The former Minneapolis Police officer who held down George Floyd’s legs during his fatal restraint pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter Wednesday as part of a plea deal, attorneys said.
Thomas Lane, 39, was one of three former officers to face charges of aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter and aiding and abetting second-degree unintentional murder related to Floyd’s death in May 2020.
In exchange for the guilty plea, prosecutors agreed to dismiss the murder charge, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison’s office said. State and defense attorneys jointly recommended to the court a sentence of 36 months, according to his office.
“I am pleased Thomas Lane has accepted responsibility for his role in Floyd’s death,” Ellison said. “His acknowledgment he did something wrong is an important step toward healing the wounds of the Floyd family, our community, and the nation. While accountability is not justice, this is a significant moment in this case and a necessary resolution on our continued journey to justice.”
Defense attorney Earl Gray said Lane agreed to plead guilty because he faced a mandatory 12-year sentence if he were to be convicted of the murder charge.
“My client did not want to risk losing the murder case so he decided to plead guilty to manslaughter with a 3-year sentence, to be released in 2 years, and the murder case dismissed,” Gray said. “The sentence will be concurrent with his federal sentence and he will serve his time in a federal institution. He has a newborn baby and did not want to risk not being part of the child’s life.”
Lane is scheduled to be sentenced on September 21 on the state charge, according to the court.
He was among three former officers already convicted in a federal court in February of violating Floyd’s civil rights. A sentencing date has not been set in that case.
In a statement, Floyd family attorneys Ben Crump, Antonio Romanucci and Jeff Storms praised the guilty plea but said there was still more to be done.
“Today’s guilty plea by former officer Thomas Lane brings the Floyd family another step towards closure for the horrific and historic murder of George Floyd,” they said. “While today is a step in the right direction, we only need to look to the recent and tragic killing of Amir Locke to understand that the City of Minneapolis has a long journey ahead to regain the trust of its citizenry.”
In early February, a Minneapolis Police officer fatally shot Locke, a 22-year-old Black man, within a few seconds of entering his apartment after Locke emerged from a couch with a handgun and raised it toward an officer, prosecutors said. The officer and others on the Minneapolis SWAT team were there serving a warrant in a homicide investigation.
Ellison and Hennepin County Attorney Michael Freeman last month declined to file charges against any officers involved in the shooting.
What Lane did during the Floyd’s arrest
Former officers Lane, Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng faced state and federal charges for their actions – or lack thereof – as their colleague Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into the neck and back of Floyd, who was handcuffed and lying on his stomach, for over nine minutes.
During the arrest, Lane held down Floyd’s legs, Kueng held down Floyd’s torso, and Thao stood nearby and kept a crowd of upset bystanders back. Harrowing video taken by a bystander showed Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, desperately pleading for them to let him breathe and calling for his mother before he lost consciousness and died.
Outrage over the incident led to an international protest movement against the ways that police treat Black citizens. All four officers were fired and charged after Floyd’s death.
Lane, Thou and Kueng had pleaded not guilty to the state charges and rejected a plea deal with prosecutors last month, the attorney general’s office said. Thao and Kueng are still expected to face state trial next month.
Chauvin was convicted in state court last year of murder in Floyd’s death and was sentenced to more than 22 years in prison. As part of a plea agreement, Chauvin pleaded guilty in December to federal civil rights charges related to Floyd’s death and the restraint of a teenager in a separate incident.
In the federal trial, Lane testified that he was on his fourth day on the job, while Chauvin had worked for the department for over 18 years. Lane twice asked Chauvin to reposition Floyd during the restraint but was denied both times, according to his testimony and body camera footage.
The first time, Lane asked Chauvin whether they should put Floyd’s legs up, as they are taught in the academy. “No, we’re good,” Chauvin said, according to Lane’s testimony.
Lane then said he asked Chauvin whether they should roll Floyd on his side. “No, we’re good like this,” Chauvin responded, according to Lane’s testimony.
At Chauvin’s state trial, a series of medical experts testified that Floyd died of “positional asphyxia,” or the inability to sufficiently breathe due to his prone position and the pressure on his back.
An ambulance eventually arrived and first responders lifted Floyd, who was limp at that point, into the vehicle. Lane joined them in the ambulance and did CPR on Floyd.