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George Floyd’s family criticises Derek Chauvin’s prison sentence as a ‘slap on the wrist’

Members of George Floyd’s family have criticised the length of his murderer’s prison sentence as a “slap on the wrist”.

Former Minneapolis policeman Derek Chauvin has been sentenced to 22 and a half years in prison for murdering Mr Floyd in May 2020, after a trial that was widely seen as a watershed moment in the history of US policing.

A jury found Chauvin, 45, guilty on 20 April of unintentional second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

Prosecutors had asked for a 30-year prison sentence, double the upper limit indicated in sentencing guidelines for a first-time offender.

Both Mr Floyd’s brother Rodney and his nephew Brandon Williams criticised the sentence as a “slap on the wrist”.

“We were served a life sentence,” Mr Williams said outside the courthouse. “We can’t get George back.”

Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill said it was important to recognise the pain of the Floyd family and acknowledged the global notoriety of the case, only to say it would not sway him.

“I’m not going to attempt to be profound or clever because it’s not the appropriate time,” Judge Cahill said, explaining his reasoning would be laid out in a 22-page memorandum. “I’m not basing my sentence on public opinion. I’m not basing it on the attempt to send any messages.

“The job of a trial court judge is to apply the law to specific facts and to deal with individual cases.”

Floyd family lawyer Ben Crump said the sentencing would help bring the family “one step closer to healing”.

US President Joe Biden said the sentence was “appropriate”.

“I don’t know all the circumstances that were considered but it seems to me, under the guidelines, that seems to be appropriate,” Mr Biden said.

Before the sentence was delivered, Mr Floyd’s brother Terrence struggled to fight back tears as he read a statement to the court.

“I wanted to know from the man himself: why? What were you thinking? What was going through your head when you had your knee on my brother’s neck?” he said.

He reiterated that the family is seeking maximum punishment.

“On behalf of me and my family we seek the maximum penalty. We don’t want to see no more slaps on the wrist. We’ve been through that already.”

George Floyd's brother Terrence struggled to fight back tears as he read a statement before the sentencing.

George Floyd’s brother Terrence struggled to fight back tears as he read a statement before the sentencing.

Pool Court TV

Mr Floyd’s other brother, Philonise, likewise asked for Chauvin to be given the maximum sentence possible.

“My family has been given the maximum life sentence. We will never be able to get George back,” he said. 

In a brief address before the sentence, Chauvin said he was limited in giving a statement due to legal matters, but told the court: “I want to give my condolences to the Floyd family.”

His mother, Carolyn Pawlenty, fought back tears as she defended her son. 

“I believe a lengthy sentence will not serve Derek well,” she said. “When you sentence my son you will also be sentencing me.”

In this screen grab from video, former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin's mother Carolyn Pawlenty is seen during victim impact statements.

In this screen grab from video, former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin’s mother Carolyn Pawlenty is seen during victim impact statements.

Court TV Pool

Video of Chauvin, who is white, kneeling on the neck of Mr Floyd, a 46-year-old black man in handcuffs, for more than nine minutes sparked outrage around the world and the largest protest movement seen in the United States in decades.

In a sentencing memorandum, prosecutors from the Minnesota attorney general’s office wrote that Chauvin’s crime “shocked the conscience of the Nation”.

In a six-page ruling last month, Judge Cahill found that prosecutors had shown there were four aggravating factors that would allow him to hand down a longer prison term than sentencing guidelines would dictate.

The judge agreed that Chauvin abused his position of trust and authority; that he treated Mr Floyd with particular cruelty; that he committed the crime as part of a group with three other officers; and that he committed the murder in front of children.

Through his attorney Eric Nelson, Chauvin has asked the judge to sentence him to probation, writing that the murder of Mr Floyd was “best described as an error made in good faith.”

Chauvin was helping arrest Mr Floyd on suspicion of using a fake $20 bill.

Chauvin has been held at the state’s maximum security prison in Oak Park Heights since his conviction.

In Minnesota, convicted people with good behaviour spend two-thirds of their sentence in prison and the final third on supervised release.

In 2019, the former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor was sentenced by a different judge to 12 and a half years in prison after he was found guilty of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter for fatally shooting an Australian American woman, Justine Damond.

The three other police officers involved in Mr Floyd’s arrest were, like Chauvin, fired the day after. The three are due to face trial next year on charges of aiding and abetting Mr Floyd’s murder.

– Additional reporting by SBS News.

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