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Chauvin Sentenced to 22 1/2 Years for Murder of George Floyd

Family members for George Floyd and Derek Chauvin spoke about their relatives, and Chauvin sent a cryptic message before his sentence was announced.

MINNEAPOLIS (CN) — Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin has been sentenced to 22 years and six months in prison for last year's murder of George Floyd. 

At a Friday afternoon sentencing hearing, members of Floyd’s family and Chauvin’s mother gave statements. Chauvin, who was shown on video kneeling on Floyd’s neck during his fatal May 2020 arrest, made only a brief statement, saying that other ongoing legal proceedings prevented him from speaking much. Chauvin is also facing federal civil rights charges related to Floyd’s death and a similar detention of a teenager in 2017, along with tax fraud charges in his home county east of the Twin Cities. 

He expressed his condolences to the Floyd family and said “there’s going to be information coming out in the future that will be of interest” and that he hoped it would “bring them peace of mind.” 

Chauvin’s statement came after a series of victim impact statements from Floyd’s family members. His brothers Philonise and Terrence were joined by nephew Brandon Williams in court. Floyd’s 7-year-old daughter Gianna appeared via video. 

“I have had to sit through each day of Officer Derek Chauvin’s trial and watch the video of George dying… over and over again. For an entire year, I had to relive George’s torture and death every hour of the day,” Philonise Floyd said. “George’s life mattered. So my family and I, most of all my niece Gianna… she needs closure.” 

Terrence Floyd addressed Chauvin directly. "I wanted to know from the man himself, why? What were you thinking? What was going through your head when you had your knee on my brother's neck?" he asked. 

He asked Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill to consider what would have happened had a Black man killed someone in the way Chauvin did. “If it’d been us, there would have been no case. It would have been open-and-shut,” he said. “We’d have been under the jail. For murder…. We don’t want to see smacks on the wrist. We’ve seen that already.” 

Gianna Floyd’s statement was brief. Questioned on video, she said she misses having her father to help her brush her teeth and that she looked forward to “going on airplane rides” when she saw him again. 

Chauvin’s mother, Carolyn Pawlenty, told the court that her son was more than the public image that emerged of him after Floyd’s death.

"Derek devoted 19 years of his life to the Minneapolis Police Department,” she said. “It has been difficult for me to read and hear what the media, public and prosecution team believe Derek to be, an aggressive, heartless, uncaring person. I can tell you that is far from the truth.

“Even though I’ve not spoken publicly, I have always supported him 100% and always will. Derek has played over and over in his head the events of that day. I have seen the toll it’s taken on him,” she added. “I believe a lengthy sentence will not serve Derek well. When you sentence my son, you will also be sentencing me.” 

Attorneys on both sides also gave statements. For Chauvin, Eric Nelson of Halberg Criminal Defense encouraged Cahill to consider Chauvin’s lack of criminal history and the polarized response to the case among the public. 

“There are a great number of people who will view any sentence you pronounce as overly lenient and insufficient to satisfy justice,” he said. “But there are an equal number of people who will view any sentence as draconian and overbearing. Either way, some members of the public will view this case as a miscarriage of justice.” 

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Nelson emphasized his client’s love for his job.

“What he liked to do was help people. And the statistics show, the vast majority of police work is helping people,” the attorney said. “He loved being a police officer. He served his country in the United States army. And he, too, is a son, a brother, and a friend.” 

In this image taken from video, Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill presides over the sentencing of former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin Friday, June 25, 2021, at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis. (Court TV via AP, Pool)

On behalf of the prosecution, Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank recapped the events of May 25, 2020, and emphasized the impact of Chauvin’s actions on the Floyd family and on the community at large. 

“What was Derek Chauvin’s endgame here? What was the plan? It seems the plan was ‘hold him down until we can dump him in the ambulance and then he can no longer be our problem,’” he said. 

“In your custody is in your care. It’s a real simple mantra. It’s a real easy thing to remember,” Frank said. “This is not a momentary gunshot, punch to the face. This is nine and a half minutes.” 

Of Chauvin’s family, the prosecutor said, “I understand -- no, I can’t understand what his family and friends are going through. I can’t. But it’s certainly not enough to justify a departure to probation for second-degree murder.” 

