MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin is about to trade solitary confinement in Minnesota’s only maximum security prison for an unknown future in a federal prison where, despite his national fame for killing George Floyd, he will probably be safer.
chauvin will be sentenced Thursday in US district court in St. Paul na plead guilty in December to federal civil rights taxes. He is already 22 1/2 years in service for his conviction in state court on charges of murder and manslaughter. To be plea deal on the federal indictment asks for a sentence of 20 to 25 years, and for serving the sentences simultaneously in federal prison.
Inmates are more likely to be eligible for parole in the Minnesota prison system than in the federal system, so the agreement means Chauvin will spend at least a few more years behind bars than he would have for the state murder conviction alone. But it avoids the life sentence he received for the federal indictment, and gives him the potential for a safer environment with a little more freedom.
Chauvin, who is white, caused Floyd’s death by pinning the unarmed black man to the curb with his knee for 9 1/2 minutes, despite the black man’s fading pleas, “I can’t breathe.” The murder of Floyd in May 2020 sparked protests around the world and forced a national reckoning about police brutality and racism.
WHERE IS HE NOW?
For his own safety, 46-year-old Chauvin has been incarcerated since his conviction in “administrative segregation” at the state maximum security prison in Oak Park Heights. He has been largely confined to a 10-by-10-foot room, which he is allowed to leave an average of one hour a day to exercise.
His attorney, Eric Nelson, wrote late last month in a request for a 20-year prison sentence that Chauvin continues to “spend much of his time in solitary confinement, largely for his own protection.”
Nelson speculated that Chauvin may never be placed in the general population of a prison due to the risk of being targeted by his former officer and the “intense publicity surrounding his case”. But outside experts say he will likely mix with other inmates at some point.
THE FEDERAL SYSTEM
The Bureau of Prisons determines where federal inmates are sent. Judges can make recommendations. But the decision on a prisoner’s final placement and appropriate security level rests with the agency, which operates prisons across the country, ranging from low-security camps to one “supermax” for the most dangerous offenders.
Bureau spokesman Scott Taylor declined to comment specifically on Chauvin’s case. But he said “a number of factors” come into play in placement decisions.
“Some of the factors are the level of security and supervision the inmate needs, medical or programming needs, segregation and security measures to protect the inmate, and other considerations, including proximity to a person’s release home,” Taylor said.
Nelson wrote that Chauvin “has been tentatively diagnosed with heart damage and therefore, like many ex-law enforcement officers, is at greater risk of dying at a young age.”
But that’s just one factor the agency might consider. Another is the length of his sentence. Experts speculate that he will likely start in a medium-security facility.
“I’ve been in several federal prisons, including prison camps, and they’re not country clubs,” said Mark Osler, a professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law. “But I would consider it very unlikely that he would initially be incarcerated in a camp or a prison with a ‘low’ rating. He is much more likely to end up in a ‘high’ rating or a ‘medium’.”
If Chauvin were in the general population of a Minnesota state prison, he would run the risk of running into inmates he arrested or investigated when he was an officer in Minneapolis, said Rachel Moran, another law professor at St. thomas. While he can’t quite escape his fame in a federal prison elsewhere, she said, he’s unlikely to run into inmates with such direct, personal resentment.
“It’s dangerous to be an officer in any prison,” said former US Attorney Tom Heffelfinger. “It’s even more dangerous in the state prison because of the nature of the prison population. For example, there are gangs. And cops just don’t do well there. Those risks are reduced in a federal prison.”
State prisons are heavy on violent offenders, including people convicted of murder, theft and rape, Heffelfinger said. Federal prisons also hold inmates from violent backgrounds, he added, but are more likely to house nonviolent drug dealers, white-collar criminals and the like.
Assuming the agency decides Chauvin is safe enough in the general population, he will have more opportunities to move, work, and participate in programming. Those options depend on the security level and the individual facility.
A POSSIBLE PRECEDENT?
Earlier South Carolina Police Officer Michael Slager is serving a 20-year sentence for murdering Walter Scott, an unarmed black man who ran from a traffic stop. Butcher, who is white, pleaded guilty to a federal civil rights charge of shooting Scott five times in the back in 2015 after stopping him for a broken brake light in an incident that, like Floyd’s death, was captured on a much-seen video from bystanders.
Butcher’s state murder charge was dropped as part of the federal plea deal. His lawyers said at the time that Butcher wanted to be in federal custody where he believed he would be safer than state prison. Butcher is serving time in a low-security federal penitentiary in Colorado.
Find AP’s full coverage of George Floyd’s death at: https://apnews.com/hub/death-of-george-floyd