Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pleaded guilty on Wednesday in a federal court to charges he violated George Floyd’s civil rights, likely extending his prison sentence by several years after his earlier conviction for the Black man’s murder.
Chauvin, 45, appeared in the U.S. District Court in St. Paul, Minnesota in an orange jumpsuit to waive his right to a trial by changing his plea to guilty in an agreement with prosecutors, precluding the risk of a sentence of up to life in prison had he gone to trial.
A state judge had already sentenced Chauvin to 22-1/2 years in prison in June after a jury convicted him for the 2020 murder of Floyd, and he has since been held in solitary confinement in a maximum-security Minnesota prison. In Minnesota, prisoners are eligible for supervised release after completing two thirds of their sentence.
Chauvin, who is white, was seen in videos recorded by horrified onlookers kneeling on the handcuffed Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes in a brutal arrest on a Minneapolis street corner on May 25, 2020.
The killing ignited one of the largest protest movements ever seen in the United States.
Chauvin’s April conviction in state court on charges of unintentional second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter was seen by many as a landmark rebuke of the disproportionate use of police force against Black Americans.
Chauvin admitted on Wednesday that in his role as a police officer he breached Floyd’s constitutional right to be free from “unreasonable seizure” and to not face excessive force.
Federal prosecutors told the court that the sentencing guidelines call for Chauvin to spend 20-25 years in prison, though they noted that the court could rule for a harsher sentence, up to life in prison.
They said that under the plea agreement prosecutors would ask the court for a 25-year sentence to run concurrently with the state one, meaning Chauvin would extend his current prison term by several years.
Federal prosecutors said he would be moved to a federal prison, which are often perceived to be safer than their state counterparts.
District Judge Paul Magnuson said he would hold a sentencing hearing at a later date, where Chauvin and Floyd’s relatives, some of whom were in court on Wednesday, will have a chance to address the court.
As part of the agreement, Chauvin admitted he also breached the civil rights of a boy he arrested in 2017 who was 14 at the time, beating the boy’s head with a flashlight and kneeling on his neck, which drew charges in a separate federal indictment.
The boy, who is Black, attended Wednesday’s hearing with a lawyer, and later exchanged elbow bumps with Floyd’s brother Philonise in the hallway outside.
“It’s a good day for justice,” Philonise told the boy, according to the pool report.
Chauvin, who originally pleaded not guilty in September, signed the plea agreement in court, which also requires him to pay restitution, with the amount yet to be determined. He further agreed never again to be licensed as a law enforcement officer.
He was asked by prosecutors if he willfully deprived Floyd of a constitutional right and whether he had his knee on Floyd even after the man was unconscious.
“Correct,” Chauvin replied as Floyd’s girlfriend, Courtney Ross, watched from the public gallery, dabbing tears from her eyes.
Chauvin and three other officers — Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao — were arresting Floyd on suspicion of using a fake $20 bill to buy cigarettes.
Lane, Kueng and Thao were also fired from the Minneapolis Police Department and face charges in a state trial, due to begin in March, that they aided and abetted the killing of Floyd. The three face a federal trial in January as well on charges they deprived Floyd of his rights.
The indictment said Thao and Kueng violated Floyd’s rights by not intervening to stop Chauvin from kneeling on his neck, and that all the officers involved showed deliberate indifference to Floyd’s serious medical needs.