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Saturday, February 24, 2024
Courthouse News Service
Saturday, February 24, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Chauvin accomplice Thomas Lane sentenced to 2 1/2 years

A federal judge recommended that the onetime Minneapolis Police Department rookie be held in a minimum-security facility in Duluth.

ST. PAUL, Minn. (CN) — A Minnesota federal judge sentenced Thomas Lane, one of the three officers who assisted Derek Chauvin in the deadly arrest of George Floyd, to 30 months in prison Thursday morning for violating Floyd’s civil rights. 

U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson found that Lane had a minimal role in Floyd’s murder, but denied two other defense objections that could have mitigated his sentence. The sentence of 2 1/2 years behind bars, followed by two years of supervised release, fell well below the federal sentencing guidelines, which would have put Lane in prison for between 63 and 78 months. 

A Minneapolis Police Department rookie at the time of Floyd’s murder in May 2020, Lane was convicted in February of failing to provide required medical aid to Floyd before his death. With only one count against him, Lane fared better than his colleagues Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng, who were both convicted for failing to render medical aid and failing to intervene when Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for several minutes. 

Lane took a plea deal in a separate state-court case in May, pleading guilty to aiding and abetting second-degree murder and manslaughter and agreeing to a three-year sentence. Magnuson set Lane’s date of surrender for Oct. 4, after his scheduled sentencing in state court. Thao and Kueng are still scheduled for trial in October on the same charges. 

U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger issued a brief statement after the decision. “In the critical last minutes of George Floyd’s life, former officer Lane understood the seriousness of the situation,” Luger said. “He knew that Mr. Floyd was in grave need of medical care, but he chose passivity rather than action. As a sworn law enforcement officer, he failed to uphold his duty to step in and save a man’s life.”

Lane was the first of the four to approach Floyd outside Cup Foods in south Minneapolis on Memorial Day of 2020. He held Floyd’s legs down while Chauvin knelt on his neck and upper back and fellow rookie Kueng knelt on his lower back, and at different points asked Chauvin if the officers should roll Floyd over. 

Defense attorney Earl Gray argued at trial and leading up to sentencing that those questions, along with CPR Lane provided to Floyd after paramedics arrived, mitigated his client's responsibility. The defense sought 27 months for Lane, citing that factor along with contentions that upward adjustments for acting under color of law and restraining Floyd were not legally sound. 

Prosecutors, meanwhile, argued that when the rubber hit the road Lane took no action.

“The crucial period… occurred during the nine-and-a-half minute restraint because that was the period during which Mr. Floyd suffered serious medical distress,” Assistant U.S. Attorney LeeAnn Bell wrote in the prosecution’s sentencing memorandum. “The jury concluded both that Mr. Floyd’s serious medical needs during that time were obvious and that defendant Lane was subjectively aware of them.”

Calling an ambulance before Floyd’s restraint and performing CPR afterward, Bell said, “does not mitigate his culpability for his failure to aid Mr. Floyd when it mattered.” Prosecutors sought a sentence within the federal guidelines, over twice the length of the punishment handed down Thursday.

Magnuson previously displayed a degree of sympathy for Lane, Kueng and Thao during Chauvin’s sentencing, telling Chauvin that he had “absolutely destroyed the lives of three other officers” along with Floyd’s.

At the sentencing hearing, the judge showed the court over 140 letters he received in support of Lane, noting that most appeared to be written by individuals rather than as form letters. He also cast doubt on the Minneapolis Police Department’s policy of pairing rookie cops, like Lane and Kueng, together on patrol, calling the practice “convoluted.” 

A few of Floyd’s loved ones spoke at the sentencing hearing, including brother Philonise Floyd. “I ask, where is the humanity?” Floyd’s brother asked, adding that “not one officer apologized” for his role in Floyd’s death. 

Floyd’s girlfriend Courteney Ross also spoke, telling Lane, “I don’t think you’re a bad guy. I think you’re one man in a system” that perpetuates hate. She urged him to be sure to stand for what’s right after the end of his sentence. 

Lane himself did not speak at the hearing. 

Magnuson, a veteran judge appointed to the federal bench in 1981 by Ronald Reagan, recommended that Lane be held at a minimum-security federal prison in Duluth, Minnesota, after he is taken into custody. 

Categories / Civil Rights, Criminal, Regional

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