Families react to Kueng, Thao sentencing for violating George Floyd's rights

Standing outside the federal courthouse in downtown St. Paul, Joni Kueng offered apologies to the family and friends of George Floyd.

"On behalf of Alex and our entire family, we are so sorry for their loss," she said, the emotion clear in her voice.

She had just watched as her son, former Minneapolis Police officer J. Alexander Kueng, received a three-year federal prison sentence for his role in the death of George Floyd more than two years ago.

"Alex’s family is so sad. We will not be able to get to see him for a while," Joni said. "But we will see him again. And it does not escape us that Mr. Floyd’s family will not."

Right after that, fellow former officer Tou Thao was given a three and a half year sentence. Both Kueng and Thao were found guilty in February of violating Floyd’s constitutional rights by failing to intervene in Derek Chauvin’s use of force and failing to provide medical aid.

Thomas Lane, also a former officer who stood trial along with Kueng and Thao, was sentenced a week earlier to two and a half years. Lane was only charged and convicted of the single charge of failing to provide aid.

These sentences, all downward departures from guidelines, are a sharp contrast to the sentence Derek Chauvin received last year of 21 years in prison.

As he did when he sentenced Lane, Judge Paul Magnuson noted that Kueng was a rookie officer thrust into a difficult situation and bowed to the authority of Chauvin, who Magnuson said came in and took charge. He again disparaged the Minneapolis Police Department for pairing two rookies together in a difficult part of the city.

Speaking to the court before Kueng’s sentencing, Courteney Ross, Floyd’s girlfriend, expressed empathy for Kueng.

"You fell hard Mr. Kueng," Ross told him. "But this does not mean that you can’t find your footing to stand up for what’s right in your future."

Ross took a much harder stance during the sentencing of Thao, when she harshly criticized Thao for telling onlookers of Floyd’s restraint that "this is why you don’t do drugs." Ross, a recovering addict, told Thao that "no one deserves to be treated as less."

She turned the phrase around to tell him "this is why you don’t violate a person’s civil rights."

Unlike Kueng, who declined to make a statement, Thao took the opportunity and spoke a great length. Explaining a religious awakening that came in jail, most of his long speech was a wandering collection of quotes from scripture, but in it, he attacked the prosecution and the government.

Thao said in all his years in law enforcement, he never saw so much corruption as in this case and that "my friends here," referring to prosecutors, "they scheme, they lie."

"As the father of 3 kids, I can sit here and appeal for mercy," Thao said. "But I appeal to my friends to turn to God. Save your soul. Only God can do it."

Afterward, Ross, for whom religion is a part of recovery, said she found Thao’s comments "disgraceful." And she drew a sharp distinction between Thao and the other two.

"I always felt like Lane had some remorse in him. I feel like Kueng is kind of lost in this world and that he needs to find some kind of purpose. And for those men, I did find empathy. I feel like they’re still searching for something and I feel like they are looking for forgiveness. Tou Thao on the other hand, I do not feel that way."

Like Lane, Kueng and Thao remain free, ordered to turn themselves in on Oct. 4 due to the upcoming state trial on aiding and abetting murder. 

Lane pled guilty, but Kueng and Thao have not.