Derek Chauvin, the 45-year-old Minneapolis police officer who murdered George Floyd, has been sentenced to 22-and-a-half years in prison.
In making the sentence, Judge Peter Cahill gave Chauvin a longer sentence than the 10 to 15 years suggested in the Minnesota sentencing guidelines for defendants with no criminal history. “This is based on your abuse of a position of trust and authority, and also the particular cruelty shown to George Floyd,” Cahill said in his short statement.
A jury convicted Chauvin of second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and manslaughter in April. Floyd’s death in May 2020 sparked a summer of protests that spread across the globe and reshaped the nation’s discussions about race and law enforcement.
On May 25, 2020, Floyd stopped to buy cigarettes at the convenience store CUP Foods. An employee who believed the $20 bill Floyd used was counterfeit called the police, and Chauvin arrived with three other Minneapolis Police Department officers. The officers forcefully marched Floyd to their police car, and after Floyd objected to the aggressive way he was being treated, he tried to exit the car, claiming he wanted to lie on the ground. Chauvin reacted by pressing his knee on Floyd’s neck and keeping it there for over nine minutes, even as Floyd pleaded that he could not breathe, even as bystanders shouted at him, and even after Floyd lost consciousness. Floyd was pronounced dead that evening.
Before Chauvin’s sentencing, several family members testified to the pain the killing left them with. “I haven’t had a real night’s sleep because of the nightmares I have watching my brother beg and plead for his life over and over again,” Floyd’s brother Philonise said. “My family and I have been given a life sentence. We will never be able to get George back.”
The statements opened with a video from Floyd’s 7-year-old daughter, Gianna. She told the court that she did not think her father was gone in spirit but that she missed him helping her brush her teeth every night. She was asked what she would say to her father today. “I miss you and I love you,” she said.
Before the hearing, some had wondered whether Chauvin would speak. But after his mother got up to speak to her grief and belief in her son’s innocence, Chauvin offered only his “condolences to the Floyd family” and his “hope” that they would find peace, but no apology or sign of remorse. Instead, he alluded to the federal charges against him, which he said prevented him from speaking more.
Prosecutors had asked that Chauvin receive 30 years in prison. Chauvin’s defense had asked for just probation. The maximum permitted by law is 40 years.
Cahill had ruled that there were “aggravating factors” that allowed him to exceed the standard sentencing guidelines. In particular, he agreed with the prosecution that the cruelty of Chauvin’s actions and the abuse of his power elevated the case above a typical one. He also noted that Chauvin had committed the crime in front of children.
In a statement before the court, Floyd’s other brother, Terrence, asked that Chauvin get the same kind of punishment that a Black man would have gotten for such a violent and callous crime. And he asked that Chauvin not become yet another officer to get off easily after killing a Black man. “We don’t want to see another smack on the wrist,” he said. “We’ve been through that already, my community.”
For the last two months, Chauvin, who is being held in a maximum-security prison in Minnesota, has been placed in solitary confinement out of fears for his safety. Shortly before the sentencing on Friday, the judge denied Chauvin’s motion for a new trial. Chauvin had failed to prove that there had been any misconduct in the trial or any violation of his constitutional rights, the judge said.
The other three officers, who pinned Floyd to the ground as Chauvin knelt on his neck, are also facing criminal charges. Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng, and Tou Thao have been charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter. Their trial will begin in August.
Chauvin and the three other former officers are also still facing federal charges of violating Floyd’s civil rights. Chauvin was also indicted on charges he had deprived a teenager of his civil rights in a separate incident in 2017. According to the New York Times, Chauvin grabbed the teenager by the throat, hit him in the head with a flashlight, and knelt on his neck.
To understand more about the creative response to the George Floyd’s murder and the protests that followed, listen to this episode of A Word.