Derek Chauvin on Friday will learn how long a judge sentences him to prison, but corrections experts say the real moment of truth for the ex-cop convicted of murdering George Floyd by brutally kneeling on the unarmed, handcuffed Black man’s neck for more than nine minutes will likely come behind bars when his fellow inmates “kill him.”
Chauvin was already facing up to 40 years in prison for the second-degree murder conviction, up to 25 years for third-degree murder and up to 10 years for second-degree manslaughter and/or a $20,000 fine. A ruling last month that there were aggravating factors at play when Floyd was murdered clears the way for Chauvin to be sentenced even longer.
Much of the pre-sentencing publicity has centered on Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill and the way he hands out prison time, but absent from that coverage has been how Chauvin will fare once he is finally and officially remanded to prison serving his sentence.
As of now, Chauvin, 45, is on suicide watch and in protective custody while being housed in Minnesota’s most secure prison unit and under careful 24-hour video surveillance. But that type of supervision will probably end after Chauvin is sentenced Friday, exposing him to so-called “jail justice” — when inmates inflict their own form of punishment against a fellow prisoner. Considering the nature of Chauvin’s crime — a white police officer callously killing an unarmed Black man — the “hail justice” he could face will likely end in his death behind bars.
A former warden at a California prison told the Law & Crime website that it won’t be easy to keep Chauvin safe after he’s sentenced.
“One could argue that Derek Chauvin is America’s most hated person,” Cameron Lindsay said recently. “So therefore, the Minnesota Department of Corrections will have a challenge in terms of ensuring his safety and security.”
Michael J. Moore, an author who is currently serving his own prison time, was much more direct in his prediction about Chauvin.
“Jeez, I hate to say this, but I would say that they’re probably going to try to kill him,” Moore said of Chauvin’s fellow inmates, insisting that most of them are in prison gangs that demand that type of violence.
“They’re going to [want to] send somebody to scatter [Chauvin], or a couple people to beat him up… the guys in here, they earn a lot of points, I guess you would say, with whatever his affiliation is for things like that,” Moore added.
It was not immediately clear whether Chauvin would serve any, some or all of his prison sentence in the prison’s “Administrative Control Unit (ACU)” — the equivalent of protective custody — or in general population. But another prison inmate serving a life sentence for murder at the same five-star maximum security facility where Chauvin is being held said it didn’t matter.
“First of all, he’s a cop. Then he did what he did,” Hannabal Shaddai told the Paradox news website during a recent phone conversation from Minnesota Correctional Facility at Oak Park Heights. “So it’s not safe for him to be here. Best case scenario for him is he’s going to get beat up a lot. I don’t think he’s safe in any prison population.”
Cahill, a former prosecutor who has been a judge in Hennepin County for 14 years, can exercise whatever discretion he likes when sentencing Chauvin who, in theory, could only be given probation, a longshot that was requested by the former officer’s lawyer. But Cahill’s acquaintances told NBC News to expect him to hand down a sentence that lands “somewhere in the middle” between the maximum and minimum sentencing possibilities.
Even with the aggravating factors taken into consideration, legal experts told the Associated Press that Chauvin likely wouldn’t be sentenced to more than 30 years.