Derek Chauvin Found Guilty On All Charges In George Floyd’s Death

The jury took roughly 10 hours to reach a verdict in the former Minneapolis police officer’s high-profile trail. Image: Former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin is led away in handcuffs

Derek Chauvin has been convicted of two counts of murder and one count of manslaughter in the death of George Floyd, concluding a trial that drew intense national interest and amplified concerns over the disparate ways police treat Americans of color.

The former Minneapolis officer, who is white, could face decades in prison. He was taken into custody following the reading of the verdict Tuesday afternoon.

Sentencing will take place in about eight weeks, Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill said.

The 12 jurors reached their verdict after roughly 10 hours of deliberation that began Monday, finding Chauvin guilty of third-degree murder, second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

Chauvin was one of three officers who pinned down Floyd, a Black Minnesotan, for 9 minutes and 29 seconds last spring as Floyd repeatedly said he couldn’t breathe while the officer knelt on his neck the entire time. Floyd’s death sparked international racial justice protests in his name.

“George Floyd mattered,” Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said during a press conference after the verdict was announced. “He was loved by his family and his friends ... But that isn’t why he mattered. He mattered because he was a human being. And there is no way we can turn away from that reality.”

Philonise Floyd, one of George Floyd’s brothers, also spoke to praise the verdict and acknowledge other victims of police brutality.

“We have to always understand that we have to march. We will have to do this for life,” he said. “I’m not just fighting for George anymore. I’m fighting for everybody around this world.”

Over three weeks of testimony, prosecutors argued that Chauvin’s method of restraint had hindered George Floyd’s ability to breathe as he was pressed facedown on the street outside a convenience store called Cup Foods. A small group of bystanders ― several of them minors at the time ― took the stand to explain why they were so concerned for Floyd’s safety as they witnessed him fighting to breathe underneath Chauvin.

Testimony from his loved ones helped to illustrate the way Floyd’s life and struggles mirrored those faced by many Americans. Floyd, 46, had been grappling with addiction for years after initially receiving an opioid prescription for pain. He had recently lost his job due to the coronavirus pandemic, and had tested positive for the virus in early April. He was still grieving for his deceased mother.

“On May 25, 2020, George Floyd died facedown on the pavement right on 38th and Chicago in Minneapolis,” prosecutor Steve Schleicher said in his closing arguments. “Nine minutes and 29 seconds. During this time, George Floyd struggled, desperate to breathe, to make enough room in his chest to breathe. But the force was too much. He was trapped.”

“Facing George Floyd that day did not require one ounce of courage, and none was shown on that day,” he told the jury. “All that was required was a little compassion, and none was shown on that day ... This wasn’t policing. This was murder.”

A woman pays respect to a mural of George Floyd by the Cup Foods where he was killed by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chau SOPA IMAGES VIA GETTY IMAGES A woman pays respect to a mural of George Floyd by the Cup Foods where he was killed by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis.

Throughout the trial, defense attorney Eric Nelson worked to sow reasonable doubt among jurors, trying to convince them that Floyd’s preexisting health conditions mattered more to the final outcome than Chauvin’s actions. The officers, Nelson suggested, were simply following police training and doing their best to make decisions under pressure while facing a possible threat from the small group of onlookers, several of whom were filming the incident on their phones. Nelson used the drugs in Floyd’s system and his documented heart disease to substantiate the argument.

Anticipating the defense’s focus on Floyd’s health, prosecutors were aided by several medical experts who said Floyd died of asphyxia, a common term for a lack of oxygen. They dismissed claims that drugs or underlying health issues played major roles in his death.

Dr. Martin Tobin, a top pulmonologist who works for a Chicago hospital, spent hours on the stand explaining with the help of slides, graphs and 3-D renderings how Floyd’s positioning made it difficult ― and then impossible ― for him to breathe. Jurors followed along as Tobin showed how various parts of Floyd’s anatomy were impacted, encouraging them to feel corresponding parts of their own necks.

Chauvin’s position over Floyd made it so his left side was “in a vise.”

“A healthy person subjected to what Mr. Floyd was subjected to would have died as a result of what he was subjected to,” Tobin testified.

Several of Chauvin’s former colleagues provided criticism of his actions, breaking the so-called “blue wall of silence.” Most notably, Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo testified that Chauvin “absolutely” violated the department’s use-of-force policy.

