J. Alexander Kueng, seen in 2020, was previously convicted of violating George Floyd’s federal civil rights. (Hennepin County Sheriff's Office /Associated Press)
5 min

A former Minneapolis police officer who knelt on George Floyd’s back as he gasped for air beneath Derek Chauvin’s knee was sentenced to 42 months on a state charge of aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter.

J. Alexander Kueng, 29, pleaded guilty in October as part of a plea deal that avoided what would have been a third criminal trial in Floyd’s May 2020 death. In exchange, state prosecutors dropped a count of aiding and abetting second-degree unintentional murder. Kueng is the third of four ex-officers to be sentenced on state charges in Floyd’s killing.

Kueng appeared remotely during an online hearing Friday from a federal prison in Lisbon, Ohio, where he is currently serving a 36-month federal sentence for violating Floyd’s federal civil rights in the fatal arrest. As part of the state plea deal, Kueng will serve his state and federal sentences concurrently in federal prison.

Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter A. Cahill affirmed the plea deal. Asked if he had anything to say, Kueng, who wore a mask and a green prison garb, replied, “Nothing, your honor.”

Kueng was a rookie officer on his third full-time shift when he and another rookie, Thomas K. Lane, responded to a 911 call about an alleged counterfeit $20 bill being used at a South Minneapolis convenience store. On the scene, they encountered Floyd, 46, sitting in a parked car.

Chauvin and his partner, Tou Thao, arrived on the scene as Kueng and Lane struggled to detain Floyd inside a squad car.

Floyd was placed on the ground, handcuffed and facedown, as Chauvin pressed his knees into his neck and back for nearly 9½ minutes. Kueng held Floyd’s back and Lane held his legs while Thao stood a few feet away, pushing back bystanders who urged the officers to get off Floyd as he begged for breath.

Chauvin, 47, was convicted of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter and sentenced to 22½ years in prison — a sentence he is currently appealing. He later pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison for violating Floyd’s federal civil rights. Chauvin is serving both sentences concurrently at a federal prison facility in Tucson

Kueng, Lane and Thao have all claimed they were deferring to Chauvin, the senior officer at the scene, who had been Kueng’s training officer. All three were convicted in February of violating Floyd’s civil rights by failing to render medical aid. Kueng and Thao were also convicted of failing to intervene with Chauvin.

Lane, 39, was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison in July for violating Floyd’s rights. He pleaded guilty in May to a state charge of aiding and abetting manslaughter and sentenced in September to three years in prison. The plea deal allowed Lane to serve his state sentence concurrently with his federal sentence. He is in custody at a federal prison outside Denver.

Thao, 36, was sentenced to 42 months in prison on federal charges related to Floyd’s death. The former officer rejected a plea deal on state charges in Floyd’s killing, but in October, he asked for his case to proceed as a bench trial where a judge, instead of a jury, will decide his guilt or innocence based on written evidence.

Cahill, who has presided over the various state cases into Floyd’s killing, said at a court hearing in October he expects to make a ruling on Thao’s case by mid-February.

Thao was previously being held at a federal prison near Lexington, Ky., but is currently being held in solitary confinement in a county jail facility in Minneapolis until his state case is decided. During a court hearing in October, Cahill revealed that Thao had suffered a concussion days before. The Associated Press reported Thao had been attacked in prison.

Kueng’s sentencing had been scheduled for Friday morning but was delayed several hours when the Bureau of Prisons failed to sign in to the scheduled online hearing. Cahill told participants the court had given notice to prison officials of the date and time of Kueng’s hearing and repeatedly tried to “contact them through email and other ways” and had gotten “no responses whatsoever.”

When the hearing finally began, Matthew Frank, an assistant Minnesota attorney general and one of the lead prosecutors on the case, thanked Kueng for “taking responsibility” for his role in Floyd’s death. But he called on police officers to take lessons from the Floyd case that law enforcement “cannot treat citizens who are in crisis as non-people, as second-class citizens.”

“Mr. Kueng was more than just a rookie. He had taken all the education, gone through all the training and experience to become a licensed peace officer,” Frank said. “He learned the law. He swore an oath to protect life, to put the sanctity of life as the highest command of the job. But that day, he did not follow that training or that oath … George Floyd is a crime victim.”

Thomas Plunkett, an attorney for Kueng, affirmed that his client had accepted a plea deal. But he described the outcome of the case as far from “justice,” insisting his client had merely followed his training as a young police officer. He accused the Minneapolis Police Department of failing not only Floyd but also his client.

“Mr. Kueng is in federal custody and will remain in prison for roughly three years. That is a year in prison for each day he served the city of Minneapolis as a police officer after completion of his training,” Plunkett said.

“Protesters have called for justice,” Plunkett added, referencing the worldwide protests that erupted after Floyd’s death. “Unfortunately, justice has become nothing more than mean-spirited revenge. … I’m not calling for justice. I’m calling for progress. That way Mr. Floyd’s life and Mr. Kueng’s punishment will not be in vain.”