Ex-Minneapolis police officer Thomas Lane pled guilty Wednesday to aiding and abetting manslaughter in the death of George Floyd two years ago on a south Minneapolis street, avoiding another trial next month in Hennepin County District Court.
Lane entered the plea in front of Judge Peter Cahill early Wednesday in the same courtroom where Derek Chauvin was convicted of Floyd’s murder a year ago. A count of aiding and abetting second-degree murder was dismissed. In exchange for the plea, Lane agreed to a sentence of three years, to be served concurrently with his federal sentence for violating Floyd’s civil rights. That sentence has yet to be handed down. Sentencing for the manslaughter count is scheduled for Sept. 21.
Ex-officers Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng remain scheduled to face trial next month on state charges of aiding and abetting second-degree murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death.
Lane’s attorney, Earl Gray, declined to comment after leaving the courtroom. Floyd’s family watched the five-minute hearing virtually, and were expected to issue a statement later.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, whose office is leading the prosecution of the officers, expressed satisfaction that Lane “accepted responsibility in Mr. Floyd’s death.”
“His acknowledgment he did something wrong is an important step toward healing the wounds of the Floyd family, our community, and the nation. While accountability is not justice, this is a significant moment in this case and a necessary resolution on our continued journey to justice,” the statement said.
Lane’s guilty plea came a week before the two-year anniversary of Floyd’s murder that ripped open wounds over race and policing across the country. In the Twin Cities, Floyd’s murder led to days of unrest and kick-started a reckoning over race and the nature of policing that continues to roil the community.
The trial would have been the second for Lane. The three were convicted in U.S. District Court in February of violating Floyd’s civil rights in what was believed to be the first successful such prosecution of police officers in the country. They were convicted of violating Floyd’s constitutional right to be free from unreasonable seizure.
A federal jury determined all three failed to render aid to Floyd as he lay prone, handcuffed and dying under the pressure of Chauvin’s knee on his neck for almost 10 minutes. Kueng and Thao also were convicted of a second charge of failing to intervene and stop Chauvin from using excessive force.
In the widely circulated bystander video of Floyd’s detention and death, Thao is the officer standing, keeping the distraught group of onlookers on the sidewalk as the other officers held down Floyd who cried out over and over that he couldn’t breathe.
Kueng and Lane, who were both in their first week on the job, helped Chauvin hold Floyd stomach-down on the ground outside Cup Foods at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue S. Kueng restrained Floyd’s midsection while Lane was at his legs and feet.
Kueng and Lane were the first officers on the scene after a call from a clerk at Cup Foods complaining that Floyd had used a counterfeit $20 to purchase cigarettes. They handcuffed Floyd and were trying to get him into the back of their squad vehicle when Chauvin arrived with Thao and helped put Floyd on the ground.
Lane is the officer heard on video asking about rolling Floyd from his stomach into the recovery position on his side. He was rebuffed by Chauvin.
The district court trial, still scheduled for Thao and Kueng, is expected to be lengthy, with jury selection alone expected to take weeks.
Pretrial preparations were well underway with lawyers for both sides submitting witness lists. Unlike Chauvin’s trial which was seen throughout the world, this trial was not going to be livestreamed beyond the courthouse and seating in the courtroom was going to be severely limited.
Chauvin already is serving a sentence of more than 22 years for his murder conviction in state court. He also has pled guilty and awaits sentencing on federal civil rights violations in Floyd’s death and another unrelated case involving a 14-year-old boy. In both cases he admitted to using unreasonable force.
All four former officers are expected to be sentenced for the federal convictions by U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson. Legal observers have said the Thao, Kueng and Lane face federal sentences of at least three to four years in prison.
Magnuson has substantial discretion in sentencing the three former officers in part because the in addition to determining guilt, the jury found their actions caused Floyd’s death. The finding of causation gives Magnuson an opportunity to give the former officers longer sentences if he chooses.
Federal sentences can be served after state sentences, however, which may affect Chauvin’s term.
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