Derek Chauvin sentenced to 22.5 years in prison in George Floyd’s death
Ex-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, convicted in April of murder and manslaughter charges in George Floyd’s death, was sentenced to 22 years and six months in prison on Friday by Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill. Prosecutors were seeking a 30-year sentence, while Chauvin’s attorney asked for probation and time served. The 45-year-old Chauvin was awaiting sentencing after being convicted of second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter.
In a case that triggered worldwide protests, violence, and an unyielding demand for reexamination of racism and policing in the U.S., Floyd died after Chauvin, a white officer, pinned his knee on the 46-year-old Black man’s neck for about 9 ½ minutes. The cornerstone of the case against Chauvin was a video taken in May 2020 by a young girl which showed Floyd, with his hands handcuffed behind his back, gasping repeatedly while saying, “I can’t breathe.” As onlookers yelled at Chauvin to stop, he pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for what authorities’ claim was about 9 ½ minutes. Officer Chauvin continued to press his knee several minutes after Floyd’s breathing had stopped and he no longer had a pulse.
Judge Cahill expressed his condolences to the Floyd family moments before handing down his sentence for Chauvin, saying the sentence was “not based on emotion or sympathy.” “But at the same time, I want to acknowledge the deep and tremendous pain that all the families are feeling, especially the Floyd family. You have our sympathies,” Cahill said. “It has been painful throughout Hennepin County, throughout the state of Minnesota, and even the country. But most importantly we need to recognize the pain of the Floyd family.”
Cahill attached a 22-page memo to his sentencing, explaining his decision. Under Minnesota statutes, Chauvin was sentenced on the most serious charge of second-degree murder only because all the charges against him stem from one act, with one victim. During the sentencing hearing, prosecutors presented four victim impact statements before a sentence was handed down including a video of Floyd’s daughter, 7-year-old Gianna, and statements from Floyd’s brothers Philonise and Terrence, and his nephew Brandon Williams, who said, “our family is forever broken.”
Carolyn Pawlenty, Chauvin’s mother, appeared before the court to request leniency for her son but failed to address the Floyd family. Her actions left many observers around the country upset with her disregard for Floyd’s life or his family’s ongoing pain.
Before the sentence was announced, Chauvin approached the microphone, removed his mask, and spoke briefly for the first time since the trial began. “I do want to give my condolences to the Floyd family,” he said. “There’s going to be some other information in the future that would be of interest, and I hope things will give you some peace of mind.”
Legal experts had indicated earlier that it would be difficult for Chauvin to speak without implicating himself in a pending federal case accusing him of violating Floyd’s civil rights.
The judge found that Chauvin abused his position of authority, treated Floyd with particular cruelty, and that the crime was seen by several children. “Mr. Chauvin, rather than pursuing the (Minneapolis Police Department) mission, treated Mr. Floyd without respect and denied him the dignity owed to all human beings and which he certainly would have extended to a friend or neighbor,” the judge concluded. He also wrote that Chauvin knew the restraint of Floyd was dangerous. “The prolonged use of this technique was particularly egregious in that George Floyd made it clear he was unable to breathe and expressed the view that he was dying as a result of the officers’ restraint.”
President Biden reacted Friday to the sentencing, saying “I don’t know all the circumstances that were considered, but it seems to me, under the guidelines, that seems to be appropriate.” Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison placed the sentencing in perspective, saying he hopes “this moment gives us pause and allows us to rededicate ourselves to the real societal change that will move us much further along the road to justice. My hope is that he takes the time to learn something about the man whose life he took and about the movement that rolls up to call for justice in the wake of George Floyd’s torture and death,” he said.
Chauvin has been held at the state’s only maximum-security prison, in Oak Park Heights since his April conviction for security reasons. Minnesota Department of Corrections spokesperson Sarah Fitzgerald told CNN that he will remain in a restricted housing unit for the time being. He has been on “administrative segregation” for his safety and has been in a 10 foot-by-10-foot cell, away from the general population. He has meals brought to his room and is allowed out for solitary exercise for an average of one hour a day. It was not immediately clear where he would serve his time after he is sentenced. Under Minnesota law, Chauvin will have to serve two-thirds of his sentence in prison (15 years), and he will be eligible for supervised release for the other seven and a half years.
Three other ex-Minneapolis police officers charged in Floyd’s death will be tried together in August. Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane were all fired the day after Floyd’s death and later charged with aiding and abetting unintentional second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter. The three remain free on $750,000 bail. If convicted, the charges carry a sentencing of up to 40 years in prison.
A few hours before Chauvin’s scheduled sentencing, Judge Peter Cahill denied his motion for a new trial and refused to grant a hearing into defense allegations of jury misconduct.