Sentence for ex-officer involved in George Floyd’s death: 2.5 years

Former Minneapolis police Officer Thomas Lane has been sentenced to 2 1/2 years in federal prison for his role in George Floyd’s death. Mr. Floyd’s family says that’s not long enough. The defense argued that Mr. Lane was the least culpable of the officers involved.

Hennepin County Sheriff's Office/AP/File
A judge has sentenced former Minneapolis police Officer Thomas Lane to 2 1/2 years in prison on a federal civil rights charge for his part in the killing of George Floyd.

A federal judge sentenced former Minneapolis police Officer Thomas Lane to 2 1/2 years in prison Thursday for violating George Floyd’s civil rights, calling Mr. Lane’s role in the restraint that killed Mr. Floyd “a very serious offense in which a life was lost” but handing down a sentence well below what prosecutors and Mr. Floyd’s family sought.

Judge Paul Magnuson’s sentence was just slightly more than the 27 months that Mr. Lane’s attorney had requested, while prosecutors had asked for at least 5 1/4 years in prison – the low end of federal guidelines. Mr. Lane was convicted earlier this year of depriving Mr. Floyd of his right to medical care.

Mr. Lane, who is white, held Mr. Floyd’s legs as Officer Derek Chauvin pinned Mr. Floyd’s neck with his knee for nearly 9 1/2 minutes on May 25, 2020. Bystander video of Mr. Floyd, who was Black, pleading that he could not breathe sparked protests in Minneapolis and around the world in a reckoning over racial injustice over policing.

Two other officers, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao, were also convicted of violating Mr. Floyd’s civil rights – for depriving Mr. Floyd of his right to medical care and for failing to intervene to stop Mr. Chauvin – and will be sentenced later.

Floyd family members had asked Judge Magnuson to give Mr. Lane the stiffest sentence possible, with brother Philonise Floyd rejecting the idea that Mr. Lane deserved any mercy for asking his colleagues twice if George Floyd should be shifted from his stomach to his side.

“Officer Lane did not intervene in one way or another,” he said.

Prosecutor Manda Sertich had also argued for a higher sentence, saying that Mr. Lane “chose not to act” when he could have saved a life.

“There has to be a line where blindly following a senior officer’s lead, even for a rookie officer, is not acceptable,” she said.

Judge Magnuson told Mr. Lane the “fact that you did not get up and remove Mr. Chauvin when Mr. Floyd became unconscious is a violation of the law.” But he also held up 145 letters he said he had received supporting Mr. Lane, saying he had never received so many on behalf of a defendant. And he faulted the Minneapolis Police Department for sending Mr. Lane with another rookie officer on the call that ended in Mr. Floyd’s death.

Judge Magnuson cited two letters in particular that he said came from doctors who recounted a situation when their diagnosis was overruled by a more senior physician, “to disastrous result to the patient.” He said the doctors described being haunted that they did not stand up to the senior physician.

“It speaks loudly to this case,” Judge Magnuson said.

In sentencing Mr. Chauvin earlier this month on a civil rights charge in Mr. Floyd’s killing, Judge Magnuson appeared to suggest that he bore the most blame in the case, telling Mr. Chauvin: “You absolutely destroyed the lives of three young officers by taking command of the scene.”

Mr. Lane did not speak at Thursday’s sentencing and neither he nor his attorney, Earl Gray, commented to reporters afterward. Philonise Floyd called the sentence “insulting” and said he didn’t understand why Mr. Lane – whom he called “an accessory to murder’’ – didn’t get the toughest possible sentence.

“To me I think this whole criminal system needs to be torn down and rebuilt,” he said.

Judge Magnuson also said he would recommend that Mr. Lane serve his sentence at the federal prison in Duluth, a minimum-security facility about 2 1/2 hours from the Minneapolis area. The facility is classified as a “camp,” has no fence and has dormitory-style housing rather than cells. Prison assignments are made by the Bureau of Prisons.

Mr. Gray argued during the trial that Mr. Lane “did everything he could possibly do to help George Floyd.” He pointed out that Mr. Lane suggested rolling Mr. Floyd on his side so he could breathe, but was rebuffed twice by Mr. Chauvin. He also noted that Mr. Lane performed CPR to try to revive Mr. Floyd after the ambulance arrived.

Mr. Lane testified at trial that he didn’t realize how dire Mr. Floyd’s condition was until paramedics turned him over.

When Mr. Lane pleaded guilty in state court in May to one charge of aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter, Mr. Gray said Mr. Lane hoped to avoid a long sentence. “He has a newborn baby and did not want to risk not being part of the child’s life,” he said.

Mr. Chauvin pleaded guilty in December to a federal civil rights charge in Mr. Floyd’s killing and to another civil rights charge in an unrelated case involving a Black teenager. That netted a 21-year sentence from Judge Magnuson, toward the low end of 20- to 25-year range both sides agreed to under his plea deal.

Mr. Chauvin was also convicted of second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in state court and is serving a 22 1/2-year state sentence. His federal and state sentences are being served simultaneously.

Mr. Kueng pinned Mr. Floyd’s back during the restraint and Mr. Thao helped hold back an increasingly concerned group of onlookers outside a Minneapolis convenience store where Mr. Floyd, who was unarmed, tried to pass a counterfeit $20 bill.

Judge Magnuson has not set sentencing dates for Mr. Thao, who is Hmong American, and Mr. Kueng, who is Black. But he has scheduled a hearing for Friday, after their attorneys objected to sentencing calculations under the complicated federal guidelines. Prosecutors are seeking unspecified sentences for them that would be lower than Mr. Chauvin’s but “substantially higher” than Mr. Lane’s.

Mr. Thao and Mr. Kueng are free on bond pending sentencing on their federal convictions. They are also charged with state counts of aiding and abetting both second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. They have turned down plea deals and are scheduled to go to trial on those charges on October 24.

This story was reported by The Associated Press.

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