MINNEAPOLIS — Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin has been sentenced to 22 and a half years for the murder of George Floyd.
Since his April conviction, Chauvin has been held at Minnesota's only maximum security prison in Oak Park Heights. Officials say he has returned to the prison after the sentencing.
The sentence came exactly thirteen months after people across the globe watched bystander video of George Floyd’s death under Chauvin’s knee, as all eyes turned back to Minneapolis Friday to see how long the former officer would serve for his actions.
Judge Peter Cahill considered the prosecutors’ request for 30 years, several aggravating factors, and the defense request for a lesser sentence as low as probation, before making his decision. He also read and listened to victim impact statements from family and loved ones, and reviewed the presentence investigation.
Cahill said there is a 22-page legal analysis attached to his sentencing order, so his verbal comments were brief.
“What the sentence is not based on is emotion or sympathy,” Cahill said. “But at the same time I want to acknowledge the deep and tremendous pain that all the families are feeling, especially the Floyd family. You have our sympathies and I acknowledge and hear the pain that you are feeling.”
Cahill said Floyd’s death has been painful for the community, but “most importantly” for the family.
“I’m not going to attempt to be profound or clever because it’s not the appropriate time,” Cahill said. “I’m not basing my sentence, also, on public opinion. I am not basing it on any attempt to send any messages.”
The sentence is a 10-year upward departure from the presumptive sentence of 12.5 years under Minnesota guidelines. Prosecutors had asked for 30 years, and the defense was seeking a lesser sentence or probation.
In Minnesota, typically two-thirds of a sentence is served in prison and the rest on probation.
Floyd’s May 2020 death was captured on video and reverberated across the globe sparking mass protests of racism and police brutality. Bystander footage shot by teenager Darnella Frazier showed Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck at the intersection of 38th and Chicago for more than nine minutes while Floyd called out, “I can’t breathe.” The jury saw that video, along with many other angles of Floyd’s arrest and detainment by Chauvin and three other former officers, throughout the weeks-long trial. They took less than 10 hours to reach a verdict.
On April 20, that jury found Chauvin guilty on all three counts – second-degree manslaughter, second-degree murder and third-degree murder – in Floyd’s death, making him the first white police officer to be found guilty of murdering a Black man in Minnesota.
In his sentencing memorandum Judge Cahill said, "Part of the mission of the Minneapolis Police Department is to give citizens 'voice and respect.' Here, Mr. Chauvin, rather than pursuing the MPD mission, treated Mr. Floyd without respect and denied him the dignity owed to all human beings and which he certainly would have extended to a friend or neighbor."
The sentencing hearing began at 1:30 p.m. Friday with victim impact statements. George Floyd's 7-year-old daughter, Gianna, was the first family member to share her grief.
"I ask about him all the time," she said on a video that was played for the court. Gianna said she asks, "How did my dad get hurt?"
She was asked on the video if she wishes her dad was still here, and she responded, "Yeah, but he is."
Gianna said if she could say one thing to her dad it would be, "I miss you and I love you."
Floyd's nephew Brandon Williams spoke in person, saying it was not "humanly impossible" to convey the depth of what his family is feeling.
"You may see us cry, but the full extent of our pain and trauma will never be seen with the naked eye," he said. "The heartbreak and hurt goes far beyond any tears we could ever cry."
Terrence Floyd, George Floyd's brother, held back tears as he spoke.
"On May 25, 2020, my brother was murdered. Everyone knows, by Derek Chauvin," he said. "The facts of this case were proven beyond a reasonable doubt and three guilty verdicts have been rendered. The situation has really affected me and my family."
He said any family that has been through something like this is part of a "fraternity."
"It's not one of those fraternities that you enjoy," he said. "Over this last year and months, I actually talked to a few people and I wanted to know from the man himself, 'Why? What were you thinking? What was going through your head when you had your knee on my brother's neck? When you knew that he posed no threat anymore, and he was handcuffed, why you didn't at least get up. Why you stayed there.'"
The final victim impact statement came from George Floyd's brother Philonise. He recounted the overnight transition a year ago from being a trucker, to speaking to the public on a global stage on behalf of his brother.
"Every day I have begged for justice to be served, reliving the execution of George," he said. "I haven't had a real night's sleep because of the nightmares I constantly have, hearing my brother beg and plead for his life over and over again. I have had to sit through each day of officer Derek Chauvin's trial and watch the video of George dying for hours over and over again. For an entire year I had to relive George being tortured to death."
Philonise Floyd asked Judge Cahill to give the maximum sentence.
"George's life mattered," he said. "My niece Gianna, she needs closure."
Derek Chauvin's mother, Carolyn Pawlenty, spoke to the judge on her son's behalf. She said Chauvin has been portrayed as an "aggressive, heartless and uncaring person" and a racist. She said that is far from the truth.
"I want this court to know that none of these things are true, and that my son is a good man," she said. "The public will never know the loving and caring man that he is, that his family does. Even though I have not spoken publicly, I have always supported him 100% and I always will."
