J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao were convicted on federal charges.

By Bill Hutchinson

It’s sentencing day for two former police officers convicted on federal charges stemming from George Floyd’s death.

Former Minneapolis police officers J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao are scheduled to learn their fates in separate hearings on Wednesday in U.S. District Court in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Both Kueng, 28, and Thao, 35, were convicted by a federal jury in February along with their former police colleague Thomas Lane, 39, who received a sentence last week of 2 1/2 years in prison for violating Floyd’s civil rights.

Federal prosecutors had asked for a sentence of 6 1/2 years for Lane, which according to federal sentencing guidelines, was the maximum.

These file photos provided June 3, 2020, by the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office in Minnesota, shows Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng.
Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office via AP, FILE

All three men were was convicted of using the “color of the law,” or their positions as police officers, to deprive Floyd of his civil rights by willfully being indifferent to his serious medical needs.

Prosecutors said the three officers failed to intervene as the handcuffed, unarmed 46-year-old Black man was pinned under the knee of their senior officer, Derek Chauvin, for more than nine minutes on May 25, 2020, outside a Minneapolis convenience store where Floyd was accused of using a phony $20 bill to buy cigarettes.

Thao and Kueng were also convicted of violating Floyd’s right to be free of an unreasonable seizure by willfully failing to intervene to prevent Chauvin from applying bodily injury to Floyd.

Prosecutors have requested a “substantially higher” federal sentence than Lane’s, but far less than what Chauvin received.

Chauvin was sentenced on Thursday by U.S. District Court Judge Paul Magnuson to serve 21 years in prison after pleading guilty in December to violating Floyd’s civil rights and admitting he kept his knee on Floyd’s neck even after he became unresponsive. Chauvin also pleaded guilty to depriving a then-14-year-old boy of his constitutional right to be free from the use of unreasonable force by an officer, which resulted in bodily injury to the teen, according to the Justice Department.

Magnuson also sentenced Lane and will sentence Kueng and Thao.

Former Minneapolis police officers Tou Thao, Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng in a combination of booking photographs from the Minnesota Department of Corrections and Hennepin County Jail in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Minnesota DOC and Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office via Reuters

The federal sentencing guidelines call for 4 1/4 years to 5 1/4 years in the cases of Kueng and Thao.

“The facts of this case do not amount to second-degree murder under federal law,” Magnuson wrote in a ruling last week. “Defendants Kueng and Thao each made a tragic misdiagnosis in their assessment of Mr. Floyd.”

Magnuson noted that Kueng and Thao believed Floyd was suffering from a drug overdose and “excited delirium” — a syndrome in which a subject displays wild agitation and violent behavior that can sometimes lead to death.

Chauvin, 46, was also convicted in state court in April 2021 on charges of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. He was sentenced in June 2021 by Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill to 22 1/2 years in state prison. Chauvin will serve his sentence in federal prison concurrently with his state sentence.

Lane also pleaded guilty to state charges of aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter. In exchange for the plea, prosecutors agreed to dismiss the top charge against him of aiding and abetting second-degree unintentional murder. Lane is awaiting his sentence in state court.

Kueng and Thao are scheduled to be put on trial in state court on Oct. 24 on charges of aiding and abetting in murder and aiding and abetting in manslaughter. They have both pleaded not guilty.

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