MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The last former Minneapolis police officer to face sentencing in state court for his role in the killing of George Floyd will learn Monday whether he will spend additional time in prison.
Tou Thao has testified he merely served as a “human traffic cone” when he held back concerned bystanders who gathered as former Officer Derek Chauvin, who is white, knelt on Floyd’s neck for 9 1/2 minutes while the Black man pleaded for his life on May 25, 2020.
A bystander video captured Floyd’s fading cries of “I can’t breathe.”
Floyd’s killing touched off protests worldwide and forced a national reckoning of police brutality and racism.
Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill found Thao guilty in May of aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter. In his 177-page ruling, Cahill said Thao’s actions separated Chauvin and two other former officers from the crowd, including an emergency medical technician, allowing his colleagues to continue restraining Floyd and preventing bystanders from providing medical aid.
“There is proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Thao’s actions were objectively unreasonable from the perspective of a reasonable police officer, when viewed under the totality of the circumstances,” Cahill wrote.
He concluded: “Thao’s actions were even more unreasonable in light of the fact that he was under a duty to intervene to stop the other officers’ excessive use of force and was trained to render medical aid.”
Thao rejected a plea bargain on the state charge, saying “it would be lying” to plead guilty when he didn’t think he was in the wrong. He instead agreed to let Cahill decide the case based on evidence from Chauvin’s 2021 murder trial and the federal civil rights trial in 2022 of Thao and former Officers Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng.
That trial in federal court ended in convictions for all three. Chauvin pleaded guilty to federal civil rights charges instead of going to trial a second time, while Lane and Kueng pleaded guilty to state charges of aiding and abetting manslaughter.
Minnesota guidelines recommend a four-year sentence on the manslaughter count, which Thao would serve at the same time as his 3 1/2-year sentence for his federal civil rights conviction, which an appeals court upheld on Friday. But Cahill has some latitude and could hand down a sentence of 41 to 57 months.
Lane and Kueng received 3 and 3 1/2-year state sentences respectively, which they are serving concurrently with their federal sentences of 2 1/2 years and 3 years. Thao is Hmong American, while Kueng is Black and Lane is white.
Minnesota inmates generally serve two-thirds of their sentences in prison and one-third on parole. There is no parole in the federal system but inmates can shave time off their sentences with good behavior.