The former Minneapolis police officer who kneeled on George Floyd’s back while another officer kneeled on the Black man’s neck was sentenced Friday to 3 1/2 years in prison for manslaughter.
J. Alexander Kueng pleaded guilty in October to a state count of aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter. In exchange, a charge of aiding and abetting murder was dropped. The plea came on the same day jury selection was set to begin in his trial. His guilty plea — along with another officer’s decision to let a judge decide his fate — averted what would have been the third long and painful trial over Floyd’s killing.
Matthew Frank, who led the prosecution for the Minnesota attorney general’s office, said repeatedly during Friday’s hearing that Floyd was a crime victim and that the prosecution “focused on the officers” who caused his death. He said the case was not meant to be a broader examination of policing, but added that he hopes it will reaffirm that police officers cannot treat those “who are in crisis as non-people or second-class citizens.”
“Mr. Kueng was not simply a bystander that day. He did less than what some of the bystanders attempted to do in helping Mr. Floyd,” Frank said.
Floyd died on May 25, 2020, after former Officerkneeled on Floyd’s neck for 9 1/2 minutes as Floyd repeatedly said he couldn’t breathe and eventually went limp. The killing, which was recorded on video by a bystander, sparked worldwide protests as part of a broader reckoning over racial injustice.
Kueng kneeled on Floyd’s back during the restraint. Then-Officer Thomas Lane held Floyd’s legs and Tou Thao, also an officer at the time, kept bystanders from intervening. All of the officers were fired and faced state and federal charges.
Kueng, who is already serving a federal sentence for violating Floyd’s civil rights, appeared at Friday’s sentencing hearing via video from a low-security federal prison in Ohio. When given the chance to address the court, he declined. The hearing was scheduled to take place Friday morning but was postponed to the afternoon due to technical difficulties.
Floyd’s family members had the right to make victim impact statements, but none did.
As part of his plea agreement, Kueng admitted he held Floyd’s torso, that he knew from his experience and training that restraining a handcuffed person in a prone position created a substantial risk, and that the restraint of Floyd was unreasonable under the circumstances.
Kueng agreed to a state sentence of 3 1/2 years in prison, to be served at the same time as his federal sentence and in federal custody.
Kueng’s sentencing brings the cases against all of the former officers a step closer to resolution, though the state case against Thao is still pending.
Thao previously told Judge Peter Cahill that it “would be lying” to plead guilty. In October, he agreed to what’s called a stipulated evidence trial on the aiding and abetting manslaughter count. As part of that process, his attorneys and prosecutors are working out agreed-upon evidence in his case and filing written closing arguments. Cahill will then decide whether he is guilty or not.
Attorney Joe Tamburino, who is not connected with this case,that to hold a trial in this manner is “very unusual” and rarely happens.
“In my 33 years of experience with over 100 jury trials, defense attorneys don’t waive a jury unless they have a very, very good idea what the judge will do,” Tamburino said. “The main reason you don’t waive a jury is that a jury needs to be unanimous … and a ‘bench trial’ is just one person — the judge.”
If Thao is convicted, a count of aiding and abetting second-degree murder, which carries a presumptive sentence of 12 1/2 years in prison, will be dropped.
Chauvin, who is White, was convicted of state murder and manslaughter charges last year and is serving 22 1/2 years in the state case. He also pleaded guilty to a federal charge of violating Floyd’s civil rights and was sentenced to 21 years. He is serving the sentences concurrently at the Federal Correctional Institution in Tucson, Arizona.
Kueng, Lane and Thao were convicted of federal charges in February: All three were convicted of depriving Floyd of his right to medical care and Thao and Kueng were also convicted of failing to intervene to stop Chauvin during the killing.
Lane, who is White, isat a facility in Colorado. He’s serving a three-year state sentence at the same time. Kueng, who is Black, was sentenced to three years on the federal counts; Thao, who is Hmong American, got a 3 1/2-year federal sentence.