A federal judge sentenced Derek Chauvin to 21 years in prison on Thursday for violating George Floyd’s civil rights, telling the former Minneapolis police officer what he did was “simply wrong” and “offensive.”
U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson sharply criticized Chauvin for his actions on May 25, 2020, even as he opted for the lower end of a sentencing range set out in a plea deal. Chauvin, who is white, pinned Floyd to the sidewalk outside a Minneapolis convenience store for more than nine minutes as the black man said, “I can’t breathe” and became unresponsive.
Floyd’s killing has sparked protests around the world over police brutality and racism.
“I really don’t know why you did what you did,” Magnuson said. “Putting your knee on someone’s neck until they expire is just plain wrong. … Your conduct is wrong and it is offensive.
Magnuson, who earlier this year presided over the federal trial and sentencing of three other officers at the scene, blamed Chauvin alone for what happened. Chauvin was the senior officer present as police attempted to arrest Floyd while responding to a 911 call accusing him of using a counterfeit $20 bill to purchase cigarettes. And Chauvin brushed off questions from one of the other officers about whether Floyd should be turned on his side.
“You absolutely destroyed the lives of three young officers by taking command of the scene,” Magnuson said.
Chauvin’s plea deal called for a 20 to 25-year sentence to be served alongside a 22-and-a-half-year sentence for his state conviction of murder and manslaughter.
Due to differences in parole eligibility in the state and federal systems, that means Chauvin will be serving slightly more time behind bars than he would on the state sentence alone. He would be eligible for parole after 15 years of the state sentence, but must serve nearly 18 years of his federal sentence before he can be released.
He will also spend his time in the federal system, where he may be safer and subject to fewer restrictions than in the state system.
Chauvin’s lawyer, Eric Nelson, had asked for 20 years, arguing that Chauvin was remorseful and would make it clear to the court. But Chauvin, in brief remarks, offered no direct apology or expression of remorse to Floyd’s family.
Instead, he told the family he wished Floyd’s children “all the best in their lives.”
Chauvin was wearing an orange prison uniform and protective mask, according to pool media from the courtroom. He waved to his family and friends in the gallery as he entered. The media made no mention of a visible reaction from Chauvin to any part of the hearing.
Prosecutor LeeAnn Bell asked Magnuson to give Chauvin the full 25 years possible in the plea deal, pointing to the “special responsibility” he had as a police officer to care for those in his custody.
“He wasn’t a rookie,” Bell said. “He knew what his training was. … He admitted in this court that his conduct was wrong and he did it anyway.
Floyd’s brother, Philonise, also asked for the maximum possible sentence, telling Magnuson that the Floyd family had “sentences to life.” He said afterwards that he was upset that Chauvin didn’t have more time behind bars.
Chauvin’s mother, Carolyn Pawlenty, told Magnuson that her son did not go to work with the intention of killing anyone.
“A lot of things have been written about him that are totally untrue, like he’s a racist, which he’s not, he has no heart,” she said. “I believe it is God’s will that we all forgive.”
Chauvin’s guilty plea included an admission that he deliberately deprived Floyd of his right to be free from unreasonable seizure, including unreasonable force by a police officer.
It also included a count of violating the rights of a 14-year-old black man he withheld in an unrelated case in 2017. John Pope, now 18, told Magnuson that Chauvin “doesn’t didn’t care about the outcome” of this detention.
“By the grace of God, I lived to see another day,” Pope said. “It will continue to be part of me for the rest of my life.”
Magnuson did not set sentencing dates for the three other officers who were at the scene — Tou Thao, J. Alexander Keung and Thomas Lane — who were found guilty in February of federal civil rights charges.
Lane is also expected to be sentenced Sept. 21 after pleading guilty in state court to aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter. Thao and Kueng have refused plea deals and are due to stand trial for aiding and abetting on October 24.