ST. PAUL, Minn. — A former Minneapolis police officer who held George Floyd’s legs as he begged for breath beneath Derek Chauvin’s knee was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison Thursday for violating the Black man’s federal civil rights.
Lane and two other former officers — J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao — were convicted in February in federal court of violating Floyd’s civil rights. A jury found they failed to render medical aid to Floyd as he complained of struggling to breathe and lost consciousness while being restrained facedown on a South Minneapolis street.
Kueng and Thao were also convicted of failing to intervene with Chauvin as he pressed his knees into Floyd’s neck and back for nearly 9½ minutes.
Chauvin pleaded guilty in December to federal charges related to Floyd’s death and was sentenced this month to 20 years in federal prison. Chauvin was already serving a 22½-year state sentence for Floyd’s murder, which he will serve concurrently.
Prosecutors had asked U.S. District Judge Paul A. Magnuson, who presided over the case, to sentence Lane to between 5¼ and 6½ years in prison for his role in the restraint that killed Floyd.
Earl Gray, Lane’s attorney, had asked for a sentence of 27 months — slightly shorter than the three-year sentence Lane is facing after he pleaded guilty in May to a separate state charge of aiding and abetting manslaughter in Floyd’s death, avoiding another trial.
On Thursday, Magnuson praised Lane as being a man of “strong character” and noted that he had received nearly 150 letters from people urging him to deliver a lesser sentence — more letters than he had received in any other case he’s overseen during his four decades on the bench.
But he told Lane that he had committed a “serious offense" and sentenced him to 30 months in prison.
“A life was lost," Magnuson said. “The fact that you did not get up and remove Mr. Chauvin from Mr. Floyd or Mr. Floyd became unresponsive is a violation of the law.”
As part of the state plea deal, prosecutors agreed to allow Lane to serve his state sentence concurrent with his federal sentence. They will also allow Lane to serve that time in a federal prison. But it is ultimately up to Hennepin County District Judge Peter A. Cahill, who has scheduled Lane’s state sentencing for Sept. 21. Lane was allowed to remain out of custody until Oct. 4.
In the state case, Lane signed an affidavit admitting his culpability in Floyd’s killing, which was captured on a viral video that sparked worldwide protests and a reckoning on race and policing. “I now make no claim that I am innocent,” the plea agreement, signed by Lane, reads.
In an interview, Gray said his client, whose wife recently gave birth to their first child, pleaded guilty to avoid a potentially longer sentence because he “wanted to be a part of his child’s life.”
Acting on a defense request, Magnuson said Thursday he was “strongly” recommending that Lane be allowed to serve time at a federal prison in Duluth, Minn., so that he can be close to his family, but noted that the Bureau of Prisons will ultimately determine his fate.
Lane was given a chance to speak at Thursday’s hearing, but declined. In an interview ahead the hearing, Gray said his client just “wants to get on with his life.”
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Members of Floyd’s family attended the hearing, including his brother, Philonise, who gave a victim impact statement in which he condemned Lane and the other officers at the scene for failing to do anything to save his brother as he begged for his life.
“Not one officer chose to administer aid ...Not one officer uttered a word to save George’s life,” Philonise Floyd told the court. “Where’s the humanity? Not one officer has apologized for his role.”
Courteney Ross, Floyd’s girlfriend, directly addressed Lane, telling the former officer she did not think he was a “bad guy."
“You are one man in a system that perpetuates ideologies that are based in supremacy and hate,” Ross told Lane in a halting voice that shook with emotion. “You were one of the last people to touch my Floyd’s heart. ...I believe if you could go back in time, you would change what happened not just for you, but for Floyd as well.”
Lane, 39, had been a full-time police officer for less than a week when he and his partner, Kueng, 28, another rookie, responded to a 911 call at a market about the alleged passing of a counterfeit $20 bill.
At the scene, store employees pointed out Floyd sitting in a nearby car, and the officers approached. Lane pulled a gun on Floyd within 15 seconds of encountering him, without telling the man what he was investigating, prompting Floyd to panic and beg the officer not to shoot him.
Lane testified during the federal trial that he was worried Floyd had a weapon or would try to flee the scene. Later, Kueng and Lane struggled with Floyd as they tried to place him inside a squad car.
Chauvin, 46, arrived during the struggle and helped place Floyd on the ground, where he pressed his knees into Floyd’s neck and back. Kueng restrained Floyd’s back, and Lane held the man’s legs. Thao, 36, who was Chauvin’s partner, held back increasingly concerned bystanders who begged the officers to get off Floyd and render aid as the man went limp.
Body-camera video of the incident captured Lane twice asking Chauvin if they should reposition Floyd as the man complained about breathing, but Chauvin rebuffed him. When Floyd went limp, Kueng and Lane checked Floyd for a pulse but could not find one. Kueng relayed that information to Chauvin, who did not move, and all three continued to restrain the man.
Kueng, Lane and Thao all testified they were deferring to Chauvin, the senior officer at the scene who had been Kueng’s field training officer and had advised Lane. But prosecutors argued all three had been trained to immediately move a handcuffed person onto their side when they were no longer resisting and to render medical aid to someone who is unconscious. They also presented testimony showing the officers had been trained to intervene with another officer, no matter his rank, if they observed that person violating use of force or other department policies.
Lane testified that he did not fully realize that Floyd was in trouble until a paramedic rolled the man over to place him on a gurney. His attorney sought to win sympathy from the jury by pointing out that Lane jumped into an ambulance and performed chest compressions on Floyd in an attempt to revive him.
But prosecutors argued that was too little, too late — a sentiment they repeated in their sentencing request. They stated that Lane “did not intend for Mr. Floyd to die” but he didn’t do anything to help him when it could have “made a difference.” His “inaction” not only had “serious consequences” for Floyd and Lane but also Floyd’s family, other police officers and the broader American public, prosecutors said.
On Thursday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Manda Certich objected to a defense argument that Lane had accepted responsibility for his role in Floyd’s death by not vigorously challenging evidence during the federal trial and had tried to make amends by trying to revive Floyd at the scene.
“Acceptance of responsibility means stepping up and saying that what you did or failed to do was wrong,” Sertich said. “Lane did not accept responsibility for his own failures at any point prior to or during trial. Indeed, he is still arguing that he followed his training, which is the opposite of accepting responsibility.”
Prosecutors have asked for a “substantially higher” sentence than Lane’s for Kueng and Thao, but less than what Chauvin received. Attorneys for the former officers have objected to the exact sentencing guidelines Magnuson is considering — specific details of which remain under court seal.
Thao’s attorney Robert Paule has suggested his client should serve no more than two years in prison; Thomas Plunkett, Kueng’s attorney, has not publicly said how much prison time he is seeking for his client. Magnuson has scheduled a Friday hearing for Kueng and Thao on the sentencing dispute. Both Paule and Plunkett were in court for Lane’s sentencing.
At Chauvin’s July 7 sentencing, Magnuson admonished the former officer, not only for his “unconscionable” treatment of Floyd but also for how his actions had affected the lives of Kueng, Lane and Thao. “In addition to taking the life of another human being, you absolutely destroyed the lives of three other young officers,” Magnuson told Chauvin, who displayed no reaction.
Kueng and Thao face another trial this fall on state charges of aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death. Jury selection is scheduled to begin in that case on Oct. 24.