Former Minneapolis police officer Tou Thao was sentenced to 4 years and 9 months on Monday for his role in the killing of George Floyd, in a trial that gripped the nation and sparked worldwide protests. Thao, who denied any responsibility for Floyd’s death, displayed no remorse or admission of wrongdoing during his sentencing.
Thao, the last of the former officers to be convicted in state court, claimed that his actions merely involved managing concerned bystanders during the incident on May 25, 2020. However, bystander video evidence captured Floyd’s desperate pleas for his life as he struggled to breathe while Thao’s colleague, Derek Chauvin, knelt on his neck.
Despite spending 340 days behind bars, Thao’s long-winded remarks during the hearing exhibited no acknowledgement of guilt. Drawing parallels to the sufferings endured by biblical figures such as Job and Jesus, he professed his innocence and emphasized his growth as a Christian. Thao’s lack of remorse disappointed Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill, who had hoped for a more contrite statement.
In his ruling, Judge Cahill sentenced Thao to 57 months, the maximum penalty recommended by state guidelines. The sentence exceeded the prosecution’s request of 51 months and Thao’s defense attorney’s plea for 41 months. The federal civil rights charge against Thao, which he was separately convicted for, was upheld in an appeals court on Friday. He will serve his federal sentence before being transferred to a state prison in Minnesota to complete the remaining few months of his term.
During the hearing, Assistant Attorney General Erin Eldridge emphasized Floyd’s final words, which reverberated across the globe. She pointed out that Thao facilitated Floyd’s death by failing to intervene and stopping others from providing medical aid. Eldridge argued that Thao, as a trained police officer, knew better and should have acted differently.
Notably, no members of George Floyd’s family were present in court during the sentencing, as they preferred to grieve in private. The limited audience consisted predominantly of journalists, with only a small group of Thao’s relatives and friends in attendance.
In a statement, George Floyd’s family expressed their respect for the sentence imposed by Judge Cahill, despite their disappointment at Thao’s lack of remorse and acceptance of responsibility. They viewed the sentence as another step toward accountability for Floyd’s murder and a reminder that no one is above the law.
Judge Cahill’s decision rested on the evidence from Chauvin’s murder trial and the upcoming federal civil rights trial involving Thao and two other former officers, Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng. The federal trial, scheduled for 2022, will include all three officers. Chauvin, on the other hand, pleaded guilty to federal civil rights charges. Lane and Kueng received concurrent 3 and 3 1/2-year state sentences, respectively, in addition to their federal terms.
Thao’s sentencing signifies the nearing conclusion of the legal proceedings stemming from Floyd’s murder. While justice has been sought, the impact of this case has reverberated worldwide, igniting conversations about police accountability and social justice.
Although Thao’s sentence brings a measure of closure, it also serves as a reminder that the fight for justice and reform is far from over. The legacy of George Floyd will continue to influence future discussions and actions surrounding police misconduct and the need for systemic change.