Ex-cop Chauvin gets 20-plus years for violating George Floyd's civil rights

A man listens in court.
Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin listens as guilty verdicts are read in his murder trial on Tuesday, April 20, 2021.
Screenshot of Court TV video

Updated 3:33 p.m.

Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was sentenced Thursday to more than 20 years in federal prison after pleading guilty late last year to federal charges that he violated George Floyd’s civil rights when he killed Floyd in May 2020.

Chauvin was serving a 22 1/2-year sentence for his conviction on state murder and manslaughter charges at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Oak Park Heights. As part of his federal plea agreement, Chauvin will serve his state and federal sentences at the same time in federal prison.

‘You must be substantially punished’

Floyd was killed on May 25, 2020, after Chauvin kneeled on his neck for more than nine minutes. Floyd’s murder sparked unrest in the Twin Cities and across the country, as well as calls to re-envision American policing. 

Prosecutor LeeAnn Bell told the court prior to sentencing that Chauvin’s sentence “needs to reflect the intentionality. He wasn’t a rookie. He’d been a police officer for years. He knew what his training was. He knew what he was doing was wrong and he did it anyway.”

Chauvin offered a brief statement, saying of Floyd’s children: "I just want to say that I wish them all the best in their life and have excellent guidance in becoming great adults.” He did not apologize to the Floyd family.

Before handing down the sentence, U.S. District Court Judge Paul Magnuson told Chauvin, “I really don’t know why you did what you did. But to put your knee on another person’s neck until they’re deceased is wrong. And for that you must be substantially punished.”

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‘Speaks to his character’

Prosecutors asked Magnuson last month to sentence Chauvin to 25 years in prison, arguing that Chauvin’s actions against Floyd were “cold-blooded,” and that Chauvin deserves a higher sentence for an earlier incident where he used a similar tactic on a 14-year-old boy. 

Prosecutors also argued that a higher sentence would send a message to other police officers “that although they undoubtedly have a difficult job, and one that sometimes carries life and death responsibilities, their role in our criminal justice system is a limited one, and does not include imposing punishment.” 

Chauvin’s attorney, Eric Nelson, had asked the court to sentence Chauvin to no more than 20 years in federal prison followed by five years of supervised release. 

Nelson cited sealed letters from friends and family and “thousands” of letters of support he said Chauvin received from across the country that “speaks to his character and qualities as a human being.” Nelson argued that it was clear Chauvin has expressed remorse for his actions.

‘I don’t hate you, Mr. Chauvin’

Chauvin’s federal plea deal reached last year also admits guilt for a 2017 incident where he repeatedly struck 14-year-old John Pope and kneeled on his neck and upper back for about 15 minutes. Pope, now 19 years old, sued the city of Minneapolis in May.

“I hope he takes this time to think about what he could have done differently and what he did to others,” Pope told the court Thursday, noting that Chauvin's brutality went unchallenged for three years until Floyd’s killing.

In his statement Chauvin told Pope, “I hope you have a good relationship with your mother and also your sister, and I hope that you have the ability to get the best education possible to lead a productive and rewarding life." He did not apologize to Pope or his family.

Attorney Bob Bennett, representing John Pope, slammed the Minneapolis Police Department, saying "Chauvin was hired, trained and nurtured by the Minneapolis Police Department. The Minneapolis Police Department knew who Derek Chauvin was, knew that he was a predator, and that John Pope … George Floyd were merely prey."

In a victim impact statement read to the court, Courteney Ross, Floyd’s girlfriend, wrote, "I don’t hate you, Mr Chauvin. I’m working on forgiving you because that’s what George Floyd would want me to do."

Carolyn Pawlenty, Chauvin's mother, thanked supporters and denounced the "misinformation" in media that her son is racist and has no heart. "Everyone in Minnesota needs to heal and realize that all lives matter, no matter the color of your skin,” she said. “Every life matters.”

She asked for federal prison placement in Minnesota or Iowa, close to family.

Three other former Minneapolis officers charged in Floyd’s killing were convicted in federal court in February of violating Floyd’s civil rights. They’ve yet to be sentenced. 

Former officer Thomas Lane pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter in state court in May. He’s scheduled to be sentenced in September.

Former officers Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng’s trial on state charges of aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter is scheduled for October. Both men rejected plea deals from prosecutors.

Magnuson on Thursday said he hoped the sentence would act as a deterrent against future police misconduct. He also made a point of telling Chauvin of the collateral damaged he’d caused to Kueng, Lane and Thao. By taking control of the Floyd arrest scene that day, the judge told Chauvin he’d “absolutely destroyed the lives of three other young officers.”