Former Minneapolis police officer Tou Thao, one of the officers involved in the tragic killing of George Floyd, is awaiting his sentence in state court. Having testified that he played a role similar to a “human traffic cone,” Thao contends that he simply held back concerned bystanders while former Officer Derek Chauvin, who is white, knelt on Floyd’s neck for a horrifying 9 1/2 minutes on May 25, 2020. Floyd’s desperate pleas for his life, captured in a bystander video, ignited worldwide protests and sparked a crucial examination of police brutality and racism.
Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill found Thao guilty in May of aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter. In a comprehensive 177-page ruling, Cahill stated that Thao’s actions effectively separated Chauvin and two other former officers from the crowd, obstructing bystanders, including an emergency medical technician, from providing medical aid to Floyd. Cahill emphasized that Thao’s behavior, viewed under the totality of the circumstances, was objectively unreasonable and even more so given his duty to intervene and his training to render medical aid.
Thao rejected a plea bargain on the state charge, maintaining that pleading guilty would be dishonest since he believed he had done nothing wrong. Instead, he agreed to let Judge Cahill decide the case based on evidence presented in Chauvin’s 2021 murder trial and the federal civil rights trial scheduled for 2022, which involved Thao and former Officers Thomas Lane and J. Alexander. All three officers were eventually convicted in the federal court trial. Chauvin opted to plead guilty to federal civil rights charges, while Lane and Kueng pleaded guilty to state charges of aiding and abetting manslaughter.
According to Minnesota guidelines, Thao could face a four-year sentence for the manslaughter conviction, which would run concurrently with his 3 1/2-year sentence for the federal civil rights violation. An appeals court recently upheld the federal conviction on Friday. However, Judge Cahill possesses some discretion and might impose a sentence ranging from 41 to 57 months. Lane and Kueng are currently serving their 3 and 3 1/2-year state sentences concurrently with their federal sentences of 2 1/2 years and 3 years, respectively.
Thao, who is of Hmong American descent, joins Lane, who is white, and Kueng, who is Black, as the officers implicated in this tragic incident. In Minnesota, inmates typically spend two-thirds of their sentences in prison and the remaining third on parole, while the federal system lacks a parole system but allows inmates to reduce their sentences through good behavior.
As the sentencing for Thao approaches, the world awaits the outcome of this crucial case—a case that has contributed to an ongoing discourse on the issues of police brutality and racial inequality.