Chauvin, however, chose not to testify, invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination on the final day of the evidentiary portion of the trial.

Experts called by the defense pointed to the unpredictable nature of police work and suggested the unusually large amount of video evidence still might not have told the whole story at the scene.

Police had been called to Cup Foods after a young cashier told his boss that he suspected Floyd had used a counterfeit $20 bill to buy cigarettes. The store had a policy that if a cashier accepted a fake bill, the amount would taken from their own wages. The cashier, Christopher Martin, 19, testified about the guilt he felt over Floyd’s death.

“If I would have just not taken the bill, this could have been avoided,” Martin said in court.

Several of the state’s first few witnesses similarly felt emotional over the incident. Darnella Frazier, 18, the girl who filmed the video of Floyd’s arrest that went viral in the aftermath, said Floyd appeared “terrified.”

“When I look at George Floyd, I look at my dad,” Frazier testified. “I look at my brothers. I look at my cousins. I look at my uncles. Because they are all Black ... And I look at how that could have been one of them.”

Frazier’s 9-year-old cousin who was with her at the time also spoke up in court.

Outside the courtroom were scenes of resistance: Protesters carrying Black Lives Matter signs and flags rallied, at one point observing 8 minutes and 46 seconds of silence led by the Rev. Al Sharpton ― the amount of time it was initially reported that Chauvin had knelt on top of Floyd. (The trial subsequently revealed the restraint to have lasted nearly 10 minutes.)

The mood shifted toward urgency by the end of the trial, after police in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota ― a half-hour drive north of Cup Foods ― killed a Black man on April 11. Daunte Wright, 20, was shot by a veteran officer who says she mistook her firearm for a stun gun.

“This has to end,” Ellison said Tuesday. “We need true justice. That’s not one case ― that is a social transformation that says nobody’s beneath the law and nobody’s above it. This verdict reminds us that we must make enduring systemic societal change.”

Wright’s mother, Katie Wright, joined Floyd’s family in front of the Minneapolis courthouse to give a heart-wrenching press conference about her son.

To the south, in Chicago, a police accountability group released body camera video on April 15 showing the shocking death of 13-year-old Adam Toledo, who had empty hands raised when an officer shot and killed him.

Chauvin’s conviction will undoubtedly raise questions in police departments across the country about use-of-force policies and how officers’ actions will be evaluated.

“Police departments need to be reexamining their practices,” Barbara McQuade, University of Michigan law professor and a former U.S. attorney, told HuffPost. The Chauvin case may “send a message,” she said, that police officers will “no longer get the benefit of the doubt from a jury the way maybe you did 10 or 20 years ago.”

“And so you need to conform your behavior to a higher standard, because if you don’t, you will be held accountable,” McQuade said.

Hundreds of people gathered outside the Hennepin County Government Center, where the trial had unfolded in an 18th-story courtroom, to listen to the verdicts being read on Tuesday. Shouts of relief and joy erupted from the crowd when the guilty decisions were announced.

Under Minnesota law, second-degree murder carries a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison, third-degree murder carries a maximum of 25 years and second-degree manslaughter carries a maximum of 10 years. In this case, because the charges are for the same crime, it’s likely the years would be served concurrently, resulting in a potential maximum sentence for Chauvin of 40 years behind bars.

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'Our American way of policing is on trial': Law enforcement officers respond to Chauvin trial

As he prepares for work each morning, Tighe O’Meara, the police chief in Ashland, Oregon, tunes in to coverage of the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis officer charged in the killing of George Floyd last year.

O’Meara doesn’t watch to decide whether he thinks Chauvin is guilty; he sees Chauvin’s culpability as “an open-and-shut case.”

He watches for signs of hope for his profession.

He found some in Chauvin’s former colleagues and bosses who broke the so-called blue wall of silence to testify against him. “We need as much of that as possible,” O’Meara said in an interview this week. “We need transparency and integrity above all else.”

But O’Meara, who is white, also sees the trial as a test of whether police can regain the trust of many Americans, most of all the Black and the Latino residents who disproportionately live in high-crime, highly policed neighborhoods.

