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Ex-Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin sentenced to more than 20 years in federal civil rights case

Derek Chauvin’s booking photo from April 2021. (MINNESOTA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS/TNS)

A federal judge sentenced Derek Chauvin on Thursday to more than 20 years in prison for violating the civil rights of George Floyd and a black Minneapolis teen, extending the term he is already serving on state murder charges for Floyd’s death in 2020.

Senior U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson sentenced the former Minneapolis officer to 245 months, to be served concurrently with his state prison sentence for Floyd’s murder.

“I really don’t know why you did what you did,” Magnuson told Chauvin before imposing the sentence. “But to put your knee on another person’s neck until they expire is simply wrong and for that conduct you must be substantially punished.”

Chauvin, 46, pleaded guilty in December 2021 to violating Floyd’s civil rights and admitted to kneeling on the neck of a then-14-year-old boy for more than nine minutes three years before Floyd’s death. He agreed to a sentence of 20 to 25 years, with federal prosecutors seeking the 25 years and Chauvin’s attorney asking for 20.

Chauvin, wearing orange prison garb and a short haircut, told Magnuson that he recognized “the difficult and unpleasant job of the court in this case” and described the moment as a “very politically charged environment.”

Floyd’s brother, Philonise Floyd, urged Magnuson to impose the “maximum sentence possible,” which in this case would have been life.

“My family and I have been given a life sentence,” he said. “We will never be able to get George back.”

The teenager upon whom Chauvin used a similar neck restraint — John Pope, now 19 — told Magnuson on Thursday that Chauvin’s actions in 2017 forever changed his life: “I thought I would take my last breath.”

During the two minutes he spoke before his sentencing, Chauvin told Pope that “I hope you have a good relationship with your mother and also your sister, and I hope you have the ability to get the best education possible and lead a very productive and rewarding life.”

To the Floyd family, Chauvin added: “I just want to say I wish them all the best in their life.”

Chauvin’s lawyer, Eric Nelson, pointed to his “acceptance of his wrongdoing, the fact that he has already been punished by one jurisdiction for the offenses alleged here, and his remorse for the harm that has flowed from his actions.”

The government asked for the longer sentence for Chauvin because, prosecutors argued, his state charge did not address his 2017 use of force against Pope. Chauvin struck Pope in the head with a flashlight and pinned him under his knee similarly to the restraint that caused Floyd’s death.

Pope and 39-year-old Zoya Code have since filed separate federal civil rights lawsuits against Chauvin and the Minneapolis Police Department over Chauvin’s use of the dangerous neck restraint.

“The charges against the defendant arose out of two separate incidents in which he held his knee on the necks of handcuffed and unresisting citizens for more than nine minutes each, even after they cried out in pain and said that they could not breathe, and, in Mr. Floyd’s case, even after he became unresponsive and lost a pulse,” wrote Assistant U.S. Attorney LeeAnn Bell and Special Litigation Counsel Samantha Trepel in their own arguments to Magnuson last month.

Chauvin’s wife and a group of about a half dozen supporters lined a bench in the gallery behind where Chauvin sat with his attorney. Chauvin’s mother Carolyn Pawlenty also addressed Magnuson before sentencing, reading from prepared remarks that concluded with “all lives matter. No matter the color of your skin, every life matters.”

Magnuson has yet to schedule sentencing dates for three other former officers convicted by a jury in February of depriving Floyd of his constitutional rights by failing to stop Chauvin from using excessive force. Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao were indicted alongside Chauvin last year.

Lane meanwhile pleaded guilty to state charges of aiding and abetting manslaughter in May to stave off a trial. The state trial for Kueng and Thao, on charges of aiding and abetting second-degree murder and manslaughter, is set for October.


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