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Two former Minneapolis officers sentenced to prison for violating George Floyd’s civil rights

J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao were sentenced in back-to-back hearings Wednesday. Kueng was sentenced to 3 years in prison; Thao must serve 3½.

Two former Minneapolis police officers who were found guilty of federal charges of violating George Floyd’s civil rights were sentenced to prison Wednesday.

A judge sentenced J. Alexander Kueng to three years and Tou Thao to 3½ years for their roles in Floyd's death in 2020. Both are also required to complete two years of supervised release when their prison sentences end.

Kueng and Thao were convicted in February of depriving Floyd of his civil rights while acting under government authority when they failed to give him medical aid and of not intervening to stop their fellow officer Derek Chauvin from using excessive force.

Former Minneapolis Police Officers Tou Thao, left, and J. Alexander Kueng, center, along with his attorney leave the US District Court in St. Paul, Minn., on Jan. 11, 2022.
Former Minneapolis Police Officers Tou Thao, left, and J. Alexander Kueng, center, along with an attorney, leave U.S. District Court in St. Paul, Minn., on Jan. 11.Kerem Yucel / AFP via Getty Images file

Last week, a federal judge ruled that guidelines for Kueng’s and Thao’s sentences would be calculated in a way that would reduce their potential prison time. The two headed into Wednesday’s hearing with a recommended sentencing range of 4¼ to 5¼ years.

Kueng and Thao still face state charges of aiding and abetting second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in a trial set for late October.

On May 25, 2020, Kueng, Thao, Chauvin and former Minneapolis Police Officer Thomas Lane were responding to a call about a counterfeit bill from a convenience store in Minneapolis’ Powderhorn Park neighborhood when they encountered Floyd, 46.

Lane and Kueng, both rookie officers and partners on the call, were on top of Floyd, a Black man, as Chauvin applied deadly pressure to Floyd’s neck and he gasped for air. Thao was in charge of crowd control. Floyd's death spurred protests against systemic racism around the world.

Kueng did not speak during the hearing.

Thao spoke for roughly 20 minutes before his sentence was handed down, making multiple references to his Christian faith in the often-meandering address. He did not mention Floyd, nor did he directly address Floyd's family and friends present in court.

“Throughout this two-year journey, I’ve never seen so much corruption in this case," Thao told the court. "I thought this was Hollywood.”

At the end of his statement, Thao said that as a father of three, he could plead for mercy, but he said he instead wanted to ask his friends to turn to God to save their souls. 

Courteney Ross, Floyd’s girlfriend, said she was disappointed in the sentences and offended by Thao's comments.

"I’m a Christian, and there was no place in court for what he was doing," Ross said. "He showed no remorse. Not even a bit.”

Attorneys for Kueng and Thao asked U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson to consider in sentencing them that they had been following Chauvin’s orders, as he was in charge of the scene.

Chauvin pleaded guilty in December to violating Floyd’s rights and was sentenced July 7 to just more than 20 years in federal prison. The sentence will run concurrently with the 22½-year sentence he is serving after he was found guilty of second- and third-degree murder, as well as second-degree manslaughter, in a state case.

Lane was sentenced July 21 to 2½ years in prison on a federal civil rights charge. He has pleaded guilty to state charges and faces a hearing in September on those charges.