A judge sentenced former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin to 22 and 1/2 years in prison on Friday for the murder of George Floyd during an arrest in May 2020, a video of which galvanized a national protest movement against racism.
A jury found Chauvin, who is white, guilty on April 20 of
unintentional second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree
manslaughter in the death of Floyd, a Black man. The verdict was widely seen as
a landmark rebuke of the disproportionate use of police force against Black
Chauvin’s sentence was one of the longest given a former
police officer for using unlawful deadly force in the United States, Minnesota
Attorney General Keith Ellison, whose office prosecuted the case, told
reporters. Successful prosecutions of police officers in such cases have been
“Today’s sentencing is not justice but it is another
moment of real accountability on the road to justice,” Ellison said
outside the courtroom, calling on law enforcement leaders around the United
States to see it as a moment for reform.
At the White House, U.S. President Joe Biden, who has spoken
several times with the Floyd family, said the sentence seemed appropriate.
Both Floyd’s brother Rodney and his nephew Brandon Williams
criticized the sentence as a “slap on the wrist.”
“We were served a life sentence,” Williams said
outside the courthouse. “We can’t get George back.”
Before the sentence was handed down, Floyd’s brothers told
the court of their anguish, Chauvin’s mother insisted on her son’s innocence,
and Chauvin himself offered condolences to the Floyd family.
Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill said it was
important to recognize the pain of the Floyd family.
He acknowledged the global notoriety of the case only to say
it would not sway him.
“I’m not basing my sentence on public opinion,”
Cahill said. “I’m not basing it on the attempt to send any messages. The
job of a trial court judge is to apply the law to specific facts and to deal
with individual cases.”
In a 22-page sentencing memorandum, Cahill gave weight to
prosecution arguments that Chauvin acted with cruelty and abused his position
of authority, aggravating factors that allowed him to give a harsher sentence
than would be indicated by state sentencing guidelines for first-time
The hearing began with prosecutors asking several members of
Floyd’s family to address the court. Floyd’s 7-year-old daughter Gianna was
first, appearing in a video recording.
“I ask about him all the time,” she said in the
video as Chauvin sat before the judge dressed in a gray suit and tie, a blue
mask covering his nose and mouth. “My daddy always used to help me brush
my teeth.” Asked what she would say to him if she could see him again, she
said: “It would be I miss you and I love you.”
30 YEARS REQUESTED
Prosecutors had asked for a 30-year prison sentence, double
the upper limit indicated in sentencing guidelines.
The defense had asked for probation and had unsuccessfully
sought a retrial ahead of an expected appeal.
Video of Chauvin kneeling on the neck of the handcuffed
Floyd for more than nine minutes on May 25, 2020 caused outrage around the
world and the largest protest movement seen in the United States in decades.
Chauvin was helping arrest Floyd on suspicion of using a
fake $20 bill.
Floyd’s brother Terrence Floyd addressed Chauvin directly
during his victim impact statement in court.
“What was going through your head as you had your knee
on my brother’s neck?” he asked. He told the judge he wanted the maximum
sentence. “We don’t want to see no more slaps on the wrist. We’ve been
through that already.”
Chauvin removed the mask he was wearing because of COVID-19
protocols to address the judge, saying he could not give a full statement due
to “additional legal matters.”
“But very briefly though, I do want to give my
condolences to the Floyd family,” he said. “There’s going to be some
other information in the future that would be of interest and I hope things
will give you some peace of mind. Thank you.”
He did not elaborate.
Chauvin’s mother, Carolyn Pawlenty, told the judge her son
had been unfairly portrayed as racist and said she would always believe he was
“Derek has played over and over again in his head the
events of that day,” she said, her voice quavering at times. “I have
seen the toll it has taken on him. I believe a lengthy sentence will not serve
Derek well. When you sentence my son, you will also be sentencing me.”
Chauvin has been held at Minnesota’s maximum-security prison in Oak Park Heights since his conviction. It was not immediately clear where he would spend his sentence.
He could leave prison after about 15 years. In Minnesota, convicted people with good behaviour spend two-thirds of their sentence in prison and the final third on supervised release.
The three other police officers involved in Floyd’s arrest
were, like Chauvin, fired the day after. The three are due to face trial next
year on charges of aiding and abetting Floyd’s murder. Chauvin is also facing a
federal prosecution on charges of violating the civil rights of Floyd and of a
14-year-old boy he arrested in 2017.