Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of all charges in the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man whose restraint and death while in police custody were caught on camera and quickly went viral, inspiring a summer of protests and riots across the nation.
Chauvin appeared stunned as the verdict was announced, with the jury finding him guilty of second- and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Chauvin's bail was revoked and he was remanded to custody until sentencing occurrs, which Judge Peter Cahill said would be about eight weeks.
The verdict on Chauvin, 45, was delivered just shy of one year after Floyd’s death on May 25, 2020, and comes amid another increase in racial tension nationally – but especially locally; members of a National Guard and Minneapolis police team were the apparent targets in a drive-by shooting Sunday morning that injured two Guard members.
Jury selection, which began as news broke of a $27 million settlement between the city of Minneapolis and Floyd’s family, included several prospective jurors asking not to be selected due to fear of reprisals regardless of the verdict.
After testimony began in March, the prosecution sought to portray Chauvin’s actions in restraining Floyd as cruelly indifferent at best, with prosecutor Steve Schleicher saying during his closing that the infamous video of the arrest showed Chauvin “grind his knees, twist his knees into the handcuffs that bound [Floyd.].”
Schleicher branded the nearly 10-minute period during which Chauvin had Floyd handcuffed and restrained on the ground an “assault.”
Prosecutors also tried to set Chauvin apart from other police officers, likely hoping to convince any fence-sitting jurors that a vote to convict the former officer wasn’t a symbolic admonishment of all cops.
“This case is called the state of Minnesota vs. Derek Chauvin, not the state of Minnesota vs. the Police,” Schleicher said.
He added, “There is nothing worse for police than bad police.”
By contrast, Chauvin’s attorney, Eric Nelson, said his client acted as a “reasonable police officer,” using the term dozens of times during his closing on Monday. He argued that Floyd died as the result of a heart attack caused by an ingestion of fatal levels of fentanyl and methamphetamine and chronic coronary disease.
“Human behavior is unpredictable, and no one knows it better than a police officer. Someone could be compliant one second and fighting the next," Nelson said. "A reasonable police officer continues to assess.”
Two prosecution witnesses appeared to give conflicting testimony about the cause of death. Chicago pulmonologist Dr. Martin Tobin said that a low level of oxygen damaged his brain which caused his heart to stop, yet under cross-examination Hennepin County Medical Examiner Dr. Andrew Baker said Chauvin’s method of restraint with his knee on or near Floyd’s neck would not have restricted his airway.
Chauvin was charged with second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, both of which statutorily require some level of intent – whether it be intent to harm, as in the case of the murder charge, or a conscious taking of risk resulting in severe injury or death, as is needed for manslaughter. Nelson stressed the number of cameras recording Chauvin’s every action – from the cameras worn by Chauvin himself and the three other officers at the scene to the numerous cellphone videos shot by onlookers – to hammer home that Chauvin was aware he was being watched and wouldn’t have taken any actions inconsistent with how he was trained.
“All the evidence shows that Mr. Chauvin thought that he was following his training,” Nelson said. “It all demonstrates a lack of intent.”
Chauvin was also charged with third-degree murder, which only requires the jury find Chauvin’s actions were “eminently dangerous” and were undertaken with indifference to human life.
Nelson, however, sought to convince the jury that Chauvin’s restraint wasn’t the cause of Floyd’s death, either due to Floyd’s proximity to the exhaust from a nearby car’s tailpipe or Chauvin’s knee cutting off Floyd’s airway.
“We know this wasn’t asphyxiation because George Floyd had a 98% oxygen level,” Nelson said.
A Minneapolis convenience store called the cops on Floyd on May 25 after he was suspected of using a counterfeit bill to pay for a purchase in the store.
Footage shot by a bystander showing Floyd’s restraint and eventual death quickly went viral and ignited outrage from Black Lives Matter supporters, who immediately called for the four officers seen in the video to be arrested.
The four officers present when Floyd died – Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Kiernan Lane and Chauvin – were fired the day after the incident. Thao, Kueng and Lane were not initially charged, but after the investigation was taken over by Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, a former Democratic National Committee deputy chair, the trio was arrested on charges of aiding and abetting second-degree murder and manslaughter. Their trial is slated to begin in August.
But the immediate and widespread fury over Floyd’s death soon splintered as additional facts – the presence of fentanyl and methamphetamine in Floyd’s system, video footage from alternate angles that painted a more complete picture of the arrest – emerged and Black Lives Matter protests swiftly grew violent and destructive.
Minneapolis was looted over several nights and the chaos spread nationwide throughout the summer, when nearly any mention of police use of force against a minority – clearly justified or otherwise – became pretext for protests and, inevitably, riots.
After a relative reprieve for the past several months, Minnesota has again been recently embroiled in protests and destruction after the April 11 death of Daunte Wright, a black man shot dead by a Brooklyn Center cop who said she meant to fire her Taser instead of her service weapon. Wright’s death occurred about 10 miles from where Floyd died.
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