2 ex-Minneapolis officers sentenced to federal prison; 3.5 years for Thao, 3 years for Kueng
The final two former Minneapolis police officers to be sentenced in federal court for violating George Floyd’s civil rights learned their punishment on Wednesday.
In separate hearings just an hour apart in St. Paul, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao were sentenced to three years (36 months) and three-and-a-half years (42 months), respectively. They’ll each also have to serve two years of supervised release following their federal prison terms.
The two were convicted in February of violating Floyd’s rights and willfully failing to try to stop former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin from using unreasonable force on Floyd.
The other ex-officer involved, Thomas Lane, was sentenced last week to two-and-a-half years (30 months) on just the charge of violating Floyd’s civil rights. Chauvin was sentenced earlier in the month to more than 20 years (245 months) for violating Floyd’s civil rights.
The sentencings bring an end to the ex-officers’ federal cases — although Kueng and Thao still face state charges and are currently set to go on trial for those in October. Lane previously took a plea deal on the state charges and will be sentenced in September.
Despite the end of this chapter, Floyd’s girlfriend, Courteney Ross, was let down by Wednesday’s proceedings.
“Right now, I’m really disappointed,” Ross said after court wrapped up Wednesday. “I’m saddened but I suppose we have to take all these small little triumphs and move forward,” she added.
Ross also spoke in court before each officer was sentenced, offering some words of encouragement to Kueng — as she did Lane before his sentencing.
“This does not mean you cannot find your footing to stand up for what’s right in the future,” Ross told Kueng before he was sentenced.
She told him his sentence won’t define him but rather his actions moving forward will, and urged him to “find your purpose.”
She struck a much different tone toward Thao.
“Mr. Thao, as you watched my love being suffocated under the knee of your co-officer, I will never forget you saying to the onlookers, ‘This is why you don’t do drugs,'” Ross said in court.
She said Floyd was “just so scared” and said it broke her heart every time she watched Thao say that. She followed that up by telling Thao she hopes he thinks of how Floyd felt when Thao is in prison.
Finally, she told Thao, “This is why you don’t violate a person’s civil rights,” and asked Judge Paul Magnuson to sentence Thao to the maximum sentence.
Floyd’s second cousin once removed, Sabrina Montgomery, also spoke before each sentencing, urging Magnuson to give them the maximum penalty.
While Kueng offered no comment in court, Thao spent more than 20 minutes citing various Bible verses and saying that he turned to God after he was arrested. But his choice of Bible verses coupled with a lack of an apology or willingness to accept responsibility didn’t sit well with Floyd’s family.
“I think Mr. Thao was just trying to appease the court,” Ross said afterward, adding that some of the verses he cited “almost seemed threatening.”
Thao’s comments also seemed to make clear that he intends to go to trial on the state charges he faces in October, rather than plead guilty.
Prosecutors called for longer sentences, highlighting their testimony that they knew their duty to intervene but still failed to act.
“Mr. Kueng knew the response was wrong and he participated in it anyways,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Manda Sertich told Magnuson in court.
Of Thao, Assistant U.S. Attorney LeeAnn Bell noted, “Untrained people, many of whom were not even 18 years old, saw the excessive force.” Prosecutors also cited Thao’s experience and the fact that he ignored and turned away bystanders wanting to help Floyd as reasons for a longer sentence.
The former officers’ attorneys, meanwhile, cited their good character and records as reasons for lighter sentences.
“He’s a nice young man that attempted to help the community by taking on a difficult role … and now he’s being sentenced for that,” Thomas Plunkett said of his client, Kueng.
Robert Paule called his client, Thao, “a decent person who was just trying to do his job.”
In the end, Magnuson opted for sentences between Lane and Chauvin but on the lower end of guidelines.
“For sentencing, it’s proportionality that we often want to have sentences make sense relative to the other people that are involved, and here, I think the consensus was that Chauvin was by far the most culpable, and then Thao, and then Kueng and then Lane, and that’s how we saw it fall out in the federal sentencing,” Mark Osler, a University of St. Thomas law professor and former federal prosceutor, told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS.
