A judge has sentenced Tou Thao, the former Minneapolis police officer who blocked worried passersby as his colleague Derek Chauvin fatally knelt on George Floyd’s neck.
Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill, who oversaw Chauvin’s jury trial for murder in Floyd’s death, found Thao guilty of aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter on Monday following a a bench trial. Prosecutors previously dropped the charge of aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter – the charge for which Chauvin was convicted in 2021 and sentenced to 22½ years behind bars.
During that fateful arrest on May 25, 2020, Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck while two other officers, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane, were on the victim’s back and legs, respectively. Floyd, 46, pleaded with officers as he lay face down with his hands cuffed behind his back, telling them he couldn’t breathe.
“That’s why you kids don’t do drugs,” Thao told passers-by at the time, according to police body camera footage.
Thao was the last of the four officers involved in the arrest that killed Floyd to be sentenced. Both Lane and Kueng had pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting the second-degree manslaughter charge; Lane was sentenced to three years in state prison to be served concurrently with a two-and-a-half-year federal prison sentence, while Keung was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in state prison, concurrently than a three-year federal sentence.
“George Floyd’s family is grateful for another measure of accountability for his death,” attorneys Ben Crump, Antonio Romanucci and Jeff Storms, who represent Floyd’s family, said in a statement welcoming the new verdict. “Nearly three years after George’s death, the Minneapolis family and community continue to heal as the criminal justice system prevails. With each of these justice steps, it is further demonstrated that police brutality is an illegal – and punishable – act.
In his decision dated Monday, Cahill called Thao’s actions “ruthless.” Judge wrote that Thao “actively encouraged the dangerous restraint of Floyd by his three colleagues while holding back a crowd of worried bystanders pleading with officers to provide medical assistance.”
Thao knew Floyd was quiet and unresponsive, not moving, the judge wrote.
“In fact, approximately six minutes into the restraint, Floyd stopped breathing, lost consciousness, and became pulseless,” the ruling reads.
Floyd collapsed as paramedics put him on a stretcher, Cahill wrote.
Thao, a veteran Minneapolis police officer with nearly a decade of experience, knew prone restraint could kill, according to the ruling. Like the other officers, Thao had received specific training to turn a person to his side to avoid positional asphyxiation.
“Like bystanders, Thao could see Floyd’s life slowly slipping away as the restraint continued,” the ruling said. “Yet, Thao made a conscious decision to actively participate in Floyd’s death: he stood by worried bystanders and even stopped an off-duty Minneapolis firefighter from providing the medical help Floyd so desperately needed.”
The judge noted that Thao obtained a device called a “hobble” from a patrol vehicle, and it could have been used to safely restrain Floyd. Thao, however, encouraged other officers not to use it because if they did, a sergeant would have to come out and do paperwork for a use of force review per Minneapolis Police Department policy. , Cahill said.
“In short: Tou Thao did not want to follow the proper protocol and the work that would entail,” the ruling said. “George Floyd died as a result.”
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