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Ex-Minneapolis officer sentenced on manslaughter charge for Floyd’s death

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 9/21/2022 Holly Bailey
FILE - This image provided by the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office shows former Minneapolis police officer Thomas Lane, who previously pleaded guilty to a state charge of aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter in the killing of George Floyd © AP/AP FILE - This image provided by the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office shows former Minneapolis police officer Thomas Lane, who previously pleaded guilty to a state charge of aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter in the killing of George Floyd

A former Minneapolis police officer who held George Floyd’s legs as he begged for breath beneath Derek Chauvin’s knee was sentenced to three years in prison on a state charge of aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter.

Thomas K. Lane is already serving a 2½-year federal sentence for violating Floyd’s civil rights during the fatal May 2020 arrest. He pleaded guilty in May to a state charge in Floyd’s death as part of a plea deal to avoid a second trial over Floyd’s killing.

As part of the plea deal, state prosecutors dropped a charge of aiding and abetting second-degree murder against Lane in the case and agreed to allow him to serve his state sentence at the same time as his federal sentence.

Prosecutors had recommended three years in prison for Lane in the state case — a recommendation below Minnesota sentencing guidelines. On Wednesday, Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter A. Cahill, who has overseen the legal proceedings over the state charges related to Floyd’s death, formally agreed to the plea deal.

Lane, 39, appeared at the virtual hearing from the Federal Correctional Institution Englewood, a low-security federal prison camp in Littleton, Colo., where he began serving his federal sentence on Aug. 30.

The former officer, who appeared on screen from a conference room and wore what appeared to be a khaki jumpsuit, was given an opportunity to address the court before his sentencing, but like his July sentencing hearing in the federal case, he declined.

In an affidavit signed in May as part of the plea agreement, Lane admitted responsibility for his role in Floyd’s death. “I now make no claim that I am innocent,” the plea agreement, signed by Lane, said.

Earl Gray, Lane’s attorney, said in a July interview that his client, whose wife recently gave birth to their first child, pleaded guilty to avoid the risk of a longer prison sentence because he “wanted to be a part of his child’s life.”

During the hearing, Cahill told Lane he agreed to a lower sentence because of his “lesser role in the offense” and his “acceptance of responsibility” in Floyd’s death. Cahill banned the former officer from owning firearms or ammunition for the rest of his life and said he must register as a “predatory offender, if required by law.”

“I think it was a very wise decision for you to accept responsibility and move on with your life,” Cahill told Lane.

The former officer gave no visible reaction to Cahill’s statement, but after the judge adjourned the hearing and closed his camera, Lane called out to his attorney, even as the virtual hearing room remained open. “I’ve got to register as a predatory offender? What the f--- is that?” Lane said. “That’s what Chauvin has to do. So if I have a minimal role, why the f--- do I gotta do that? Jesus Christ.”

Under Minnesota statute, an individual convicted of murder or aiding and abetting murder is required to register as a “predatory offender” in the state. It was not immediately clear if the statute applied to Lane, who was convicted of aiding and abetting manslaughter.

Gray told his client that he would “look into it.”

A court administrator interrupted to warn Lane and his attorney that the virtual hearing room was still live. Shortly after, proceedings ended.

Lane’s state sentencing is the latest development in the ongoing legal battle over Floyd’s death. His fatal arrest, captured on video by bystanders, sparked worldwide protests and spurred an American reckoning on race and policing that continues more than two years later.

Two other officers who were at the scene — J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao — are scheduled to face trial in Minneapolis next month on state charges of aiding and abetting second-degree murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s killing after they rejected plea deals in the case.

Like Lane, Kueng and Thao were convicted earlier this year of violating Floyd’s federal civil rights by failing to render medical aid as Floyd repeatedly complained of struggling to breathe while restrained facedown on a city street. He was detained for allegedly passing a counterfeit $20 bill.

Kueng and Thao were also convicted of failing to intervene with Chauvin, 46, who pressed his knees into Floyd’s neck and back for nearly 9½ minutes, even as Floyd stopped moving and officers could no longer detect the man’s pulse.

Kueng, 28, who was positioned atop Floyd’s back, was sentenced in July to 36 months in federal prison. Thao, 36, who held back increasingly frantic bystanders who sought to intervene, was sentenced to 42 months in prison.

State prosecutors sought to avoid yet another trial over Floyd’s death. In an Aug. 15 court hearing, prosecutors said they had offered both Kueng and Thao a plea deal in which they would serve 36 months concurrent with their federal sentences in exchange for pleading guilty to one count of aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter.

But Kueng and Thao, who are appealing their federal convictions, told Cahill they would not accept the plea deals, even as a prosecutor pointed out the presumptive sentences they are facing. If convicted, both men face 150 months in prison for aiding and abetting second-degree murder and 48 months for aiding and abetting manslaughter, and prosecutors have said they will seek an even longer sentence because of Floyd’s suffering.

The hearing was at times contentious — with Cahill, at one point, ordering Thao to directly answer a prosecutor who asked if Thao understood the risks of rejecting a plea deal. Thao told the court that it would be “a lie and a sin” for him to plead guilty to his role in Floyd’s death.

The upcoming proceedings — scheduled to begin with jury selection on Oct. 24 — will be the third trial over Floyd’s killing. Chauvin pleaded guilty in December to violating Floyd’s civil rights and was sentenced in July to 20 years in federal prison. He is already serving a 22½-year state sentence for Floyd’s murder that he will serve concurrently.

Last month, Chauvin was transferred from a state prison outside the Twin Cities, where he had been held in solitary confinement, to the Federal Correctional Institution in Tucson, a medium-security penitentiary where he is expected to remain largely in seclusion.

Members of Floyd’s family did not attend Lane’s sentencing. But Matthew Frank, an assistant Minnesota attorney general and one of the lead prosecutors in the case, read a lengthy written statement from the family that spoke of their continued pain over Floyd’s death and how the repeated trials and lack of “accountability” had only added to their anguish.

“My family never asked for this,” the statement said. “How many more times will me and my family give a victim impact statement?”

The statement added, “We want everyone here today to know we will never move on because there’s no such thing.”

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