“If he’s convicted, it will be a strong declaration that we as a society hold police officers to account for their actions,” he said. “If he’s acquitted, it will be an event that takes us in the exact opposite direction.”

When Michael Persley, the police chief in Albany, Georgia, watches the trial, he sees the profession he loves at a crossroads. As a 28-year law enforcement veteran, he says, the trial is a reminder how damaging Floyd’s killing was for policing — and a lesson for his officers to follow use-of-force policies. At the same time, he is a Black man who understands why Floyd’s killing damaged public trust in police.

“It’s hurtful to the law enforcement profession and then it’s a disappointment in my viewpoint from the Black community,” Persley said. “It’s a disappointment to us that that was not a trust-building day.”

Across the country, police officers and commanders, active and retired, are watching Chauvin’s trial with a mix of interest and angst. Their responses, in interviews conducted this week, share some common themes, notably that the trial illustrates how one incident can shift the public conversation about policing.

But the responses also vary. While some officers see the trial as an encouraging example of the criminal justice system holding a rogue officer accountable, others see it as a sign that a growing portion of the country, led by the media, politicians, prosecutors and top commanders, has turned against them.

A woman protests outside the Hennepin County Government Center, where the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin is being held, in Minneapolis on March 31, 2021. (Kerem Yucel / AFP - Getty Images) A woman protests outside the Hennepin County Government Center, where the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin is being held, in Minneapolis on March 31, 2021. (Kerem Yucel / AFP - Getty Images)

No one interviewed justified Chauvin’s act of pressing his knee into Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes. (Chauvin’s defense team has said that Floyd’s underlying health conditions and drug use — not Chauvin’s restraint methods — caused Floyd’s death.) But some officers complained that the trial has not sufficiently examined Chauvin’s frame of mind, or the fear that officers feel while trying to arrest someone who does not want to be taken into custody. Some see Chauvin as doomed for conviction, and said their profession felt doomed as well.

“It’s disheartening to hear the prosecution throw cops under the bus and leave the defense to build them up, which is the opposite of what normally happens,” said a white detective with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office in Florida, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear of losing his job. “It sucks.”

A sergeant in the New York City Police Department, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for the same reason, said he and other officers saw Chauvin’s trial as a reason to think twice before using force against someone who is resisting arrest.

“It has an effect on police officers, no doubt about it, and for some officers it can even affect the way they approach certain situations,” the sergeant, who is white, said. “They may be more hesitant to use force. I’d hate for officers to get killed or injured because they hesitated to use force.”

The trial is unfolding at a time of deep soul-searching among American police officers after a year in which they were tested by the coronavirus, targeted in nationwide protests against police brutality and subjected to calls to limit their power, either by cutting budgets or restricting the tactics they can use. Since the trial began, protests erupted in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, after a white officer shot and killed a Black motorist, and Virginia authorities announced an investigation of a December roadside stop in which officers threatened and pepper sprayed a Black Army officer.

Defense attorney Eric Nelson, left, and former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, right, at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis, Minn. on March 30, 2021. (Pool via NBC News) Defense attorney Eric Nelson, left, and former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, right, at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis, Minn. on March 30, 2021. (Pool via NBC News)

Officers say they feel exhausted and disillusioned by what they see as a lack of support from the public.

Many departments report a wave of resignations and retirements, and a difficulty in recruiting new officers. A National Police Foundation report on the Los Angeles Police Department’s response to last year’s protests, released this week and titled “A Crisis of Trust,” includes a section on officer morale, which it says is “at an all-time low.”

Cedric Alexander, the former public safety director in DeKalb County, Georgia, and the former police chief of Rochester, New York, said it has been relatively easy for law enforcement officials to condemn Chauvin’s actions because it is “a pretty straightforward case of abuse.” That is a good thing, he said.

But Alexander, who is Black, questioned whether police leaders can be just as “objective” in cases of officers killing Black people that aren’t as clear-cut.

“We’ve got to be just as objective when these shootings of unarmed citizens occur, when incidents occur that are not as straightforward as the Chauvin case,” Alexander said. “We’ve got to have the same courage to call that wrong too.”

Jake VerHalen, a sergeant who oversees patrol officers with the Folsom Police Department in California and is president of the local officers union, has been following the trial daily, and said it seemed to have been conducted fairly. He called Chauvin’s actions “indefensible,” although he said it remained unclear to him whether they caused Floyd’s death.