Cahill took a 15-minute break after victim impact statements were completed, then issued Chauvin’s sentence. 

“As opposed to trying to be profound here on the record, I’m going to ask that you read the legal analysis,” the judge said, citing a memorandum he said would be filed with his order. 

“I acknowledge and hear the pain that you are feeling. I acknowledge the pain of not only those who are in this courtroom, but the Floyd family outside this courtroom and in the community,” he said, addressing the family. “It has been painful throughout Hennepin County, and in the state of Minnesota, and in this country.” 

Cahill said his sentence was not based on public opinion or meant to send a message.

The sentence, 10 years more than the recommended 12 years and 6 months under sentencing guidelines, is meant to comply with the law while acknowledging aggravating factors, the judge said.

The sentencing hearing began just hours after the judge issued a brief order denying the former officer’s motions for a new trial and for a hearing to investigate alleged juror misconduct. Cahill found in that order that Chauvin had not shown prosecutorial misconduct on the part of the state, that he was deprived of a fair trial, or that any jurors gave false testimony during the selection process. 

The statutory maximum sentence for second-degree murder in Minnesota is 40 years, but sentencing guidelines topped Chauvin’s possible sentences out at 30 years after accounting for aggravating factors. Prosecutors requested that top-level sentence, arguing that Chauvin “shocked the nation’s conscience” when he “brutally murdered Mr. Floyd, abusing the authority conferred by his badge.” 

Nelson, meanwhile, sought a probationary sentence with time served. He pointed to his client’s lack of criminal history and 19-year career with the department as evidence that “Mr. Chauvin still has the ability to positively impact his family and his community.” 

Cahill found in May that four of prosecutors’ five proposed aggravating sentencing factors applied in Chauvin’s case. He found that Floyd’s intoxication and restraint did not make him “particularly vulnerable,” but agreed with the state’s position that Chauvin treated Floyd with particular cruelty, killed him in front of several minors and did so with the active participation of three other people, namely fellow officers J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao.

Speaking after the hearing, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, whose office led the prosecution, said he hoped that Chauvin’s conviction and sentence would be a first step to broader change.

“Like the conviction of Derek Chauvin two months ago, today’s sentencing is not justice, but it is another moment of real accountability on the road to justice,” he said. “It’s difficult to see anyone lose their freedom — but seeing somebody lose their life over nine and a half minutes is incomparably worse.” 

He said he hoped Chauvin would reflect on his decisions in prison, and pushed for state and federal lawmakers to take action on police reform. “It’s not fair to judge all police officers by Derek Chauvin’s actions, but some people inevitably will generalize, unless there is accountability,” he said. “You just can’t heal a dirty wound. And when there is little trust, there is little safety.”

Floyd’s killing combined with several other killings of Black people and other racist incidents in the spring and summer of 2020 to spark protests in cities across the country and around the globe. Minneapolis, whose police department now faces state and federal civil rights investigations for disparate treatment of the city’s Black residents and members of other racial minorities. 

Minneapolis itself experienced riots on a scale the city had not seen at least since the nation’s “long, hot summer” of 1967. In the days after Floyd’s death, confrontations between protesters and police escalated sharply, leading to or enabling arson and looting around the city. The MPD’s Third Precinct, where Chauvin and three other officers who assisted in Floyd’s arrest worked, went up in flames after the department abandoned it on May 28. Police and the National Guard ultimately responded with curfews and a crackdown that has since spawned several lawsuits from protesters and journalists injured by police. 

As the riots quieted, a veto-proof majority of Minneapolis’ City Council announced to a gathering in a city park that they would “end our city’s toxic relationship with the Minneapolis Police Department” in response to activist calls to defund and abolish it. That coalition has since fractured. While cuts did come in response to coronavirus-related revenue drops, Mayor Jacob Frey and allies on the council have opposed any further cuts or changes to the department. 

Policing is poised to be a major issue animating the city’s November elections, where a ballot proposal to remove the city charter’s requirements for a police department will go up for a vote. Several council and mayoral candidates have also outlined positions on all sides of the debate over police budgets and structure. 

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