Despite the disappointment, Ross said she’s undeterred and will continue to fight for Floyd and the families of others who are going through similar situations.
“It’s through them that I find my strength,” she said.
Meanwhile, Osler said the sentences are still “breaking new ground.”
“Those who aren’t directly applying the force that leads to death can also be convicted and sentenced and receive jail time. We need to recognize how rare that has been, that those who are other than the shooter or the direct actor, which Derek Chauvin was here — are held accountable,” Osler said.
Osler added, “That said, I think that some people are going to think the sentences, particularly to Thao and Kueng were lower than expected,” he says. “I think people expected — I know I expected — more distinction between lane and Thao and Kueng.”
Joni Kueng, J. Alexander’s mother, offered the following statement outside the courthouse following his sentencing.
“Alex’s family is so sad that we will not be able to get him for awhile but we will see him again, and it does not escape us that Mr. Floyd’s family and friends will not. On behalf of Alex and our entire family, we are so sorry for their loss. A way forward right now for us and for our neighborhood and for our city seems insurmountable and impossible, and it is our hope we can all find a way forward and find peace.”Joni Kueng
“Former officers Thao and Kueng each had an individual duty and opportunity to intervene in the excessive force that resulted in the agonizing death of Mr. Floyd, but both men failed to take any action,” U.S. Attorney Andrew M. Luger said in a statement Wednesday afternoon. “These sentences reaffirm that every law enforcement officer, whether rookie or senior, has an affirmative duty to protect individuals in their custody.”
Osler noted the federal sentences will now likely be a factor in possible plea deals for Kueng and Thao on the state charges, saying it provides “a baseline” for the involved parties. He also noted the voluntary report date for Thao and Kueng is Oct. 4, just 20 days ahead of the scheduled start of their state trial.
“I think it’s fair to take all that as a signal that there’s a fair expectation that a deal may be worked out,” he said.
When asked about the six-month difference in sentences between Thao and Kueng, Osler said “The six-month difference, it might not seem like much, relative to the twenty years that Derek Chauvin is doing, but I often tell people to go back six months, and imagine you have lost all that time. Six months is a serious period of one’s life.”
Olser also spoke on a possible plea bargain.
“Of course that’s going to be considered as the state and defense attorneys negotiate towards a plea,” Osler said. “The thing about the federal sentence that was received today, that’s going to provide a baseline for the negotiations for the state, because they know they’re going to be serving that time, there’s not parole in the federal system and that is going to be a starting point, if it hasn’t been already in the negotiations going forward.”
Osler then addressed the fact that both Thao and the judge talked about scripture in open court.
“And there at the end, judge Magnuson saying today I read the sermon on the mount and we must move towards forgiveness,” Osler said. “That’s pretty unusual in a sentencing, but everything in this case is unusual.”
Below is prior coverage of Thao’s sentencing hearing.
Former Minneapolis police officer Tou Thao has been sentenced to three-and-a-half years (42 months) in federal prison for violating George Floyd’s civil rights. His sentence will be followed by two years of supervised release.
Thao was sentenced just an hour after his fellow former officer, J. Alexander Kueng, was sentenced to three years for the same charges.
Again, Floyd family members, as well as both the prosecution and defense, spoke before Thao’s sentencing.
However, unlike before Kueng’s and former officer Thomas Lane’s sentencing, Floyd’s girlfriend, Courteney Ross, didn’t offer words of encouragement but called for him to get the maximum sentence.
“Mr. Thao, as you watched my love being suffocated under the knee of your co-officer, I will never forget you saying to the onlookers, ‘This is why you don’t do drugs,'” Ross said.
She added that Thao’s words broke her heart and she hopes that when he’s scared in prison that he thinks about how Floyd was scared that day.
She finished her statement by saying, “This is why you don’t violate a person’s civil rights,” and reiterated her support for a maximum prison sentence for Thao.
Sabrina Montgomery, Floyd’s second cousin once removed, also briefly spoke and encouraged a max sentence.
Thao’s attorney, Robert Paule, called Thao “a decent person who was just trying to do his job.”
Thao then got up and spoke at length for over 20 minutes about his faith and how he found God after going to jail.