But VerHalen, who is white, said he is frustrated that the trial has become entwined with a larger narrative that policing is systemically racist, and that any negative encounter between a white officer and Black person is driven by racial animus.

The vast majority of police are not racist, he said.

“A lot of people have their minds made up that this was a racial injustice. Not a bad cop doing a bad thing but a racial injustice, harkening back to the ’50s and ’60s and police unleashing dogs on people,” VerHalen said. “We are so much better than that, and have come so much further than that.”

While many police departments have enacted reforms aimed at making enforcement more equitable and transparent, disparities persist. For example, Black Americans are arrested at higher rates than white people and are more than twice as likely to be shot and killed by police. Black adults are five times as likely as whites to say they have been unfairly stopped by police because of their race, according to a Pew Research Center poll.

Image: Murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin (Jane Rosenberg / Reuters) Image: Murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin (Jane Rosenberg / Reuters)

Lynda Williams, a former deputy director of the Secret Service and president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, said the Chauvin trial must be viewed as part of a long history of police using their power against Black and brown people disproportionately. The trial can play a part in helping the country, and policing, finally come to terms with that and spur reform, she said.

“This is almost like our American way of policing is on trial,” she said.

Lou Dekmar, the police chief in LaGrange, Georgia, said the Chauvin trial has illustrated the importance of police and elected leaders improving the training and supervision of officers and holding accountable those who violate department policies or use excessive force.

“I hope it’s a wakeup call for police leaders who don’t follow this stuff,” Dekmar, who is white, said. “I hope it’s a wakeup call that agencies that hold officers accountable in the long run are saving officers’ careers. That’s what I hope the message of this trial is.”

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Maryland Enacts Historic Police Reforms, Overriding Governor’s Vetoes

Crime scene police tape

Despite GOP Gov. Larry Hogan’s attempts to block the measures, Maryland has become the first U.S. state to repeal its Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights.

Maryland on Saturday became the first state in the nation to repeal its powerful Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights after the state’s Democratic-majority legislature overrode Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s vetoes of three historic police accountability bills. 

Hogan announced Friday that he was vetoing the three bills — part of a package of five police reform measures passed by state lawmakers earlier in the week. The governor said he would allow two of the bills to become law without his signature but said the others would “further erode police morale, community relationships and public confidence.”

But Democrats, who hold veto-proof majorities in both the state House and Senate, vowed to override Hogan’s vetoes — a promise they promptly fulfilled, with lawmakers gathering Friday night and Saturday to make it happen.

One of Hogan’s vetoes had been for a bill repealing and replacing the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights (LEOBR), which governs the disciplinary process for police officers. Critics have labeled LEOBR an “impediment” to police accountability. A new procedure to discipline officers found guilty of wrongdoing — one that will involve the input of the police departments and civilians — will now replace the bill of rights. Currently, at least 20 states have versions of a police officers’ bill of rights.

The bills enacted Saturday include several other police accountability measures, such as a statewide use-of-force policy, an expansion of public access to some police disciplinary records, harsher penalties for cases involving excessive use of force, new limits on no-knock warrants and a statewide body-camera mandate.

Additionally, the two pieces of legislation Hogan chose not to veto include one that gives Baltimore voters the opportunity to decide whether the city should take full control of the Baltimore Police Department, which has been a state agency since 1860.

The other bill allowed by Hogan prohibits police departments from acquiring surplus military equipment and creates an independent unit in the state attorney general’s office to investigate deaths involving police.

Democratic lawmakers in Maryland ― a state that’s faced scrutiny in recent years for its police accountability issues ― hailed the set of police reforms as “transformative” and a step toward “equality.”  

Bill Ferguson, president of the state Senate, called it “one of the most significant and transformative packages of reform of law enforcement in the country, and certainly, what matters more, in the history of Maryland,” The Washington Post reported. 

On Friday, Del. Vanessa Atterbeary (D-Howard) pushed back against the assertion made by some Republican lawmakers that the bills are “anti-cop.”

“This is not anti-police legislation. This is equality and fairness legislation,” Atterbeary said, adding: “This was painstakingly put together for Black and brown folks in our state. It’s time for police officers who don’t follow the proper law to pay the consequences.” 

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