A federal judge sentenced Derek Chauvin on Thursday to more than 20 years in prison for violating the civil rights of George Floyd and a Black Minneapolis teen, less than the term he is already serving on state murder charges for killing Floyd in 2020.
Senior U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson sentenced the former Minneapolis police officer to 245 months, to be served concurrently with his 22-1/2-year state prison sentence for Floyd's murder. He will also serve five years of supervised release when he leaves custody in roughly 17 years.
"I really don't know why you did what you did," Magnuson told Chauvin before imposing the sentence. "But to put your knee on another person's neck until they expire is simply wrong, and for that conduct you must be substantially punished."
Chauvin, 46, pleaded guilty in December to violating Floyd's civil rights and admitted to kneeling on the neck of a then-14-year-old boy three years before Floyd's death. He agreed to a sentence of between 20 to 25 years, with federal prosecutors seeking 25 and Chauvin's attorney asking for 20.
Chauvin, wearing orange prison garb and a short haircut, did not apologize to his victims or their relatives during the two minutes he spoke before sentencing. The sentence Magnuson imposed — more than 4 1⁄2 years less than what prosecutors called for — was met with disappointment by Floyd's family outside the federal courthouse in St. Paul.
"We saw a stunning lack of empathy today," said Jeff Storms, an attorney for Floyd's family. "I hope that's not the pattern we continue to see as some of the other sentences are set forth. You didn't see anything that really resembled an apology to these families or sympathy for them."
In a statement after Chauvin's sentencing, U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger said that the ex-officer "abandoned his sworn oath to uphold the sanctity of life when he callously took George Floyd's life and when he violently assaulted a 14-year-old child."
"Chauvin's actions constituted a grave abuse of police authority and a clear violation of these individuals' civil rights," Luger said. "To the victims, their families, and to the broader community: Although the harm that Chauvin caused will never be erased, today's sentence of more than 20 years in prison represents a measure of justice and accountability."
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, whose office prosecuted Chauvin's state murder case, added that the "substantial" sentence was "another step of accountability on the road to justice."
Federal prosecutors had asked for the longer sentence for Chauvin because, they argued, his state charges did not address his 2017 use of force against John Pope nor did they account for his abuse of authority. Chauvin struck Pope on the head with a flashlight and pinned him under his knee in a similar manner to the restraint that caused Floyd's death.
Pope and 39-year-old Zoya Code have since filed separate federal civil rights lawsuits against Chauvin and the Minneapolis Police Department over Chauvin's use of the dangerous neck restraint.
Assistant U.S. Attorney LeeAnn Bell took issue with the characterization from Chauvin's attorney, Eric Nelson, of the federal case being in response to "essentially the same behavior" for which Chauvin was sentenced in the state's murder prosecution. She added that a lesser sentence than what the government asked for would ignore Chauvin's culpability in having committed the crimes while abusing his authority as a police officer.
"He wasn't a rookie. He knew what his training was. He admitted before this court that he knew that what he did was wrong, and he did it anyway," Bell said.
While addressing Magnuson before his sentencing, Chauvin said he recognized "the difficult and unpleasant job of the court in this case" and described the moment as a "very politically charged environment."
Floyd's brother, Philonise Floyd, earlier urged Magnuson to impose the "maximum sentence possible," which in this case would have been life.
"My family and I have been given a life sentence," he said. "We will never be able to get George back."
Pope, now 19, told Magnuson on Thursday that Chauvin's actions in 2017 changed his life, describing how the trauma of that day still visits him: "I thought I would take my last breath," he remembered.
Chauvin told Pope that, "I hope you have a good relationship with your mother and also your sister," adding, "I hope you have the ability to get the best education possible and lead a very productive and rewarding life."
To the Floyd family, Chauvin said: "I just want to say I wish them all the best in their life."
A letter from Courteney Ross, Floyd's girlfriend, was also read into the record. In the letter, Ross wrote that she was "working on forgiving" Chauvin because she knew that was what Floyd would have wanted. She added that she hopes Chauvin uses his time in prison to change his life and to change others' "so they do not follow in your footsteps."
In an interview, Darnella Frazier, the teenager whose viral video of Chauvin on Floyd's neck played a key role in convicting and sending the fired officer to prison, said: "I'd be lying to myself if I said I feel happy about today. A sentence of 20 ½ years is not enough. I predicted it would be more than 20 ½ years. In 20 ½ years, George Floyd will still be gone."
Magnuson said Thursday that he would request that U.S. Bureau of Prison officials place Chauvin at a prison near family, who live between Iowa and Minnesota. But he acknowledged that judges cannot dictate where prison sentences are served.
Magnuson's judgment hewed closer to the 20-year sentence Nelson argued that his client deserved. Nelson asked for the lower end of the agreed sentencing range because he said Chauvin accepted that what he did was wrong and that Chauvin is already serving time for his state conviction.
"As the court is acutely aware, this case is at the epicenter of many divides in this country — whether it be political, social, racial or cultural," Nelson said. "The unique thing that this case has shown is there are supporters on both sides."
Chauvin's wife and a group of about a half-dozen supporters lined a bench in the gallery behind where Chauvin sat with his attorney. Chauvin's mother, Carolyn Pawlenty, also addressed Magnuson before sentencing, saying that "all lives matter. No matter the color of your skin, every life matters." She turned to her son, who sat still and largely emotionless for much of the hourlong hearing, and told him, "I will be there for you."
Magnuson has yet to schedule sentencing dates for three other former officers convicted by a jury in February of depriving Floyd of his constitutional rights by failing to stop Chauvin from using excessive force. Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao were indicted alongside Chauvin last year.
Lane pleaded guilty to state charges of aiding and abetting manslaughter in May to avoid a trial. The state trial for Kueng and Thao, on charges of aiding and abetting second-degree murder and manslaughter, is set for October.
As he addressed Chauvin, Magnuson called the former officer's actions "wrong and unconscionable." The judge added that Chauvin "absolutely destroyed the lives of three other officers by taking control of this scene."
Earlier, as she was concluding her remarks to the judge, Bell said that the U.S. Department of Justice began its investigation four days after Floyd's death. At the time, she said, investigators "knew little to nothing about the victims of this crime."
"But we knew everything we needed to know: We knew that they were human beings," she said.
Staff writer Paul Walsh contributed to this report.