ST. PAUL, Min. †
A federal judge on Thursday sentenced Derek Chauvin to 21 years in prison for violating George Floyd’s civil rights, telling the former Minneapolis police officer that what he did was “just wrong” and “offensive.”
U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson sharply criticized Chauvin for his actions on May 25, 2020, even when he chose the low end of a penalty range required in a plea deal. Chauvin, who is white, pinned Floyd on the sidewalk outside a corner store in Minneapolis for more than nine minutes while the black man pleaded, “I can’t breathe,” and stopped responding.
Floyd’s murder sparked protests around the world in a reckoning over police brutality and racism.
“I really don’t know why you did what you did,” Magnuson said. “Putting your knee on someone’s neck until they expire is just wrong. Your behavior is wrong and it’s offensive.”
Magnuson, who earlier this year presided over the federal trial and the convictions of three other officers at the scene, only blamed Chauvin for what happened. Chauvin was by far the senior officer present when police attempted to arrest Floyd while he was responding to a 911 call in which he was accused of using a counterfeit $20 bill to purchase cigarettes. And Chauvin dismissed questions from one of the other officers as to whether Floyd should be put on his side.
“You absolutely destroyed the lives of three junior officers by taking command of the place,” Magnuson said.
Chauvin’s plea deal called for a 20 to 25 year sentence to be served concurrently with a 22 1/2 year sentence for his state murder and manslaughter conviction.
Due to differences in parole eligibility in the state and federal systems, this means Chauvin will spend a little more time behind bars than he would have on the state sentence alone. He would be eligible for parole after 15 years on the state sentence, but must serve nearly 18 years of his federal time before he can be released.
He will also spend his time in the federal system, where he may be safer and may be held under fewer restrictions than the state system.
Chauvin attorney Eric Nelson had asked for 20 years, arguing that Chauvin was remorseful and would make that clear to the court. But Chauvin, in brief remarks, made no direct apology or condolences to Floyd’s family.
Instead, he told the family that he wishes Floyd’s children “the very best in their lives.”
Chauvin wore an orange prison uniform and a protective mask, according to polar media reports from the courtroom. He waved to family and friends in the gallery as he entered. Media reports made no mention of any apparent reaction from Chauvin to any part of the hearing.
Prosecutor LeeAnn Bell asked Magnuson to give Chauvin the full 25 years possible in the plea deal, emphasizing the “special responsibility” he had as a police officer to care for those in his custody.
“He wasn’t a rookie,” Bell said. “He knew what his education was. … He admitted in this court that his behavior was wrong and he did it anyway.”
Floyd’s brother Philonise also asked for the maximum possible sentence, telling Magnuson that the Floyd family had been “given a life sentence.” He said afterwards that he was angry that Chauvin was not given more time behind bars.
Chauvin’s mother, Carolyn Pawlenty, told Magnuson that her son did not go to work with the intention of killing anyone.
“A lot of things have been written about him that are totally wrong, like that he is a racist, which he is not, that he has no heart,” she said. “I believe it is God’s will that we all forgive.”
Chauvin’s plea of guilty included an admission that he intentionally deprived Floyd of his right to be free from unreasonable seizure, including unreasonable force by a police officer.
It also included a count for violating the rights of a black 14-year-old whom he stopped in 2017 in an unrelated case. John Pope, now 18, told Magnuson Chauvin “didn’t care about the outcome” of that reluctance.
“By the grace of God I have lived to see another day,” Pope said. “It will remain a part of me for the rest of my life.”
Magnuson has not set sentencing dates for the three other officers on the scene — Tou Thao, J. Alexander Keung and Thomas Lane — who were convicted in February of federal civil rights charges.
Lane will also be sentenced on Sept. 21 after pleading guilty in state court to complicity in second-degree manslaughter. Thao and Kueng have rejected plea deals and will face charges on October 24 for complicity in charges.