet, respectful, and reticent demeanor.” Magnuson adds, “Your nature has served you well over the years as an officer with a completely clean record.”
In addition to their sentences, both officers will serve two years of supervised release after their prison terms for each count to be served concurrently. Neither will owe restitution or pay a fine but will pay a special assessment of $100 per charge.
Neither officer will have access to weapons, contact with Floyd’s family, or lines of credit without approval of their probation officers. Magnuson recommended both serve their sentences at minimum-security federal prisons in Duluth or Yankton, South Dakota, 55 miles southwest of Sioux Falls on the South Dakota-Nebraska border.
Both officers can turn themselves into the U.S. Marshals on 11 am on October 4 to begin serving their sentences, contingent on the outcome of the state case. Their sentences can begin later if they are still on trial, or earlier if they reach a plea agreement on the state case, or if both are found guilty and their bail revoked before they are to turn themselves in.
Former Minneapolis police officer Thomas Lane was sentenced on July 20 to 30 months in federal prison, followed by two years of supervised release. Judge Magnuson recommended he serve his sentence in Duluth. He is free on bail and must also report on October 4 to begin his sentence.
Philonise Floyd, George’s brother, did not appear at their sentencing but said shortly after Lane’s sentencing on July 21 how frustrated he was that the officers were not getting the maximum possible sentence. “To me, I think this whole criminal system just needs to be torn down and rebuilt,” said Philonise.
“I just don’t understand how can you just give somebody a minimum amount of time that you want to give them, and you seen on the video that [Lane] did not try to reposition my brother. [Lane] did not try to administer CPR to my brother. They basically, all of them together, just stood there and gave my brother no option but to die.”
Lane still faces sentencing in state court. Chauvin was sentenced to 21 years in federal prison earlier this month and remains in state prison.
Henry Pan is a contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.