On the evening of May 25, 2020 George Floyd was brutally tortured to death by police after allegedly buying a pack of cigarettes with a fake $20 bill. The initial police statement, titled “Man Dies After Medical Incident During Police Interaction,” states that the suspect resisted arrest and, after they handcuffed him, he suffered a “medical incident,” so then police called an ambulance and he died later at the hospital. It also states that Floyd “appeared to be under the influence,” implying that his death was possibly his own fault. Finally it states, “At no time were weapons of any kind used by anyone involved in this incident.”
The initial police statement omits the torturous 9-and-a-half minutes during which Floyd was prone on the street, begging for his life and crying for his mother, while Derek Chauvin kept his knee on his neck and other officers applied pressure to his torso and legs.
The initial police statement completely leaves out the part where they had George Floyd face down on the street. It leaves out the part where they continued to apply pressure to the neck, torso, and legs of a compliant suspect who was begging for his life, and they continued the deadly assault even after he lost consciousness. Chauvin continued to kneel on Floyd’s neck for close to a minute after paramedics arrived at the scene, though Floyd was unconscious and unresponsive, only removing his knee from Floyd’s neck after a paramedic told him to get off him.
Chauvin and his alleged accomplices, Thomas Lane, Alexander Kueng, and Tou Thao might have gotten away with torturing George Floyd to death in public, in front of a crowd of bystanders including children, who were also begging them to get off of him, if not for the action of a courageous teen. Seventeen-year-old Darnella Frazier held up her phone and took video while this horrendous crime was transpiring, and then posted it on Facebook later that night.
The next day the Minneapolis Police Department fired Chauvin and his three accomplices and issued a revised statement.
Derek Chauvin Was Found Guilty Of All Charges
Derek Chauvin was charged with Second-Degree Unintentional Murder, Second-Degree Manslaughter, and Third-Degree Manslaughter. He was found guilty on all counts, and sentenced for the most serious charge, Second-Degree Unintentional Murder. The description of the charges which follows includes links to the Minnesota statutes.
In order to find Derek Chauvin guilty of Second-Degree Unintentional Murder, prosecutors had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that
- Chauvin committed a felony assault on George Floyd, intended to cause bodily harm
- George Floyd died as a direct result of the assault
Prosecutors did not have to prove whether Chauvin intended to cause death while he knelt on George Floyd’s neck during the prolonged assault. The standard of proof was objective (what would a reasonable police officer do under similar circumstances).
The maximum sentence for Second-Degree Unintentional Murder is 40 years.
In order to find Derek Chauvin guilty of Third-Degree Murder, prosecutors had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that
- Chauvin caused the death of George Floyd while perpetrating an act that was eminently dangerous, and
- While evincing a depraved mind, without regard for human life
The maximum sentence for Third-Degree Murder is 25 years.
In order to find Derek Chauvin guilty of Second-Degree Manslaughter, prosecutors had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that
- Chauvin committed culpable negligence by creating an unreasonable risk, and
- Consciously took a chance of causing death or great bodily harm to George Floyd
The maximum sentence for Second-Degree Manslaughter is 10 years.
After Chauvin was found guilty on all counts by a jury of his peers, Judge Peter Cahill sentenced him to 22.5 years. He sentenced him for the most serious charge, Second-Degree Unintentional Murder. This charge carries a maximum sentence of 40 years. However, Judge Cahill went by the Minnesota presumptive sentencing guidelines, which recommend a sentence of 12.5 years for somebody with no criminal history. (Apparently, 22 complaints filed against Chauvin in 19 years as a police officer don’t count.)
Judge Cahill added another 10 years for two of the four aggravating factors he found in the crime
- Chauvin abused his authority as a police officer
- Chauvin treated George Floyd with particular cruelty
The two aggravating factors that Chauvin didn’t get time for were
- He committed this crime along with three other people
- There were children present
In all likelihood, Judge Cahill didn’t want to deviate too far from the guidelines, but gave a sentence that he felt couldn’t be attacked as unfairly harsh on appeal. Chauvin’s lawyer, Eric Nelson, has already filed a motion asking for a new trial.
Derek Chauvin now faces federal criminal charges for
- Using excessive force against George Floyd
- Violating George Floyd’s Civil Rights
Chauvin also faces a separate federal indictment for a 2017 incident where he used a neck restraint on a 14-year-old boy and beat him in the head with a flashlight.
George Floyd’s Murder Did Not Happen In a Vacuum
Like other serial predators, Derek Chauvin had gotten away with bullying and aggression for so long that he did not think he would ever be held accountable. Although 22 complaints were filed against him during his 19 years as a Minneapolis police officer, he never faced consequences, save letters of reprimand issued for two of the complaints. His criminal behavior escalated, ending in the public torture-death of George Floyd which, in hindsight, seems inevitable.
If not for Darnella Frazier’s video, Chauvin could still be out there with a badge and a gun, throwing his weight around, bullying the powerless, abusing his authority and the public trust. Far from disciplining or firing Chauvin because of numerous complaints filed, the Minneapolis PD had him training other police officers!
Derek Chauvin was a Field Training Officer, trained other officers, and two of the officers charged with aiding and abetting George Floyd’s murder were brand new on the job and had been trained by Chauvin. Thomas Lane’s attorney, Earl Gray, stated in court that it was his client’s fourth shift and that both his client and another officer involved in the slaying, Alexander Kueng, were new to the job, and they had both been trained by Chauvin. Gray argued that his client was just obeying his training officer, Derek Chauvin.
