Kueng and Thao sentenced for violating George Floyd's civil rights

Kueng will serve a 3-year sentence; Thao gets 3 1/2 years

A group of people in business attire walk through the skyway.
Former Minneapolis police officers J. Alexander Kueng, right, and Tou Thao, left, arrive with attorney Thomas Plunkett, center, at the U.S. District Court in St. Paul on Jan. 11.
Kerem Yucel | AFP via Getty Images file

Updated: 5:33 p.m.

Two former Minneapolis police officers were each sentenced in federal court Wednesday to more than three years in prison for violating George Floyd’s civil rights. 

Former officers J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao were convicted in federal court in February of failing to provide medical aid to George Floyd. They were also convicted of failing to intervene with their former colleague, Derek Chauvin, when he killed Floyd by kneeling on his neck for about nine minutes. 

Kueng’s hearing was first, and he was sentenced to three years in prison.

Kueng was the officer who pinned down Floyd's back while Chauvin kneeled on his neck. He testified that he checked Floyd's pulse and didn't find it, but didn't take any actions to treat Floyd.

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His attorney, Thomas Plunkett, pointed to the fact that Kueng was a rookie cop and was deferring to Derek Chauvin, who had been his field training officer not long before Floyd was killed.

Plunkett said Floyd’s killing was a tragedy on many levels, but that requests from the prosecution for harsher sentences “deepen the tragedy,” and asked for Kueng to receive a more lenient sentence.

“[Kueng] is a nice young man that endeavored to help the community by taking on a difficult role, and now he’s being sentenced for that, how that turned out,” Plunkett told the court

Two mugshots next to one another.
Former Minneapolis police officers Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng.
Hennepin County Sheriff's Office via AP

Prosecutor Manda Sertich told the court that it doesn't matter whether Kueng "misdiagnosed" George Floyd’s medical condition, but that he was aware of his duties as a police officer: "The required and trained response is the same, get off of him, roll him on his side and begin CPR if you don’t have a pulse.”’

U.S. District Court Judge Paul Magnuson acknowledged Kueng’s inexperience, but said he should have known as a trained police officer that anyone in his custody deserves his protection.

Floyd’s girlfriend Courteney Ross said in her victim impact statement to Kueng that he’ll be defined not by this sentence, but by how he chose to move forward afterwards: “As Floyd did, find your purpose and make a difference.”

Lane chose not to make a statement.

Thao’s attorney Robert Paule argued that Thao was the only one of the four officers not to lay hands on Floyd, and that he wasn’t aware of Floyd’s medical needs.

Thao was the officer who held back bystanders calling for the officers to let Floyd up and check his pulse. At points when Floyd was on the ground, Thao made disparaging comments about him to bystanders

Prosecutor LeeAnn Bell countered that bystanders recognized and told Thao repeatedly both that the officers were committing a crime and that Floyd was in dire need of medical assistance: “Even a nine-year-old girl recognized the crime being committed in front of her. Something so unusual that she remarked, ‘We have to call the police on the police.’”

Thao spoke for about 20 minutes during his sentencing, repeatedly citing scripture and a religious awakening he said he experienced after he was jailed in June 2020 for Floyd’s killing.

He railed against "corruption" he said he saw early in the case and quoted from the Old Testament: "It is mine to avenge. I will repay. In due time, their foot will slip. Their day of disaster is near. And their doom rushes upon them."

Magnuson disagreed that Thao should receive a lesser sentence, pointing out that he was an experienced officer. He gave Thao a 42-month — or 3 1/2-year — sentence.

The judge set Oct. 4, 2022 as the day of surrender to federal authorities for both men. He said that time could change depending on developments in the separate state trial for Thao and Kueng, which is set to start in October.

Inmates in federal prison typically serve about 85 percent of their sentences, when “good time” is factored in.

Magnuson ruled last week that the two men should be subject to a sentencing framework for manslaughter rather than the more severe sentence for murder. The frameworks are relevant because their violation of Floyd’s rights led to his death.

Magnuson said during Wednesday’s hearing that both sentences he issued would have been the same if he’d applied a murder framework.

Magnuson also ruled that the men should be subject to a harsher sentencing framework because they abused their authority as law enforcement officers when they violated Floyd’s civil rights. 

Both Thao and Kueng also face charges for aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter in state court.

Another defendant, Thomas Lane, was sentenced last week to 30 months in federal prison. The judge set his day of surrender to the federal Bureau of Prisons as Oct. 4. 

Chauvin was sentenced earlier in July to more than 20 years in federal prison. Although he’ll serve his prison sentences in federal prison, Chauvin has not yet been transferred to the custody of the federal Bureau of Prisons.