On the day his state trial was set to begin on charges of aiding and abetting in George Floyd’s killing, a former Minneapolis police officer pleaded guilty Monday.
J. Alexander Kueng, who was slated to stand trial with Tou Thao, was charged with aiding and abetting second-degree unintentional murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter in the May 2020 killing. In exchange for his guilty plea, the count of aiding and abetting in Floyd’s murder will be dropped, the prosecution and defense attorney Thomas Plunkett agreed in court.
“The plea by former Minneapolis officer J. Alexander Kueng demonstrates that justice takes time to be secured but that, in this case, various measures of justice continue to be delivered for the family of George Floyd,” a joint statement by attorneys Ben Crump, Antonio Romanucci and Jeff Storms read Monday. “We must never forget the horror of what we all saw in that 9-minute video, and that there rightfully should be both accountability for all involved as well as deep lessons learned for police officers and communities everywhere.”
Kueng must serve at least two-thirds of a 42-month prison term. He will pay no fine, and restitution will be determined by the court.
Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill said he will formally sentence Kueng later, but not before January 24. Kueng will appear remotely for sentencing. Previously Kueng pleaded not guilty and rejected a plea deal offered by state prosecutors, CNN reported.
Jury selection was set to begin Monday morning in Kueng and Thao’s trial. Thao has pleaded not guilty to both charges. Following the announcement of Kueng’s plea, Thao attorney Robert Paule said his client and prosecutors have agreed to a trial by stipulated evidence, meaning Thao waives his right to a trial by jury and Cahill will decide Thao’s fate after reviewing evidence presented by both parties.
Prosecutors and Thao’s legal team will provide written and closing arguments to Cahill by November 17, and Cahill will then have 90 days to issue his sentence. If Thao is convicted on aiding and abetting manslaughter, prosecutors will drop the other charge.
Thao will remain detained in Hennepin County in segregation until the sentence is announced.
Kueng, who helped restrain Floyd as Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for more than 9 minutes, and Thao, who fended off angry witnesses pleading for police to get off Floyd, were previously convicted of federal charges in the 46-year-old father’s killing. They were found guilty on charges of violating Floyd’s civil rights and of failing to intervene to stop Chauvin during the restraint.
Kueng was sentenced to three years and Thao was sentenced to three-and-a-half years. Keung will serve his state sentence announced Monday concurrently with his federal sentence.
How the fatal arrest of George Floyd unfolded
They began serving those sentences earlier this month, the federal Bureau of Prisons said. Kueng is at the Federal Correctional Institution Elkton in Ohio, while Thao was at the Federal Medical Center Lexington in Kentucky, before being transferred to Hennepin County, bureau records show.
Chauvin was found guilty of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in state court and was sentenced to 22.5 years in prison in June 2021. In federal court, he pleaded guilty to depriving Floyd of his rights and an unrelated civil rights violation was sentenced to 21 years in prison. He is serving the sentences concurrently.
Thomas Lane, a fourth officer, who held Floyd’s legs during the arrest, pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter in the summer and was sentenced to three years in prison last month. He is serving that concurrently with a two and a half-year federal sentence he began last month in Colorado.
Floyd’s death, along with those of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, set off a racial reckoning in America and sparked nationwide protests demanding arrests and widespread police reforms.