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Former officer who knelt on George Floyd’s back gets 3.5 years in prison

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The former Minneapolis police officer who knelt on George Floyd’s back while another officer knelt on the black man’s neck was sentenced to 3½ years in prison on Friday.

J. Alexander Kueng pleaded guilty in October to one count of aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter. In exchange, an accessory to murder charge was dropped. Kueng is already serving a federal sentence for violating Floyd’s civil rights, and the state and federal sentence will be served concurrently.

Kueng, who is already serving a federal sentence for violating Floyd’s civil rights, appeared at his sentencing hearing via video from a federal prison in Ohio. When given the chance to address the court, he refused.

Floyd’s family members had the right to make victim impact statements, but none did.

J. Alexander Kueng in St. Paul, Minnesota on July 27, 2022. David Joles/AP File

Floyd died on May 25, 2020, after former officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for 9½ minutes as Floyd repeatedly said he couldn’t breathe and was eventually become limp. The killing, which was videotaped by a bystander, has sparked protests around the world as part of a broader address about racial injustice.

Kueng knelt on Floyd’s back during the restraint. Then-officer Thomas Lane held Floyd’s legs and Tou Thao, also an officer at the time, stopped bystanders from intervening. All of the officers were fired and faced state and federal charges.

As part of his plea agreement, Kueng admitted that he was holding Floyd’s torso, that he knew from experience and training that restraining a handcuffed person in a prone position created substantial risk, and that restraining Floyd was being unreasonable under the circumstances.

Matthew Frank, who led the prosecution for the Minnesota Attorney General’s office, repeatedly said during the hearing that Floyd was a victim of a crime and that the prosecution ‘focused on the officers’ which caused his death. He added that the case was not meant to be a broader police scrutiny, but added that he hopes it will reaffirm that police cannot treat those “in crisis as non-persons or second-class citizens”.

“Mr. Kueng was not just a spectator that day. He did less than some of the bystanders tried to help Mr. Floyd,” Frank said.

Kueng’s sentencing brings the cases against all former officers one step closer to resolution, although the state’s case against Thao is still pending.

Former officer who knelt on George Floyd's back gets 3.5 years in prison

Thao had previously told Judge Peter Cahill that it would be “lying” to plead guilty. In October, he accepted what is called a trial for stipulated evidence on the count of manslaughter. As part of this process, his attorneys and prosecutors develop agreed-upon evidence in his case and file written closing arguments. Cahill will then decide if he is guilty or not.

If Thao is found guilty, the murder charge – which carries an alleged 12½ years in prison – will be dropped.

Chauvin, who is white, was convicted of state murder and manslaughter last year and is serving a 22½-year sentence in the state case. He also pleaded guilty to a federal charge of violating Floyd’s civil rights and was sentenced to 21 years. He is concurrently serving his sentences at the Federal Correctional Institution in Tucson, Arizona.

Kueng, Lane and Thao were found guilty of federal charges in February: All three were found guilty of depriving Floyd of his right to medical care and Thao and Kueng were also found guilty of failing to intervene for arrest Chauvin during the murder.

Lane, who is white, is serving his 2½-year federal sentence in a Colorado facility. He is serving a three-year state sentence at the same time. Kueng, who is black, was sentenced to three years on federal charges; Thao, who is Hmong American, received a federal sentence of 3½ years.

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