Chauvin's prison time to involve continued isolation

"I think the rest of his life is going to be a totally barbaric existence," said a law professor

By Chao Xiong
Star Tribune
MINNEAPOLIS — Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin will face continued isolation in prison during his incarceration for murdering George Floyd.

Chauvin was sentenced Friday afternoon in Hennepin County District Court to 22 1/2 years in prison. Jurors convicted Chauvin, 45, on April 20 of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter for killing Floyd last year by kneeling on his neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds.

Chauvin's attorney, Eric Nelson, had requested probation and time served, or alternately, less time than the length — between a little more than 10 1/2 years to 15 years — recommended by state sentencing guidelines. Prosecutors asked for 30 years.

Derek Chauvin was sentenced Friday afternoon in Hennepin County District Court to 22 1/2 years in prison.
Derek Chauvin was sentenced Friday afternoon in Hennepin County District Court to 22 1/2 years in prison. (Court TV, via AP, Pool)

The Minnesota Department of Corrections, or DOC, declined to say where Chauvin would be taken immediately after sentencing and where he will serve.

Chauvin was held at the DOC's Oak Park Heights prison in a form of solitary confinement for his safety. The DOC has said he is being held in the Administrative Control Unit, or ACU, the state's most secure unit, under administrative and not disciplinary segregation.

According to the DOC spokesperson Sarah Fitzgerald, Chauvin's current conditions are: he is allowed up to 10 photos, subscriptions to periodicals, a radio and extra canteen food. He is let out of his cell for about an hour a day for exercise alone. ACU cells are monitored by cameras and corrections officers conduct rounds at least every 30 minutes. He can receive up to three non-contact visits per week, and can receive U.S. mail electronic messages through JPay, a paid messaging system for prisoners, which are then printed out and given to him.

Chauvin is the second officer in modern Minnesota history to receive prison time for killing a civilian on the job. Former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor apologized at his sentencing in 2019, and was sentenced to 12 1/2 years in prison on second-degree murder for fatally shooting Justine Ruszczyk Damond while responding to her 911 call about a possible sexual assault in an alley.

"He faces very significant safety risks in prison, and I think the rest of his life is going to be a totally barbaric existence," said Mitchell Hamline School of Law Professor Ted Sampsell-Jones. "He's going to be basically in solitary (confinement), which is an absolutely horrific, brutal condition. It destroys people."

The prospect of violence in prison was one of several points Nelson outlined in his June 2 sentencing memorandum as cause for leniency in Chauvin's sentence.

"Independent of the long-term damage a prison sentence would inflict upon Mr. Chauvin's life prospects, given his age, convictions for officer-involved offenses significantly increase the likelihood of him becoming a target in prison," Nelson wrote. "Such safety concerns are evident by his pre-sentence solitary confinement in a high-security prison."

Nelson also noted that Chauvin has been preliminary diagnosed with heart damage that could shorten his life. Nelson had argued at trial that Floyd died from a combination of drug use and heart issues, including an enlarged heart and clogged arteries, and not his client's actions.

Noor was held at Oak Park Heights after his sentencing in 2019 but was transferred about a month later to a state prison in Bismarck, North Dakota for his safety.

Fitzgerald said inmates are reviewed upon intake for medical needs, programming needs, length of sentence, incarceration history and "institutional risk" before being assigned to a facility. Inmates can be relocated to facilities outside of Minnesota at any point. As of late April, 82 DOC inmates were held in 29 other state prison systems and two were in the federal prison system.

The location of inmates outside Minnesota is not public information, Fitzgerald said, adding that the DOC does not track the number of former officers in its custody and does not have a policy governing their management.

If the DOC wants to relocate a defendant, the defendant can offer their opinions based on issues such as proximity to family, said Fred Fink, who served as a prosecutor for 40 years in Washington and Ramsey counties and in Wisconsin. Defendants don't determine where they are held, Fink added.

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