Former Police Officer Thomas Lane's Sentencing Explained

On May 25, 2020, Minneapolis police officers Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng responded to a 911 call that was placed from a local convenience store (via NPR). According to History, the store's manager called police on the suspicion that George Floyd used a counterfeit $20 bill to pay for his items. Per the BBC, Lane approached Floyd's car and inexplicably pulled out his gun. He and Kueng subsequently arrested Floyd and attempted to place him in the back of their police car. Floyd, however, said that he was claustrophobic and resisted getting inside. That's when officer Derek Chauvin arrived at the scene.

NPR reports that Chauvin pinned Floyd to the ground. He then placed his knee on his neck for nearly 10 minutes. Meanwhile, officer Tou Thao controlled the crowd that had gathered to watch. At one point, Floyd uttered "I can't breathe," (per ABC News). Additionally, the BBC states that Floyd begged for his mother and told officers that he was dying. George Floyd, 46 years old, lost consciousness and died.

The officer's actions and Floyd's death resulted in nationwide protests against police brutality, especially against Black people. Lane, who had just been hired by the department, was fired a day later, according to Insider. For their roles in Floyd's death, Lane, Kueng, and Thao were charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter. Chauvin, on the other hand, faced a slew of charges, including second-degree murder.

Thomas Lane was charged with violating George Floyd's civil rights

In addition to the charges against Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng, and Tou Thao for aiding and abetting, the former police officers were also charged with violating George Floyd's civil rights (per NPR). Prosecutors argued that Lane, Kueng, and Thao had all failed to get Floyd proper medical attention. They stated that Floyd's death could have easily been prevented. By failing to get him help, all three officers, including Lane, had infringed on Floyd's civil rights. A jury found all three guilty of this charge.

Kueng and Thao, however, were also charged with depriving Floyd of his right against unreasonable search and seizure when they didn't stop Chauvin's cruel actions. Shortly after, Attorney General Merrick Garland released a statement that read, "Today's verdict recognizes that two police officers violated the Constitution by failing to intervene to stop another officer from killing George Floyd, and three officers violated the Constitution by failing to provide aid to Mr. Floyd in time to prevent his death."

He took a plea deal

In May 2022, Thomas Lane pled guilty to aiding and abetting manslaughter, and PBS explains that he decided to take a plea deal. By pleading guilty to this charge, Lane was able to get a count of aiding and abetting second-degree murder dismissed. Moreover, the plea deal affirmed that he could serve a recommended 3-year sentence concurrently with his federal sentence for violating George Floyd's rights (per PBS). Lane's attorney, Earl Gray, explained that he took the plea deal because, "He has a newborn baby and did not want to risk not being part of the child's life."

Two months later, Lane was sentenced to 2½ years in prison for violating Floyd's civil rights, according to the Associated Press. At his sentencing, Judge Paul Magnuson told Lane, "The fact that you did not get up and remove Mr. Chauvin when Mr. Floyd became unconscious is a violation of the law." Per the Star Tribune, Lane did CPR on Floyd on the ambulance ride to the hospital. Additionally, he had suggested to Derek Chauvin that they roll him on his side to help him breathe. In the end, prosecutors argued that his actions were not enough to save Floyd.

He was a rookie cop with a criminal record

Various members of Thomas Lane's family were also Minneapolis law enforcement officers, according to the Star Tribune. Lane, who was 37 at the time of George Floyd's death, was determined to walk in his family's footsteps. Insider reports that he became a police cadet in 2019. Prior to this, Lane had worked odd jobs including as a bartender and security guard, amongst other things. At one point, he was a juvenile correctional officer and assistant probation officer. However, Lane also had a lengthy criminal record that included traffic violations, damaging property, and more. Despite his criminal record, Lane was hired by the police department.

Lane had only been working as a police officer for four days when Floyd was killed. His defense tried to shift the blame on Derek Chauvin, whom ABC News writes was a 19-year veteran of the police department. Earl Gray, Lane's attorney, remarked that his attempts to move Floyd to his side to assist him in breathing were rebuffed by Chauvin (via Insider). Gray stated, "What was [Lane] supposed to do ... go up to Mr. Chauvin and grab him and throw him off?" At his sentencing, Judge Paul Magnuson blamed the Minneapolis Police Department for partnering him up with J. Alexander Kueng, who was also new to the force (per the Associated Press).

George Floyd's family is unhappy with Lane's sentence

Prosecutors were hoping that Thomas Lane would receive a sentence anywhere between 5¼ to 6½ years long, per ABC News. Lane's attorney, however, wanted less than three years. He argued that Lane was the least accountable for George Floyd's death. In the end, of course, Lane was handed a 2½-year sentence. He was also ordered to pay restitution, according to CNN.

However, not everyone is in agreement with this sentence. Floyd's brother, Philonise Floyd, called it "insulting" and described Lane as "an accessory to murder" (per the Associated Press). Floyd's nephew, Brandon Williams (pictured above), said the sentence was "a slap in the face," according to CNN. He added that "(Lane) also made the decision to kill my uncle. He knew exactly what he was supposed to do and he chose not to do it. That's not an accident. That is a choice."

At the sentencing, Judge Paul Magnuson referred to Lane as having an "outstanding character." Per the Associated Press, he noted that Lane had many supporters that backed him up. The judge recounted that 145 letters were sent to him on Lane's behalf. He also recommended that Lane be sent to a nearby prison in Duluth, Minnesota, to be near family.

His fellow officers' sentences are expected to be longer

This, however, is not the end of the road for Thomas Lane. He is set to be sentenced at a state court in September on the charge of aiding and abetting manslaughter (via ABC News).  Lane's colleagues, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao, have yet to be sentenced. Prosecutors have said that their sentences will be "substantially higher" than Lane's, according to the Associated Press. Unlike Lane, Kueng and Thao did not take plea deals. However, Thao's attorney, Robert Paule, is reportedly asking for a 2-year sentence (via Yahoo News!). It's unknown what sentence Thomas Plunkett, Kueng's attorney, is seeking for his client. Their trial is set to start in October. 

As for Derek Chauvin, he was found guilty of unintentional second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter in 2021, according to NPRChauvin is in prison, serving a concurrent sentence of 22½ years for Floyd's murder and for violating his civil rights, per CNN. Previously, Chauvin had pleaded guilty to civil rights charges regarding Floyd's case and that of a Black teen in 2017 (via WBUR). At his hearing, the Associated Press reported that Judge Paul Magnuson told Chauvin "You absolutely destroyed the lives of three young officers by taking command of the scene."