Defense attorney Eric Nelson (left) and former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin (right) sit in court before opening statements on March 29, 2021.
Convicted in the murder of George Floyd, ex-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was sentenced to more than 22 years in prison Friday, becoming the first white Minnesota police officer to serve prison time for a murder committed while on the job.
The sentencing marks a significant milestone in the effort to get justice for Floyd, who died begging for his life under Chauvin’s knee for more than 9 minutes on Memorial Day 2020. Three other officers present also face charges in Floyd’s death, with trials scheduled for next year.
“What the sentence is not based on is emotion or sympathy, but at the same time I want to acknowledge the deep and tremendous pain that all the families are feeling, especially the Floyd family,” Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill said when he delivered the sentence.
The sentencing hearing featured statements from members of Floyd’s family, including his 7-year-old daughter, Gianna, who appeared in a video.
“My daddy always used to help me brush my teeth,” she said. She was also asked what she would say to her father, responding: “I miss you, and I love you.”
Brandon Williams, Floyd’s nephew, said the trauma he and his family have experienced has been vast.
“You may see us cry, the full extent of our pain and trauma will never be seen with the naked eye,” he said.
Chauvin, who sported a short buzz cut, sat largely expressionless as he heard Floyd’s family speak during the hearing.
Terrance Floyd, George’s brother, said that he “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?”
Chauvin, who did not testify during his trial, spoke Friday for the first time on his behalf.
“At this time, due to some additional legal matters at hand, I’m not able to give a full formal statement at this time, but very briefly though, I do want to give my condolences to the Floyd family,” he said.
But he also offered a cryptic coda, saying: “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.”
Aside from his attorney, Eric Nelson, the only other person who spoke on Chauvin’s behalf was his mother, Carolyn Pawlenty, who gave her first public remarks since Floyd’s death at the hands of her son.
“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,” she said, criticizing the media, public and prosecution for their characterization of her son. She argued that he was not racist and that he was loving and caring.
Pawlenty did not express condolences to Floyd’s family or speak to them on the record during the hearing.
Addressing her son, she said: “Derek, my happiest moment is when I gave birth to you, and my second is when I was honored to pin your police badge on you.”
In April, a Hennepin County jury found Chauvin guilty of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. He became the first white police officer in Minnesota be convicted of murder while on duty.
State sentencing guidelines called for a maximum sentence of 40 years, an unlikely sentence because Chauvin did not previously have a criminal record.
Prosecutors had called for Chauvin to be sentenced to 30 years in prison, while Chauvin’s attorney had called for probation instead.
Cahill last month said he would consider “aggravating factors,” writing that Chauvin had acted with “particularly cruelty” and that Floyd was killed in front of children.
Floyd’s death continues to reverberate, both in Minnesota and nationally.
The U.S. Department of Justice has launched a pattern-and-practice review of the Minneapolis Police Department, investigating whether the agency has a history of discriminating against Black Minneapolis residents in its policing. The investigation could force the department to undertake reforms that would be overseen by a judge through a so-called consent decree.
On Thursday, lawmakers in Washington, D.C. announced a preliminary bipartisan deal on police reforms that came months after the Democratic-led U.S. House passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.
Minnesota lawmakers also continue negotiations on a number of police accountability measures ahead of a June 30 deadline to pass a new two-year state budget.
This story is originally from the Minnesota Reformer, an affiliate of the nonprofit States Newsroom, which includes the Florida Phoenix.
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