Jay Senter and Shaila Dewan, New York Times, July 7, 2022
A white Minneapolis police officer whose murder of a Black man outside a convenience store touched off protests around the world was sentenced to 21 years in federal prison on Thursday, in a case that signaled a new readiness to hold police officers criminally accountable for misconduct.
The former officer, Derek Chauvin, 46, was sentenced for using excessive force under color of law against both George Floyd, the man who died in the encounter, and a 14-year-old boy, also Black, who was injured in an unrelated, though similar, incident.
With time already served deducted, Mr. Chauvin’s sentence amounts to 20 years and five months, near the lower end of the range of 20 to 25 years prescribed by the sentencing guidelines. His federal and state sentences are to be served concurrently.
The sentencing marks the likely end of Mr. Chauvin’s legal saga. He was convicted of murdering Mr. Floyd in a dramatic trial in state court last year and sentenced to 22 and a half years in prison, a conviction he has appealed. The sentence on Thursday came in a separate federal civil rights case in which Mr. Chauvin pleaded guilty, severely limiting his right to challenge the sentence.
Philonise Floyd, Mr. Floyd’s brother, urged the court to give Mr. Chauvin the maximum sentence. “I haven’t had a real night’s sleep because of the nightmares I constantly have hearing my brother beg and plead for his life over and over again,” he said.
Prosecutors also argued for Mr. Chauvin to receive the maximum sentence, in part because he pleaded guilty in two encounters.
Mr. Chauvin, who has made scant public comments since his arrest, also addressed the court, though he offered no apology for his actions.
Both he and his lawyer, Eric J. Nelson, sought to portray Mr. Chauvin as a casualty of prevailing political winds. “Your honor, I recognize the difficult and unpleasant job of this case — having to follow legal standards in a charged political environment must be very trying,” Mr. Chauvin said.
Carolyn Pawlenty, Mr. Chauvin’s mother, spoke on her son’s behalf, just as she did at his sentencing in the state trial. She cited his 20 years of service to the Minneapolis Police Department and said that many of its members had “failed to back their own,” an apparent reference to condemnation of her son’s actions and testimony against him by fellow officers.
She said her son had received thousands of cards expressing support, enough to fill a room of her house.
The plea agreement suggested that Mr. Chauvin’s federal sentence be about the same length as the state sentence, 20 to 25 years, giving him the opportunity to do his time in a federal prison where he would be less likely to encounter people he had helped convict when he was an officer.
Three other officers participated in the fatal arrest of Mr. Floyd: two rookies, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane, and a more experienced officer, Tou Thao, who, along with Mr. Chauvin, arrived on the scene to provide backup. Bystander video of the encounter went viral and all four officers were swiftly fired.
They also faced federal civil rights charges in addition to state murder charges, a move that Mark Osler, a former federal prosecutor and law professor at the University of St. Thomas in the Twin Cities, said was more than a practical safeguard against acquittals or successful appeals in state court.
“It was the federal government making a statement about this case being important nationally,” he said. “And it also was a conviction on something beyond what we saw in the state — it was about the deprivation of civil rights, not just the killing of George Floyd.”