A federal judge sentenced former Minneapolis police officer Thomas Lane to 2½ years in prison in the federal civil rights case linked to the 2020 killing of George Floyd — delivering a lighter sentence than what prosecutors had urged.
Senior U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson handed down the 30-month sentence during an hourlong hearing in St. Paul.
"This is a very serious offense wherein a life was lost," Magnuson said before sentencing Lane. "The fact that you did not get up and remove [Derek] Chauvin from Mr. Floyd when Mr. Floyd became unresponsive is a violation of the law."
Yet Magnuson — who called Lane "a person of outstanding character" and held up a large stack of 145 letters sent to the judge in support of Lane — acknowledged a lesser culpability in causing Floyd's death.
One of four officers charged both in state and federal court in connection with Floyd's May 25, 2020, murder, Lane held Floyd's legs as Chauvin knelt on his neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds. Lane twice asked if the officers should reposition Floyd and later attempted CPR after paramedics loaded Floyd into an ambulance. But prosecutors argued that he did not do enough to aid Floyd.
Earl Gray, Lane's attorney, previously asked for a 27-month sentence, noting that his client had an "impeccable" character. Federal prosecutors sought a sentence of between 5¼ and 6½ years in prison for Lane, well below the more than 20-year sentence that Magnuson imposed on Chauvin earlier this month.
"It is fair and reasonable for a police officer to act when they both appreciate the seriousness of the situation and have the training to make a difference," Assistant U.S. Attorney Manda Sertich said in court Thursday. "But there has to be a line where blindly following a senior officer's lead even for the newest officers cannot be acceptable and that line is surely crossed when someone is dying slowly in front of the new officer."
After a 21-day trial, Lane and former officers J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao were found guilty by a jury in February of violating Floyd's civil rights while acting in their capacity as law enforcement officers. Both Kueng and Lane were convicted of charges tied to their failure to give Floyd medical care. Kueng and Thao were also convicted on charges related to not trying to stop Chauvin from using excessive force.
"In the critical last minutes of George Floyd's life, former officer Lane understood the seriousness of the situation," U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger said in a statement after Lane's sentencing. "He knew that Mr. Floyd was in grave need of medical care, but he chose passivity rather than action. As a sworn law enforcement officer, he failed to uphold his duty to step in and save a man's life."
Lane declined to address the court before his sentencing on Thursday. Magnuson said he would ask the federal Bureau of Prisons to send the ex-officer to a facility in Duluth, noting that he did not believe Lane warranted being incarcerated at a higher-security prison. Magnuson set an Oct. 4 self-surrender date for Lane, explaining that it would follow his Sept. 21 state court sentencing after he pleaded guilty in May to aiding and abetting manslaughter and agreed to a sentence of three years.
As she spoke earlier in the courtroom, an emotional Courteney Ross, Floyd's girlfriend, turned to directly address Lane. She described her late partner as someone who taught her that it was a "godly duty" to intervene and help those in need.
"Mr. Lane, I don't think you're a bad guy. I think you are one man in a system that perpetuates ideologies of prejudice and hate," she said.
"You are one of the last people to touch my Floyd's heart," she said. "I do not take that notion lightly. The light in his heart, if opened up, would blind the world. Now it is your time to follow in his legacy."
Ross told Lane that she believed he would have changed what had happened had he the ability to go back in time — "not just for you but for Floyd as well." She told Lane that "when you get out, find that hero inside of you to make sure that this never happens again. Don't ever be afraid to stand up for what you know is right."
Philonise Floyd, George Floyd's brother, returned to address the judge as he did before Chauvin's sentencing this month. Again he reminded the courtroom that each day he must relive his brother's public "torture." Floyd's nephew, Brandon Williams, also pleaded with Magnuson to impose the maximum punishment.
"Officer Lane did not intervene whatsoever," Philonise Floyd said, later adding: "I'm asking you, no, I'm begging you to hold each officer accountable and hand down the highest possible punishment," he said.
Speaking later outside the St. Paul federal courthouse, Floyd's family called the sentence delivered to Lane "insulting," repeating their insistence that all four officers involved in Floyd's killing should receive the strongest possible sentences.
"They basically, all of them together, just stood there and gave my brother no option but to die, no option but for the world to see a video of a man being murdered in broad daylight," Philonise Floyd said.
Magnuson has also scheduled an 11 a.m. hearing Friday to consider objections from Kueng's and Thao's attorneys over the calculated sentencing guidelines in their respective federal cases.
Prosecutors want Thao and Kueng to be sentenced to less time than Chauvin but "significantly more" than what Lane received. Thao's attorney is asking Magnuson for a sentence of 2 to 2 ½ years. Kueng's attorney has not publicly filed his arguments for sentencing.
Kueng and Thao are still awaiting an Oct. 24 trial in Hennepin County on state charges of aiding and abetting second-degree murder and manslaughter.