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Former officer who restrained George Floyd sentenced to 3 years in federal prison

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By Eric Levenson, CNN

    (CNN) -- J. Alexander Kueng, one of the former Minneapolis Police officers convicted of federal charges in the fatal arrest of George Floyd, was sentenced to 3 years in prison on Wednesday.

Tou Thao, another ex-officer who helped restrain Floyd, is also set to be sentenced Wednesday.

Kueng and Thao were each convicted in February of violating Floyd's civil rights and of failing to intervene to stop their colleague Derek Chauvin during the restraint.

Prosecutors asked the court in June to sentence Kueng and Thao to "significantly more" time than the range applicable to former officer Thomas Lane but less time than Chauvin's 21-year sentence. Thao's defense team asked for a sentence of 2 years, while Kueng's defense team filed its recommendation under seal.

Lane, the fourth officer on scene, was convicted of just one federal charge and sentenced last week to 2.5 years in prison, as Judge Paul A. Magnuson cited Lane's "minimal role" in the incident. Chauvin pleaded guilty to violating Floyd's civil rights and of an unrelated civil rights violation and was sentenced to 21 years in prison to be served concurrently with his 22.5-year sentence on state murder charges.

In court Wednesday, Magnuson said that Kueng was a new officer who deferred to the authority of a "much more senior officer." Magnuson wrote in a court filing last week that Kueng and Thao "each made a tragic misdiagnosis in their assessment" of Floyd.

"The evidence showed that Kueng genuinely thought that Mr. Floyd was suffering from excited delirium with a drug overdose, and Thao genuinely believed that the officers were dealing with a drug overdose with possible excited delirium," he wrote.

Kueng declined to make a statement in court.

The sentencing comes more than two years after Lane, Thao and Kueng were fired and arrested for their actions -- or lack thereof -- in May 2020 as Chauvin pressed his knee into the neck and back of Floyd, who was handcuffed and lying on his stomach, for more than nine minutes.

During the arrest, Kueng restrained Floyd's torso, Lane held down Floyd's legs and Thao stood nearby and held back a crowd of upset bystanders. Harrowing video of the incident and Floyd's ignored pleas for help spread widely and launched an international protest movement against police brutality and anti-Black violence.

At their federal trial in February, each of Lane, Kueng and Thao testified in their own defense and highlighted Chauvin's role in taking charge of the situation.

Kueng told jurors that he deferred to Chauvin on what to do during the arrest because Chauvin was the senior officer on scene with more than 15 years of experience.

Thao told the court he assumed the other officers on the scene were "taking care" of Floyd, and that his role transitioned to crowd and traffic control. When prosecutors asked Thao during cross-examination why he didn't tell Chauvin to get off Floyd's neck, he said: "I think I would trust a 19-year veteran to figure it out."

In addition, Thou and Kueng face a state trial in October on charges of aiding and abetting second-degree unintentional murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter. They have pleaded not guilty.

Last month, Lane pleaded guilty in state court to aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter. As part of a plea deal, prosecutors and the defense agreed to jointly recommend a sentence of 3 years to be served concurrently with his federal sentence in a federal institution, according to Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison's office.

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