Pawlenty described Chauvin as a dedicated police officer and said he has a "big heart."
"Derek has played over and over in his head the events of that day," she said. "I've 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."
When given his opportunity to speak to the judge Friday, Derek Chauvin spoke for about 45 seconds, one of his only public statements since he was charged with Floyd's murder.
"At this time due to some additional legal matters at hand, I'm not able to give a full formal statement at this time," Chauvin said in court. "But very briefly though, I want to give my condolences to the Floyd family. 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."
Because the three charges were for the same "course of conduct," or related to the same crime, the sentence for the most serious count determines how long Chauvin stays in prison. That crime is second-degree unintentional murder, and under Minnesota sentencing guidelines the presumptive sentence is 12 and a half years for a person without a criminal record. However, the statute allows for an upward departure if there are "aggravating factors."
Prosecutors argued there were five specific aggravating factors, and on May 12, Judge Peter Cahill agreed with the state on four of them:
- Defendant abused a position of trust and authority
- Defendant treated George Floyd with particular cruelty
- Children were present during the commission of the offense
Defendant committed the crime as a group with the active participation of at least three other persons
Friday morning ahead of the sentencing, Cahill denied Chauvin's requests for a new trial, and for a "Schwartz hearing" into potential juror misconduct. Chauvin's attorney, Eric Nelson, can still appeal those rulings.
Because of the aggravating factors, Cahill had discretion to sentence Chauvin to a statutory maximum of 40 years, but experts believed that was highly unlikely because prosecutors only asked for a 30-year sentence. The defense asked for a lesser sentence or probation.
State sentencing guidelines recommend a maximum of 15 years for a person with no criminal history for second-degree murder. Minnesota Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank gave an argument Friday on behalf of the state, asking for a double departure from the "top of the box" of 15 years in the sentencing guidelines, up to 30 years.
"This is not the typical second-degree unintentional murder," he said.
Frank went over some of the aggravating factors the judge is considering, including the abuse of trust and authority.
"We trust police officers," he said. "We trust them when we need help. We call them, we trust that they're going to take care of the problems that they're assigned to deal with. We trust them. We also give them great authority, we give them great power."
Frank talked through the last moments of George Floyd's life, calling attention to what he called the "dismissive" attitude of Chauvin as Floyd begged for breath.
"That is particularly cruel," he said. "This is not a momentary gunshot, punch to the face. This is nine and a half minutes of cruelty to a man who was helpless and just begging for his life."
Defense attorney Eric Nelson spoke on behalf of Chauvin, saying, "This case is at the epicenter of a cultural and political divide."
While he said they tried to keep that out of the courtroom, he acknowledged that there will be a great number of people unhappy with the sentence, no matter what the judge decides.
"I have received over 5,000 emails, over 1,000 voicemails, and hundreds and hundreds of hand-written letters, again, from both sides," Nelson said. "The impact that this case has had on this community is profound. It goes far beyond what happened on May 25 of last year. It has been at the forefront of our national consciousness and it has weaved its way to nearly every facet of our lives."
Nelson said while the judge may consider the community impact, he needs to turn to the legal principles and "remember that justice is blind."
While Cahill needs to consider aggravating factors, Nelson said he also should consider mitigating factors. He said Chauvin was a decorated police officer, and served in the U.S. Army.
"He was proud to be a police officer because what he liked to do was help people," he said.
Chauvin was not scheduled to work on May 25, 2020, Nelson told the judge. He volunteered to go in because the department was short-staffed.
"His brain is littered with what-ifs," Nelson said. "What if I just had not agreed to go in that day? What if things had gone differently? What if I never responded to that call? What if, what if, what if?"
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, who led the prosecution of Chauvin, held a news conference after the sentence was handed down. He said it "is one of the longest a former police officer has ever received for an unlawful use of deadly force."
"Today's sentencing is not justice but it is another moment of real accountability on the road to justice," Ellison said.
He said he hopes Chauvin will use his time behind bars to think about the impact his actions had on Floyd's family, his fellow police officers and the world.
George Floyd's family, their attorney Ben Crump and civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton also held a news conference outside the Hennepin County Courthouse after the sentencing.
"This verdict and this sentencing is the longest sentence we've seen, but is not justice because George Floyd is in a grave tonight, even though Chauvin will be in jail," Sharpton said. "So let us not feel that we're here to celebrate, because justice would have been George Floyd never having been killed. Justice would have been the maximum. We got more than we thought only because we have been disappointed so many times before."
Both Ben Crump and Keith Ellison called on Congress to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act in order to ensure real change comes from his death.
Three other former officers, Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao are all charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder, and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter in Floyd's death. Their joint trial is scheduled for March 2022.
In addition to the state charges, in May all four officers were also indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of violating Floyd’s civil rights. Conviction on a federal civil rights charge is punishable by up to life in prison or even the death penalty, but those stiff sentences are extremely rare and federal sentencing guidelines rely on complicated formulas that indicate the officers would get much less if convicted.