The same Minnesota judge who presided over the trial finding former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin guilty of murder concluded in a court document filed Tuesday that there were “aggravated sentencing factors” to qualify a longer sentence for the ex-cop. Chauvin, who was convicted last month of murdering George Floyd when the officer kneeled on the Black father’s neck, is set to be sentenced on June 25. Judge Peter Cahill agreed with most of the prosecution’s claims in an order made public on Wednesday detailing how Chauvin “abused a position of trust and authority.” He was fittingly found guilty on April 20 of second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter.
Supported by the guilty verdict, the judge found that Chauvin “abused his position of authority by using force that the jury has determined in returning its guilty verdicts on all three counts was unreasonable and exceeded the authority granted peace officers by statute and other law.”
The prosecution held as an example Cahill ultimately agreed with that Chauvin held a handcuffed Floyd in a prone position for more than nine minutes and 40 seconds, “a position that Defendant knew from his training and experience carried with it a danger of positional asphyxia.” “The prolonged use of this technique was particularly egregious in that George Floyd made it clear he was unable to breathe and expressed the view that he was dying as a result of the officers’ restraint,” Cahill said in the order. “In addition, one of the other officers involved in the restraint twice checked Floyd’s pulse after Floyd had been restrained in this position for more than six and one-half minutes and informed Defendant that he was unable to detect a pulse.”
Cahill said other officers also asked twice about rolling Floyd onto his side in a “recovery position” and told Chauvin they believed Floyd had passed out. “When it became clear even to the bystanders that George Floyd was in medical distress, was no longer responsive, and had ceased breathing, Defendant further abused his position of trust and authority by not rendering aid, by declining two suggestions from one of his fellow officers to place George Floyd on his side, and by preventing bystanders, including an off-duty Minneapolis fire fighter, from assisting,” Cahill wrote. “The failure to render aid became particularly abusive after Mr. Floyd had passed out, and was still being restrained in the prone position, with Defendant continuing to kneel on the back of Mr. Floyd’s neck with one knee and on his back with another knee, for more than two and a half minutes after one of his fellow officers announced he was unable to detect a pulse.”
Cahill agreed with the prosecution’s assessment that it was “particularly cruel” to kill Floyd “slowly by preventing his ability to breathe” as he was “begging for his life and obviously terrified” knowing he would likely die. The judge also agreed that the crime, committed “as a group” with officers Thomas Lane, Tou Thao, and Alex Kueng, happened in front of four children: three 17-year-olds and a 9-year-old.
All three officers have pleaded not guilty to charges of aiding and abetting second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter, and prosecutors are trying to add third-degree murder to their charges as well, according to CNN. Cahill determined that although it’s unclear whether Lane, Kueng, and Thao knowingly had the “intent and knowledge necessary to establish that they are ‘offenders,'” they were “actively involved” in the encounter, Lane and Kueng by restraining Floyd and Thao by “keeping bystanders away.”
The only element the prosecution laid out in its findings of fact on sentencing that Cahill didn’t agree with was that Floyd was “particularly vulnerable” in comparison with other murder victims. “Although George Floyd was handcuffed, he had still been able to resist arrest and to prevent three police officers from seating him in a squad car before he was placed in the prone position, so that, by itself, did not create a particular vulnerability,” Cahill wrote.
Experts told The Associated Press that although Minnesota statues only hold Chauvin to sentencing for the most serious charge, second-degree murder, which carries a maximum sentence of 40 years, he likely won’t get that with no prior convictions. Mark Osler, a University of St. Thomas School of Law professor, told the AP the Minnesota Supreme Court standard set by the 1981 State v. Evans case allows sentencing to go beyond the maximum, which the Chauvin prosecution is pursuing. Osler said when that is justified, “the upper limit will be double the presumptive sentence length.” In Chauvin’s case, that would be about 30 years, not including any consideration of parole likely to reduce the time served to two-thirds of the sentence, the AP reported.
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