MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The former Minneapolis police officer who knelt on George Floyd’s back while another officer kneeling on the neck of the black man was sentenced to 3 and a half years in prison on Friday.
J. Alexander Kueng pleaded guilty in October to a state count of aiding and abetting second-degree murder. In return, the charge of complicity in the murder was dropped. Kueng is already serving a federal sentence for violating Floyd’s civil rights, and the state and federal sentences will run concurrently.
Kueng appeared at the hearing via video from a federal prison in Ohio. When given the opportunity to address the court, he declined.
With credit for time served and different parole guidelines in the state and federal systems, Kueng will likely serve a total of about 2 1/2 years behind bars.
Floyd’s relatives had the right to make victim impact statements, but none. Family attorney Ben Crump, who has taken on some of the nation’s most high-profile police killings of black people, said in a statement before the hearing that Kueng’s sentence “provides another piece of justice for the family Floyd.”
“While the family still faces another holiday season without George, we hope that moments like these will continue to bring them some peace, knowing that George’s death was not in vain,” she said.
Floyd died on May 25, 2020, after former officer Derek Chauvin knelt 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 captured on video by a bystander, sparked protests around the world as part of a larger account of racial injustice.
Kueng knelt on Floyd’s back during the hold. Then-officer Thomas Lane held Floyd’s legs and Tou Thao, also an officer at the time, prevented bystanders from intervening. All officers were fired and faced state and federal charges.
As part of his plea agreement, Kueng admitted that he held Floyd’s torso, that he knew from his experience and training that holding a handcuffed person in a prone position created a substantial risk and that Floyd’s restraint was unreasonable in the circumstances
Matthew Frank, who led the prosecution for the Minnesota attorney general’s office, said repeatedly during the hearing that Floyd was a victim of crime and that the prosecution “focused on the officers” who caused his death . He added that the case was not intended to be a broader examination of the police, but added that he hoped it would reaffirm that police officers cannot treat those “who are in crisis as second-class citizens or non-persons.”
“Mr. Kueng was not simply a spectator that day. He did less than some of the bystanders tried to do to help Mr. Floyd,” Frank said.
Kueng’s attorney, Thomas Plunkett, on Friday blamed the Minneapolis Police Department’s leadership and lack of training for Floyd’s death. He highlighted Kueng’s rookie status, saying he had only been working on his own for three days, and accused department management of failing to implement training to encourage officers to step in when one of their colleagues is doing something wrong
“On behalf of Mr. Kueng, I’m not asking for justice. I call for progress,” he said.
Then-Chief Medaria Arradondo fired Kueng and the three other officers the day after Floyd’s killing and later testified at Chauvin’s trial that the officers failed to follow the training. The department’s former training chief has also stated that the officers acted in a manner inconsistent with department policies.
Kueng’s sentence brings the cases against all the former officers one step closer to resolution, although the state case against Thao is still pending.
Thao earlier told Judge Peter Cahill that “it would be a lie” to plead guilty. In October, he agreed to what’s called a stipulated-evidence trial on the count of aiding and abetting manslaughter. As part of this process, your attorneys and prosecutors are working through agreed-upon evidence in your case and submitting written closing arguments. Cahill will decide if Thao is guilty or not.
If Thao is convicted, the murder count, 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 concurrent sentences at the Federal Correctional Institution in Tucson, Arizona.
Kueng, Lane and Thao were convicted on 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, is serving his 2 1/2-year federal sentence at a facility in Colorado. At the same time, he is serving a three-year state sentence. Kueng, who is black, was sentenced to three years on the federal charges; Thao, who is Hmong American, received a federal sentence of 3 1/2 years.
Groves reported from Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
For more AP coverage of the killing of George Floyd: https://apnews.com/hub/death-of-george-floyd