Prosecutor LeeAnn Bell cited Thao’s experience and training, as well as his interactions with the crowd of bystanders, all of which she said he disregarded, as reasons for a longer sentence.
“Untrained people, many of whom were not even 18 years old, saw the excessive force,” she said.
An update regarding Kueng’s sentencing can be seen below.
Former Minneapolis police officer J. Alexander Kueng has been sentenced to three years (36 months) in federal prison for violating George Floyd’s civil rights. His sentence will be followed by two years of supervised release.
Fellow former officer Tou Thao is set to be sentenced later Wednesday morning.
The defense and prosecutors argued for very different sentences for Kueng, and two Floyd family members also spoke before Kueng was sentenced Wednesday in St. Paul. Ultimately, the judge handed down a sentence of six months longer than former officer Thomas Lane, despite Kueng’s extra conviction of willfully failing to try to stop former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin from using unreasonable force on Floyd.
“Now that said, let’s remember something and that is that six-month difference may not seem like much relative to the 20 years Derek Chauvin is doing, but I often tell people to go back six months in your life and imagine having lost all that time, six months is a serious period of one’s life,” Mark Osler, a University of St. Thomas law professor told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS.
Courteney Ross, Floyd’s girlfriend, offered some words of encouragement to Kueng, saying his sentence won’t define him but his actions moving forward will.
“This does not mean you cannot find your footing to stand up for what’s right in the future,” Ross added.
Even Judge Magnuson found Ross’ statement moving, thanking her and calling her words, “a beautiful statement.”
Sabrina Montgomery, Floyd’s second cousin once removed, openly expressed disappointment in Magnuson’s sentences for Kueng’s fellow ex-officers Chauvin and Lane, and urged Magnuson to give Kueng the maximum penalty. She added that, in her opinion, Magnuson felt sympathetic for the former officers and didn’t hold them accountable.
“All of these men deserve to serve longer sentences. The system these officers operated in is flawed, but again, where is their humanity?” she said.
Prosecutors added that Kueng testified that he knew his duty to intervene and failed to act.
“All he had to do per MPD policy was attempt to intervene,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Manda Sertich said. She noted Lane even gave him an opening by saying they should roll Floyd over.
Thomas Plunkett, Kueng’s attorney, said, “He’s a nice young man that attempted to help the community by taking on a difficult role … and now he’s being sentenced for that.” Plunkett added that prosecutors’ seeking a longer sentence would only “deepen the tragedy” of the case.
Lane, who – as previously reported – received a two-and-a-half year sentence just last week. Lane has also pleaded guilty to the state’s charge of aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter in Floyd’s death. He is expected to be sentenced for the state charge on Sept. 21.
A previous version of this report can be found below.
Two men formerly employed by the Minneapolis Police Department and who were found guilty of violating George Floyd’s civil rights will learn their fates Wednesday.
Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng are scheduled for back-to-back hearings on the sentences later in the morning.
Thao and Kueng were convicted of violating Floyd’s civil rights in Feb. of 2022, however, Thao and Kueng were also convicted of willfully failing to try to stop former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin from using unreasonable force on Floyd.
They could receive somewhere between just over 4-5 years, since Judge Magnuson issued a ruling last week that compared their crimes more closely to involuntary manslaughter instead of murder.
The big factor during Wednesday’s hearing will be if Judge Magnuson finds Kueng and Thao played a minimal role in the crime as he did Thomas Lane, who – as previously reported – received a two and a half year sentence just last week. Lane has also pleaded guilty to the state’s charge of aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter in Floyd’s death. He is expected to be sentenced for that charge on Sept. 21.
Prosecutors are asking for the officers to serve less time than Chauvin’s 21 year sentence, but to serve substantially more time than Lane.
Thao’s attorney is asking his client be sentenced to two years in prison, while Kueng’s attorney has filed his request under seal.
Another thing to watch Wednesday is that the sentencing could trigger another round of plea deals in state court, so the officers don’t receive a longer sentence than the federal one.
Their hearings are expected to begin at 10 and 11 a.m. in St. Paul.
CLICK HERE for full George Floyd coverage. A timeline can be found below of the events following Floyd’s death.
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