ST. PAUL, Minn. (CN) — Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin agreed to a plea deal with federal prosecutors Wednesday morning, pleading guilty to one count of violating George Floyd's civil rights during his fatal arrest in May 2020.
In exchange, prosecutors will dismiss a second count over Floyd's civil rights and another set of charges related to allegations that Chauvin badly beat a Black teenager with a flashlight in 2017.
Chauvin, who was convicted of second- and third-degree murder and manslaughter by a Hennepin County jury earlier this year for Floyd's killing, would face a sentence of up to 25 years in federal prison if the plea agreement is approved and prosecutors receive their requested sentence. That represents a slight increase from the 22-year sentence he received from Judge Peter Cahill for those state court convictions. The recommended sentencing range for a first offense on the federal civil rights charge Chauvin pleaded guilty to is between 20 and 25 years.
Senior U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson oversaw Wednesday’s change-of-plea hearing, opening with an acknowledgement of Bill of Rights Day and interjecting only infrequently as prosecutor Allen Slaughter laid out the plea agreement. Under the agreement, Chauvin would serve his sentence in federal prison concurrently with his state prison sentence. Magnuson noted that the plea agreement took the possibility of life imprisonment off the table. Chauvin faced that possibility should he have proceeded to trial.
Chauvin also agreed not to work in any law enforcement position following his imprisonment, to give up any law enforcement credentials he still held, and to disclose his assets to the court. He also waived his rights to appeal his conviction except under a very small set of circumstances, and agreed to an assessment of $100.
In exchange, Chauvin will not face trial for violating Floyd's civil rights or those of a Black teenager identified as Juvenile 1, who he allegedly pinned down by the neck in 2017 and beat around the head with a flashlight. He pleaded guilty to one of two counts of violating Floyd's civil rights and the other charges were dismissed.
Members of Chauvin’s family and Floyd’s both gathered at the hearing, along with an attorney representing the teenager Chauvin allegedly pinned down and struck repeatedly with a flashlight in 2017. Philonise Floyd, Floyd’s brother, was heard telling another family member that “it’s a good day for justice.”
Attorneys for Chauvin’s co-defendants Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng were also present. Earl Gray, who represents their fellow former officer Thomas Lane, was in Minneapolis defending former Brooklyn Center police officer Kimberly Potter, who is on trial on manslaughter charges for shooting Black man Daunte Wright during Chauvin’s April trial.
The plea agreement is also a bullet dodged for officials in the city of St. Paul, which hosted Wednesday's hearing and would have played host to the trial had it gone forward. Police and city leaders have raised concerns about security for the city's smaller federal courthouse, especially given its proximity to protest hot spots like the state Capitol and governor's mansion.
St. Paul’s courthouse was protest-free Wednesday morning, a far cry from the crowds that gathered at the state-court proceedings. Media gathered outside, but were joined by no chanting or banners, possibly in part because of foggy, drizzly weather.
It is unclear exactly how the plea agreement will impact the three other former officers who were involved in Floyd's arrest and death. Thao, Lane and Kueng are awaiting trial in state court on aiding-and-abetting charges, and were indicted alongside Chauvin by federal prosecutors in the civil rights case. Magnuson severed the case against Thao, Lane and Kueng from Chauvin's near the end of Wednesday's hearing.
Chauvin's third-degree murder conviction is likely to be overturned in light of a recent Minnesota Supreme Court decision in the case of fellow former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor, who was convicted of third-degree murder in 2019 for the death of Australian national Justine Rusczyk Damond. The high court found that third-degree murder cannot be charged for conduct that was directed only at the murdered person, making Noor's shooting of Damond and Chauvin's kneeling on Floyd's neck ineligible for that conviction.
Chauvin was sentenced on his highest convicted offense, so any change to that count would not change his sentence.
The former officer's own legal troubles are not necessarily over, either. He and ex-wife Kellie Chauvin also face tax fraud charges in suburban Washington County, and an appeal of his state-court convictions is still pending.
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