Former officer Tou Thao (center) reads a statement before hearing his sentence in federal court on July 27. Thao was convicted Monday of aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter for his role in George Floyd’s 2020 killing. Credit: Cedric Hohnstadt for MPR News 2022

Former Minneapolis police officer Tou Thao was convicted Monday of aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter for his role in George Floyd’s 2020 killing. 

Thao was the officer who kept bystanders at bay on May 25, 2020, as his colleague Derek Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes on a south Minneapolis street, even as Floyd begged officers to let him up and told them, “I can’t breathe.” 

Thao’s conviction on the aiding manslaughter charge means that the state will drop the harsher charge of aiding and abetting murder. Thao chose a bench trial, so Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill reviewed evidence and arguments in the case before issuing a written verdict Monday.

Thao’s attorney Robert Paule argued that Thao hadn’t been aware that Floyd wasn’t breathing and didn’t have a pulse, but that he wanted to get him treatment for the controversial diagnosis of “excited delirium” as soon as possible. Paule said Thao had followed his Minneapolis police training.  

Prosecutors countered that Thao was an experienced officer, and should have known how dangerous it was to keep someone in a prone position that can make it difficult to breathe. 

Body camera and bystander footage showed Thao holding back increasingly concerned bystanders, including an off-duty firefighter, who urged the officers to check Floyd’s pulse.

At one point Thao told the bystanders, “This is why you don’t do drugs, kids.” 

Floyd’s killing sparked protests and unrest in the Twin Cities and across the country. It spurred investigations of Minneapolis police by both the state Department of Human Rights and the U.S. Department of Justice.  

Chauvin and two other former officers—Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng—have already been convicted or pleaded guilty in state court. But Thao rejected a plea deal, telling the judge that “it would be a lie and a sin” for him to accept guilt, and asked Judge Cahill to rule on his case.

In a statement, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said, “The conviction of Tou Thao is historic and the right outcome. It brings one more measure of accountability in the tragic death of George Floyd. Accountability is not justice, but it is a step on the road to justice.“

Thao’s sentencing has been set for August 7. The presumptive sentence for aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter is 48 months, although the judge has some discretion to adjust that sentence.

Former Minneapolis Police Officer Tou Thao. Credit: Kerem Yücel | MPR News

All four former police officers were also convicted in federal court for violating Floyd’s civil rights and sentenced to between two and a half and three and a half years. Chauvin was sentenced to more than 20 years. They’ll serve the state and federal sentences at the same time in federal facilities.

At Thao’s federal sentencing, he gave a speech that heavily quoted scripture and lasted for more than 20 minutes, where he urged people to turn to God and spoke about “false accusations.” 

Thao’s conviction brings to a close legal proceedings involving the four former officers involved in Floyd’s death. A state appeals court unanimously denied Chauvin’s appeal for a new trial earlier this month, with the judges ruling that Chauvin used unreasonable force on Floyd.   

Thao is currently in custody at the Hennepin County jail in Minneapolis City Hall, according to the sheriff’s department. Chauvin is being held at a federal facility in Tucson, Ariz., Kueng is in Elkton, Ohio, and Lane is in Littleton, Colo.