ST. PAUL, Minn. (CN) — A Minnesota federal judge sentenced Derek Chauvin to 21 years in federal prison Thursday afternoon, finalizing a plea deal prosecutors brokered with the former Minneapolis police officer in December.
Chauvin – a white officer who became internationally notorious when a video of him kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, a Black man, for several minutes went viral and sparked civil unrest in May of 2020 – will serve his federal sentence concurrently with the 22 ½-year sentence he received last April for Floyd’s murder. As part of his plea deal, he has been placed in a federal prison and will not be able to work as a law-enforcement officer after his release.
Senior U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson told Chauvin that while he felt sympathy for the conditions of his confinement– Chauvin has been kept largely in solitary confinement since his arrest in 2020 for security reasons– he hoped that federal imprisonment would improve those conditions and recognized a need for accountability.
“I really don’t know why you did what you did. 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,” said Magnuson, a Ronald Reagan appointee.
Chauvin entered guilty pleas to two civil rights violations in exchange for dismissal of any further charges, including a count alleging that he showed deliberate indifference to Floyd’s medical needs. In addition to one count of violating Floyd’s civil rights, he admitted to violating the civil rights of a 14-year-old boy he allegedly handcuffed, knelt on and beat around the head with a flashlight in 2017. John Pope, now 19, has since come forward as the victim in that case and filed a civil suit against Chauvin.
Pope spoke haltingly at the hearing, detailing the impact Chauvin’s beating had on him and his family. “He made a choice, and he did not care about the outcome, as if he were above the law," he said.
Federal prosecutors argued that Chauvin should serve a full 25-year sentence, citing the severity of the crimes and the 2017 incident as an indication that Floyd’s death was the culmination of a pattern.
“The defendant’s actions were, in Mr. Floyd’s words, ‘cold-blooded,’” Assistant U.S. Attorney LeeAnn Bell wrote in her sentencing memorandum. “The defendant pinned Mr. Floyd to the street and squeezed the breath out of him, slowly killing him over the course of nine and a half minutes, during which time Mr. Floyd begged for help.”
At the hearing, she told Magnuson that in both incidents, Chauvin exhibited a pattern of callousness toward the Black men in his custody.
“For whatever reason, the defendant was unable or unwilling to see the humanity of Mr. Floyd or the juvenile [Pope] as he committed constitutional violations,” she said. “Neither of these offenses were split-second decisions. Ultimately, they were both needless and they both inflicted pain and fear.”
Chauvin’s attorney Eric Nelson, meanwhile, advocated for the minimum sentence of 20 years, arguing that the 20-25 year range was “a product of arbitrary and exaggerated statutory directives” and that viewing Chauvin only in the context of his crimes “would oversimplify Mr. Chauvin’s life and unfairly disregard the positive qualities he possesses and the sincere desire he holds to continue his rehabilitation.”
Chauvin, he wrote, “is not the average offender. Prior to the offenses in question, Mr. Chauvin led a hard-working, law-abiding life.”
“Mr. Chauvin has committed a serious crime, was previously convicted in state court, and has admitted his wrongdoing here. He quickly pleaded guilty to these offenses, and his remorse will be made apparent to this Court,” Nelson continued.
Chauvin did speak briefly in court, offering his condolences to the Floyd and Pope families but stopping short of expressing remorse. “I hope you have a good relationship with your mother and sister,” he said to Pope, and added that he hoped Pope would be able to pursue an education.
To the Floyd family, he said he wished Floyd’s daughter Gianna and any other Floyd children “all the best in their life and excellent guidance in becoming great adults.”
Chauvin’s mother, Carolyn Pawlenty, said her son had loyally served the Minneapolis Police Department and been abandoned in return. Several MPD officials, including former chief Medaria Arradondo, testified against Chauvin in the state-court case.
“Derek has dedicated almost 20 years to the Minneapolis Police Department, a department who I believe, in my own eyes, who have failed to back their own,” Pawlenty said.
Chauvin, she said, “put the police department first before his family,” missing family functions and holidays to work.
Indeed, Magnuson said, the department’s retention of Chauvin as a field training officer for years following the Pope beating worked in Chauvin’s favor. “The Minneapolis Police Department did have sufficient confidence in you to keep you on as a training officer for new recruits. This clearly means that you were doing your job in a professional manner,” he said.
While the judge said he sympathized with Pawlenty’s request that her son be placed in a prison near his family in Minnesota and Iowa, he noted that “the unique facts of the case dictate that the professional judgment of the Bureau of Prisons should be paramount and I do defer to that.”
Chauvin faces no more federal criminal charges, but a pending state-court action for tax fraud against him and ex-wife Kellie Chauvin is scheduled for trial in September.
Chauvin’s former colleagues Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng are scheduled to go to trial for aiding and abetting second-degree murder in October for their role in Floyd’s death. Thao and Kueng, along with codefendant Thomas Lane, were convicted of violating Floyd’s civil rights in February and are still awaiting a sentencing hearing.
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