By Brendan O’Brien and Tyler Clifford
(Reuters) -A former Minneapolis police officer was sentenced on Friday to 3-1/2 years in prison for his involvement in the killing of George Floyd, a Black man who died under the knee of another officer in May 2020, triggering nationwide protests against police brutality and racism.
The officer, J. Alexander Kueng, pleaded guilty in October to a single state count of aiding and abetting manslaughter.
He appeared for the sentencing hearing in Hennepin County District Court through a video link from a federal prison in Ohio, where he is serving a 2-1/2- to 3-1/2-year sentence on federal charges stemming from Floyd’s death.
Kueng, who will serve both sentences concurrently, was given credit for 84 days already served.
He was one of four officers who were called to a Minneapolis grocery store on May 25, 2020, and tried to take Floyd into custody on suspicion that he used a fake $20 bill to buy cigarettes.
During the encounter, the senior officer on the scene, Derek Chauvin, pinned the handcuffed Floyd’s neck to the ground with a knee for over nine minutes, causing his death.
Kueng, 29, and fellow officer Thomas Lane helped Chauvin restrain Floyd, while another officer, Tou Thao, kept bystanders from approaching the scene.
Kueng’s sentencing represents a taste of justice for the Floyd family, civil rights lawyer Ben Crump said in a statement.
“While the family faces yet another holiday season without George, we hope that moments like these continue to bring them a measure of peace, knowing that George’s death was not in vain,” Crump said.
Kueng declined to make a comment at the hearing. His attorney, Thomas Plunkett, sought to deflect some blame from Kueng, saying his client was a rookie on his third day on the job at the time of the incident.
Plunkett instead pointed to Minneapolis police leadership, including former Chief Medaria Arradondo.
“They failed Mr. Keung, they failed Mr. Floyd and they failed the community,” Plunkett said. “Justice has become nothing more than mean-spirited revenge.”
Demonstrations and, at times, riots erupted across Minneapolis after the incident. A disturbing video of Floyd’s final minutes circulating on social media helped spark demonstrations across the nation and in large cities around the globe.
Chauvin was convicted of murder in a state trial and sentenced to 22-1/2 years. He also pleaded guilty to related federal charges and is serving a federal sentence of 21 years concurrently.
The three other officers were convicted in federal court of depriving Floyd of his civil rights and sentenced in July to between 2-1/2 and 3-1/2 years in prison.
Kueng’s plea agreement on the state charge includes a sentence of 3-1/2 years to be served concurrently with his three-year federal sentence, a spokesperson for Hennepin County District Court said in October. Lane accepted a similar plea deal in May.
Thao, who rejected a comparable agreement in August, has decided to waive his right to a jury trial. Instead, a state judge will determine his guilt based on evidence submitted jointly by prosecutors and the defense.
(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago and Tyler Clifford in New York; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Bill Berkrot)