By AMY FORLITI Associated Press
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Former Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin appears to be on the verge of pleading guilty to violating George Floyd’s civil rights, according to a notice sent out Monday by the court’s electronic filing system.
The federal docket entry shows a hearing has been scheduled for Wednesday for Chauvin to change his current not guilty plea in the case. These types of notices typically indicate a defendant is planning to plead guilty, though nothing will be official until it happens in court. The court system also sent out instructions for media to attend the hearing.
Chauvin has already been convicted of state murder and manslaughter charges for pinning his knee against Floyd’s neck as the Black man said he couldn’t breathe during a May 25, 2020 arrest. He was sentenced to 22 1/2 years in that case.
He and three other former officers — Thomas Lane, J. Kueng and Tou Thao — were set to go to trial in late January on federal charges alleging they willfully violated Floyd’s rights.
A message left with Chauvin’s attorney, Eric Nelson, was not immediately returned. The U.S. Attorney’s Office had no comment.
The information sent out Monday gives no indication that the other officers intend to plead guilty. Messages left for attorneys for Kueng and Thao were not immediately returned. Earl Gray, the attorney for Lane, is currently in a trial in an unrelated case involving the fatal police shooting of Daunte Wright.
Mark Osler, a professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law, said any potential prison time that Chauvin would face in the federal case would likely be served at the same time as his state sentence — but the federal term has the potential to be much longer, up to life in prison.
By claiming responsibility, Chauvin can get a shorter federal sentence. It’s also possible that he could arrange to serve his sentence in the federal system, which would benefit him since he has been in solitary confinement in Minnesota and he would have more options federally. Still, Osler said, transferring a defendant to the federal system happens rarely.
Osler, who has been following the case, said under federal sentencing guidelines, Chauvin could get a federal penalty ranging from 27 years to more than 33 years in prison if he gets credit for claiming responsibility. Osler stressed that the guidelines are not mandatory, but estimated Chauvin would be sentenced toward the lower end of the range. Unlike the Minnesota state system, in which a defendant with good behavior only serves two-thirds of their sentence in prison, the federal system has no parole.
“I think that real care was taken to come to this outcome,” Osler said. “I suspect that neither side wanted to live through another Chauvin trial and some value was received for each side.”
According to evidence in the state case against Chauvin, Kueng and Lane helped restrain the 46-year-old Floyd as he was on the ground — Kueng knelt on Floyd’s back and Lane held down Floyd’s legs. Thao held back bystanders and kept them from intervening during the 9 1/2-minute restraint.
Floyd’s arrest and death, which a bystander captured on cellphone video, sparked mass protests nationwide that called for an end to racial inequality and police mistreatment of Black people.
All four officers were charged broadly in federal court with depriving Floyd of his rights while acting under government authority, but the federal indictment broke down the counts even further. A count against Chauvin alleged he violated Floyd’s right to be free from unreasonable seizure and from unreasonable force by a police officer.
Thao and Kueng are charged with violating Floyd’s right to be free from unreasonable seizure by not intervening to stop Chauvin as he knelt on Floyd’s neck. All four officers are charged for their failure to provide Floyd with medical care.
Specifically, the indictment says Chauvin kept his left knee on Floyd’s neck even though he was handcuffed and not resisting. The indictment alleges Thao and Kueng were aware Chauvin had his knee on Floyd’s neck, even after Floyd became unresponsive, and “willfully failed to intervene to stop Defendant Chauvin’s use of unreasonable force.” All four are charged with willfully depriving Floyd of liberty without due process, including the right to be free from “deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs.”
It was not immediately clear if Chauvin plans to plead guilty to all or some of the federal charges against him in Floyd’s death.
Osler said he’s not surprised that the other three former officers don’t seem to be involved in this plea deal because they would likely face much lesser sentences than Chuavin if convicted.
If they were to plead guilty, Osler said: “One thing you would expect that the other three would want is a plea deal that would wrap up both the state and federal charges. And that obviously takes some negotiations between the state system and the federal charges.”
The three other officers were also charged in state court with aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter. They are scheduled to go to trial in the state case in March.
Chauvin is also charged in a second indictment, stemming from the use of force and neck restraint of a teenage boy in 2017.
That indictment alleges Chauvin deprived the then-14-year-old boy, who is Black, of his right to be free of unreasonable force when he held the teen by the throat, hit him in the head with a flashlight and held his knee on the boy’s neck and upper back while he was prone, handcuffed and not resisting. Information from the court gave no indication that Chauvin would be changing his plea in that case.