Former Minneapolis police officer Thomas Lane sentenced for violating George Floyd's civil rights

George Floyd Officers Civil Rights
Attorney Earl Gray (right) questions Thomas Lane (left) before U.S. District Judge Magnuson during his trial in the killing of George Floyd in federal court in St. Paul, Minn., on Feb. 21, 2022.
Cedric Hohnstadt | AP File

Former Minneapolis police officer Thomas Lane was sentenced for violating George Floyd’s civil rights. A federal judge gave Lane a 30 month sentence. Lane was found guilty at a federal trial in February of failing to provide Floyd with needed medical care. Two other former police officers involved in Floyd's death have yet to be sentenced. MPR News reporter Jon Collins was at the courthouse today for the sentencing and has been following Lane’s case. He joined host Cathy Wurzer to talk more about what happened.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation. 

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Audio transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING] INTERVIEWER: Back to that top story, former Minneapolis police officer Thomas Lane was sentenced this morning for violating George Floyd's civil rights. A federal judge gave Lane a 30-month sentence. Lane was found guilty at a federal trial in February of failing to provide Floyd with needed medical care. Two other former police officers involved in Floyd's death have yet to be sentenced.

NPR news reporter Jon Collins was at the courthouse today for the sentencing, and he's been following Lane's case. He joins us right now to talk more about what happened. Thanks for joining us, Jon.

JON COLLINS: Thanks for having me.

INTERVIEWER: How much of that 30-month sentence will Thomas Lane likely serve?

JON COLLINS: So rules for federal and state prison are different. In Minnesota and state prison, almost all inmates serve 2/3 of their time in prison and then 1/3 of their time they're sentenced to in what's called supervised release. But in federal prison, they can earn what's called good time. And assuming they get that, they typically serve 85%, so about 20% more time behind bars in federal prison than in Minnesota state prisons. So in this case, it will be right around a little more than 20 months that he'll be serving.

INTERVIEWER: OK. Former Officer Lane pleaded guilty in state court back in May to charges of aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter. And as part of that deal prosecutors, agreed to a sentence of three years and that he'll serve the time in federal prison rather than state prison. So did that impact the federal sentencing as well?

JON COLLINS: Yeah. Excuse me, I just wanted to correct. I just said 20 months. I meant to say 25 and 1/2 months. That's where it is.

So these sentences-- the federal and the state ones-- will be served what's called concurrently, so that means at the same time. And the actual time he'll serve in his federal sentence is a couple of months longer than he would serve in state prison. But where the state court really affects this federal court process is when Lane is expected to surrender to the Bureau of Prisons.

He's not being sentenced in state court until the end of September, although we already know what his plea deal was. So the federal judge has set Lane's day of surrender, when he will start serving his sentence, for October 4. So he's not going to be in federal custody until then.

INTERVIEWER: I'm wondering, Jon, Lane's former colleagues, former officers Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng, haven't been sentenced yet in federal court. They're scheduled to go on trial on state charges of aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter in October. So can we expect, do you think, similar outcomes for them as well? Or will their cases be different?

JON COLLINS: Yeah, this gets a little complicated. But, speaking overall, Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng have tougher cases than Lane did. But they've also faced more charges.

So in federal court, Lane was convicted of deliberate indifference to George Floyd's medical needs, as were both Thao and Kueng. But in addition, Thao and Kueng were convicted of failing to intervene with Chauvin's actions. So they'll be sentenced on that count as well.

And then, in state court, Kueng and Thao chose not to take plea deals, like Lane did. So the state charges are aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter, a completely different premise than the federal trial that we just got through for violating George Floyd's civil rights. So Thao and Kueng are seen as potentially less sympathetic than Thomas Lane because Thomas Lane, after all, did ask Derek Chauvin multiple times whether they should flip Floyd over so he can breathe. And he did give him CPR in the ambulance. So we'll just see as that process plays out.

INTERVIEWER: Say, by the way, in the courtroom today, did Thomas Lane say anything?

JON COLLINS: Thomas Lane chose not to make any statements. And that includes both to the judge to influence the sentencing, potentially, and to Floyd's family, who was in the courtroom. And this was-- you may remember that Derek Chauvin was just sentenced not too long ago. And he did choose to at least make some very brief statements to the Floyd family. But Lane chose not to for whatever reason, probably a legal reason.

INTERVIEWER: What were your observations of the judge today?

JON COLLINS: Yeah, so the judge spoke directly to Lane. And he told Lane that he was impressed by his character. And then he mentioned all the unique letters that he's received from the public on Lane's behalf. And in most cases, the judge said, defense attorneys pretty much hand out form letters to the friends and family of defendants and have them send those in.

But in this case, the judge said he received 145 unique letters. And after this judge's very long career, he said he's never received so many letters for a defendant. So he seemed affected by that. And some letters that he specifically pointed out came from doctors who said early in their careers, they made a choice of deferring to a senior colleague, and they made a mistake that they always regretted, which, of course, could potentially apply to Lane's situation as well.

INTERVIEWER: Of course, we're talking about Judge Paul Magnuson, who's been around for a very long time.

JON COLLINS: That's right.

INTERVIEWER: On the other side of the coin here, Jon, the victim impact statements are always poignant. And I thought George Floyd's girlfriend had a powerful statement.

JON COLLINS: Yeah, she did. I mean, she went through the impact of Floyd's killing on her personally and the sort of loss that she said both herself and the community have experienced, from not just the perspective of him being a loved one of her, but him being a person who had a sense of humor and who loved to crack jokes and would intervene if he saw something that he felt was unjust happening.

But towards the end of her statement, she addressed Lane. And she said she doesn't believe he's a bad guy. But she urged him to pay his dues and then to come out of prison and be a hero and do the right things, commit himself to doing the right things.

INTERVIEWER: I'm curious about the members of Floyd's family. Were they there? What do they have to say about this?

JON COLLINS: Yeah, so there were two members of Floyd's family that spoke at the hearing. Philonise Floyd, George Floyd's brother, told the judge how Floyd's murder has haunted their family and just the impact that his loss has had. He said he thinks about it all the time. It's hard to get out of his head. And Floyd's family was asking for the maximum punishment.

INTERVIEWER: And, of course, they didn't get the maximum punishment. 30 months is toward the lower end, right?

JON COLLINS: Yeah, that's right. The defense was asking for 27 months. So this is just three months more than the defense was hoping for. And it's less than half of what prosecutors were asking for. So in some ways, this may be the judge acknowledging that Lane played less of a role in this crime than his former colleagues did.

INTERVIEWER: All right. Jon Collins, thank you so very much.

JON COLLINS: Thanks for having me.

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