45-year old Derek Chauvin was found guilty by a 12-member jury in April 2021 of second-and third-degree murder, as well as second-degree manslaughter, after kneeling on 46-year old George Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds.
Mr Floyd repeatedly stated ‘I can’t breathe’ and begged for mercy as his air supply dwindled.
Images of the incident, which followed years of high-profile police killings of Black men and women across the United States, went viral across the internet and played out over and over again on television screens.
The incident led to public outrage and sparked Black Lives Matter protests across the globe, with a view to calling for an end to systemic racism and police brutality against Black people.
Many believe it was a result of this outrage that led to the rare criminal prosecution and conviction of a police officer for brutality resulting in death.
The officer responsible has now been sentenced to 22 and a half years behind bars.
Under Minnesota law, he had faced up to 40 years in prison, and the prosecution team had argued for 30 years behind bars, saying that Derek Chauvin’s actions “shocked the nation’s conscience” and that a strong message had to be sent to deter others from acting in the same manner.
Mr Chauvin’s legal defence team had called for their client to be placed on probation, rather than sent to prison, saying the court should “look beyond its findings, to his background, his lack of criminal history, his amenability to probation, to the unusual facts of this case, and to his being a product of a ‘broken’ system.”
Judge Peter Chaill weighed all sentencing considerations before reaching his decision regarding the appropriate penalty.
Remarks on sentencing
During the sentencing hearing, Judge Cahill made clear the penalty swas not based on public opinion, “emotion or sympathy”, and that he was not trying to “send any messages.”
“This is based on your abuse of a position of trust and authority and also the particular cruelty shown to George Floyd,” he told Derek Chauvin.
The judge said he also wanted to “acknowledge the deep and tremendous pain that all the families are feeling, especially the Floyd family.”
He also noted that children were witnesses to Floyd’s murder. The brave 17-year-old who made the video was awarded a special Pulitzer Prize this year for her citizen journalism.
The sentence is the longest that a police officer has been sentenced to in the state of Minnesota, and many believe, including President Joe Biden, that for America it offers a turning point for change in a country which, like Australia, has rarely held police officers accountable.
Legal experts in the United States believe Mr Chauvin’s lawyers are likely to appeal against the severity of the sentence.
The appeal is yet to be filed.
The impact on Australia
The death of George Floyd had a massive impact across Australia where many families of indigenous Australians who have died at the hands of police or while in custody are still waiting for justice.
In particular George Floyd’s death highlighted the fact that the prison guards who many feel are responsible for the death of David Dungay junior at Long Bay Correctional Centre in 2015 have still not been charged with criminal offences.
David Dungay junior’s death bore many similarities to the case of George Floyd — the 26-year old was held face down on a bed by the guards and repeatedly stated “I can’t breathe” before eventually losing consciousness and later dying.
Since the findings of the 1987 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody were handed down, more than 400 Indigenous Australians have died in custody.
It’s reported that during the sentencing hearing, Derek Chauvin offered condolences to George Floyd’s family however, he said very little, possibly because of pending legal issues.
The other three officers involved in the killing of George Floyd, Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng, and Thomas Lane are due to be tried in March 2022.
In recent weeks, all four officers have been charged with wilfully depriving Mr Floyd of liberty without due process — over their alleged deliberate indifference to Mr Floyd’s medical needs.
Derek Chauvin has been additionally charged with violating Floyd’s right to be free from unreasonable seizure and unreasonable force by a police officer when he knelt on his neck and ignored his pleas for breath. A trial date has not yet been set.
In the meantime, The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act has still not passed the Senate, although various politicians have said it is ‘close’. The bill was introduced in the weeks following George Floyd’s death and aims to establish a national standard to operate police departments, requires law enforcement to collect data on police encounters, and puts a federal ban on chokeholds.