Derek Chauvin was sentenced to 22 ½ years in prison Friday (June 25), two months after being found guilty of the murder of George Floyd, completing a saga that has lasted more than a year, inspiring worldwide protest over police violence and forcing the nation to take a hard look at the role of law enforcement. He had faced as much as 40 years behind bars.
The sentence is the longest for a police officer convicted of murder in Minnesota history.
In April, a jury found Chauvin, a former Minneapolis policeman, guilty of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter over the May 25, 2020 incident in which he and three other officers, Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao arrested Floyd on suspicion of passing a counterfeit $20 bill. In an attempt to subdue him, Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes, asphyxiating him. He was pronounced dead later at a nearby hospital.
Lane, Kueng and Thao are expected to go to trial for aiding and abetting next year.
In a statment, Floyd family attorney Benjamin Crump expressed apparent satisfaction with the sentence.
“This historic sentence brings the Floyd family and our nation one step closer to healing by delivering closure and accountability. For once, a police officer who wrongly took the life of a Black man was held to account. While this shouldn’t be exceptional, tragically it is. Day after day, year after year, police kill Black people without consequence," said Crump. "But today, with Chauvin’s sentence, we take a significant step forward – something that was unimaginable a very short time ago.
"Now, we look for Chauvin to also be convicted on the federal charges pending against him and for the three other officers to face consequences for their actions. That would represent important additional steps toward justice," said Crump.
In Chauvin’s trial, evidence from police bodycam video, security cameras and witness videos were presented, showing Chauvin refusing to allow Floyd to breathe, although he was gasping and begging for air. The defense tried unsuccessfully to argue that drugs found in Floyd’s system contributed to this death.
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The prosecution has asked for 30 years in prison for Chauvin, citing aggravating factors, including abusing his power as an officer and committing a crime in front of minors (Darnella Frazier, who took cellphone video that she later posted to social media, was 17 and at the scene with her 9-year-old cousin) that would support giving him the maximum sentence. However Minnesota state sentencing guidelines suggested between 10 and 15 years. The defense had sought probation or time served.
Four family members including Floyd’s daughter Gianna and his brother Terrence gave victim’s impact statements prior to the sentencing. Terrence Floyd, said the family is seeking the maximum penalty. He tearfully spoke directly to Chauvin, saying: “I want to know why? What was going through your head when you had your knee on my brother's neck? When you knew that he posed no threat, why didn’t you get up, why did you stay there?"
In a final statement, outlining why the prosecution is asking for the maximum sentence, prosecutor Mattew Frank addressed Cahill, saying that Chauvin's actions warrant it.
"This is not a momentary gunshot, punch to the face. This is nine-and-a-half minutes of cruelty to a man who was helpless and just begging for his life," said Frank.
Floyd's sister, Bridgett Floyd issued a statement moments after the sentence was pronounced.
“The sentence handed down today to the Minneapolis police officer who killed my brother George Floyd shows that matters of police brutality are finally being taken seriously," she said. "However, we have a long way to go and many changes to make before Black and Brown people finally feel like they are being treated fairly and humanely by law enforcement in this country."
In a surprise appearance, Chauvin's mother, Carolyn Pawlenty, gave a statement declaring her continued support of her son and belief in his innocence.
"I have always supported him 100 percent and always will. Derek has played over and over in his head the events of that day. When you sentence my son you will also be sentencing me," she said to Cahill.
Eric Nelson, Chauvin's attorney spoke also, asking for sentencing guidelines to be adhered to, despite the prosecution asking for the maxiumum.
Chauvin himself did not make a statement other than to offer his condolences to the Floyd family. He likely did not utter more than a few phrases because of a possible future appeal.
"Due to some additional legal matters at hand i’m not able to give a full formal statement at this time," he said. "I want to give my condolences to the Floyd family at this time.
"Theres going to be some other information that will be of interest that i think will give you some peace of mind."
Earlier in June, Chauvin made an appearance at a hearing for a federal trial on charges of violating Floyd's civil rights. He is charged with Lane, Thao and Keung. A date for that trial has not yet been set.
Photo: CBS Minnesota