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Derek Chauvin pleads guilty to violating George Floyd's federal civil rights

The plea reversal allows the former Minneapolis police officer to avoid another high-profile trial after he was convicted in April on state murder and manslaughter charges.
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Derek Chauvin pleaded guilty Wednesday to federal charges that he violated George Floyd's civil rights, allowing the former Minneapolis police officer to avoid another high-profile trial after he was convicted this year by a state jury of murder and manslaughter in Floyd's death.

Chauvin, 45, wearing an orange prison jumpsuit, entered the new plea during a hearing in St. Paul, Minnesota, three months after first pleading not guilty to depriving Floyd, who was Black, of his rights when Chauvin knelt on his neck for 9 1/2 minutes while detaining him in May 2020.

Federal prosecutors told U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson that Chauvin agreed to plead guilty to using excessive force on Floyd. Chauvin also admitted guilt in a separate federal indictment in connection with him allegedly depriving a 14-year-old boy of his civil rights during an encounter in September 2017. He initially pleaded not guilty in September in that case, in which he was accused of holding the teenager, who is Black, by the throat and striking his head multiple times with a flashlight.

Chauvin told the judge, "Guilty, your honor," in response to changing his pleas.

He remains in prison on a 22 1/2-year sentence for the state case, a rare outcome and one of the longest imposed on a police officer for a killing in the line of duty.

Claiming responsibility in his federal case might help Chauvin in receiving a reduced sentence. Without a plea deal, Magnuson said, he faced the possibility of life in prison.

Federal prosecutors at Wednesday's hearing asked for Chauvin to be sentenced to 20 to 25 years in federal prison, with five years of supervised probation and agreeing to never work again as a police officer. His federal sentence would be served concurrently with his state sentence.

Magnuson will sentence Chauvin at a later date.

Members of Floyd's family and relatives of Chauvin, including his ex-wife, were in the courtroom when Chauvin pleaded guilty. Also present was the teenager cited in the second civil rights complaint. According to the pool report, as the proceedings ended, Floyd's brother Philonise Floyd told the teenager, "It's a good day for justice."

Chauvin's attorney, Eric Nelson, did not immediately comment about the events of the hearing.

At a news conference after it ended, Floyd's family said they welcomed the possibility that Chauvin's prison sentence may be a few years longer depending on what the judge decides. But his guilty pleas do little to blunt the ongoing pain, Philonise Floyd said.

"We just wanted accountability because we can never get justice because we can never get George back," he added.

Jeff Storms, a lawyer for the Floyd family, said there is not yet "complete closure" in the case.

Three other officers at the scene of Floyd's death — Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao — were also included in the federal indictment. They pleaded not guilty in September and could go on trial in January.

Lane, Kueng and Thao, who were all fired from the Minneapolis Police Department, also face a state trial next year on charges of aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter.

Video recorded by a bystander and local traffic camera showed Thao standing between onlookers and his fellow officers as they pinned Floyd to the pavement after responding to a call from a convenience store in Minneapolis' Powderhorn Park neighborhood about a counterfeit bill. Lane and Kueng were on top of Floyd as Chauvin applied deadly pressure to Floyd's neck and he gasped for air.

Floyd's death spawned months of racial justice demonstrations and unrest across the United States and the world with calls to address policing and systemic racism.

Chauvin in September signaled in a court filing that he would appeal his murder conviction, saying Judge Peter Cahill abused his discretion or made mistakes in his case.