This situation suggests that the Minneapolis PD itself is culpable in George Floyd’s death, and possibly the deaths and police brutality inflicted on countless others. Sadly, this is not an isolated situation; it’s a common situation, nationwide. Another common situation is the police coverup that occurs after incidents of police brutality and other police misconduct.
A Field Training Officer (FTO) is a veteran cop who mentors new recruits while out on patrol. Police departments nationwide use FTOs who have multiple complaints against them for police misconduct/brutality. It seems as if, despite what is said in press releases, PDs who use FTOs with multiple complaints filed against them want to teach new recruits to see their roles as adversarial, rather than to protect and serve. They appear to want officers who will not hesitate to use violence to control suspects, even those people who are compliant. Police inevitably say that the victim was resisting arrest, and yet videos taken by bystanders frequently show police brutalizing subjects who are not resisting, have stopped resisting, are unarmed, in handcuffs, and cannot do anything to defend themselves.
One major contributor to widespread police brutality is that, for the most part, police do not suffer any consequences for criminally violent behavior towards those they are supposed to protect and serve. Officers who repeatedly get away with using excessive force without facing consequences escalate, just like serial killers who kill more frequently and with greater impunity after going for years without being apprehended and punished.
What Does It Take to Hold a Police Officer Accountable for Excessive Force?
According to the Washington Post database, which was started in 2015, police shoot and kill over 1,000 people a year. Of this number, there are a higher percentage of Black people, and African-American victims are more likely to be unarmed. Other high-risk demographics are young men, nonwhite ethnic groups, veterans, and people who suffer from mental illness.
Of 140 cops charged with murder or manslaughter since 2005, 44 were actually convicted of committing a lesser crime. Of the 140 police officers charged, 7 cops were convicted of murder.
It is rare for a cop to face criminal charges. One big problem is that police routinely refuse to testify against each other. This behavior is called the “blue wall of silence.” They won’t report incidents of police brutality where one officer witnesses another using excessive force. Basically, this means they’re operating like criminal gangs. Even cops who are committed to protecting and serving the public don’t want to report another officer for police brutality. Cops traditionally do not police other officers or do anything to protect the public from rogue officers who use excessive force and commit other crimes.
District Attorneys work with police departments on a day-to-day basis to obtain information to file criminal charges. They are generally reluctant to endanger this symbiotic relationship by filing charges against a police officer.
Juries are reluctant to second-guess what is usually described as a split-second decision by a cop to control or stop a suspect who is resisting arrest or may be about to use a weapon. Police are granted wide latitude to use force.
Many people trust the police. Donald Williams, a bystander who witnessed George Floyd’s murder, called the police on the police while it was transpiring. Minnesota PD released the false statement regarding George Floyd’s death despite this call, only recanting and firing the officers involved when Darnella Frazier’s video went viral.
Many cops are reluctant to use force and instead try to deescalate chaotic situations with panicked suspects; they only use deadly force as a last resort, in self-defense or to stop a dangerous suspect from hurting or killing another.
However, there are some police who are eager to use force and who enjoy bullying and control. They terrorize the public, rack up numerous complaints, and cost taxpayers millions of dollars every year to settle cases where someone suffers serious injury or death at their hands.
The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act
The world was shocked and horrified once Darnella Frazier’s video showing George Floyd’s torture-death on a public street went viral. Angry protesters called for police accountability and reform of our racist and unjust criminal justice system in cities across the United States and in other cities worldwide.
Perhaps inevitably, since George Floyd’s murder and the subsequent protests occurred during an election year, the issue of police brutality morphed into a political issue, and for many, the protesters became the villains. Nevertheless, in 2020 a bill was introduced to Congress as HR 1280 by Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-CA-37th District). The Bill is known as The George Floyd Justice In Policing Act.
Among other things (click on link above for a detailed description of bill), HR 1280 would
- Ban chokeholds and carotid restraints; withhold federal funding from jurisdictions that allow police to use these methods to control suspects.
- Ban no-knock warrants for federal jurisdiction drug cases; withhold federal funding to jurisdictions that allow police to execute these warrants.
- Create a national registry of police misconduct so “problematic” officers who are fired cannot simply go to another jurisdiction to work as a cop.
- Make it easier to prosecute police by lowering the standard of proof from “willfulness” to “recklessness” (standard of proof would be based on behavior, not intent).
- Hold rogue police liable in civil court for injuries/deaths caused by their criminal misconduct by doing away with qualified immunity.
- Withhold federal funding to any jurisdiction that does not institute these recommended changes.
Enacting this bill would be a big step towards reforming what has become a toxic police culture with little or no accountability for police misconduct here in the United States. It passed along party lines in the House of Representatives but is being stalled in the Senate over the issue of eliminating qualified immunity.
Gianna Floyd, George Floyd’s 7-year-old daughter exclaimed, “Daddy changed the world!” If we succeed in enacting the changes outlined in the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, maybe we can begin to live up to her innocent faith and hope that something good came out of her father’s death.
In the meantime, a few jurisdictions across the country have enacted legislation to enhance civilian protections and hold police accountable.
California has enacted Assembly Bill 1196, which bans the use of chokeholds and carotid restraints by police in all California jurisdictions. AB 1196 was signed into law on September 30, 2020, four months after George Floyd was murdered by police in Minneapolis.
At the same time California also enacted Assembly Bill 1506, which empowers the Attorney General to investigate police shootings of unarmed civilians. This is to counter conflicts of interest which can result in a local D.A. refusing to charge a local cop with killing an unarmed civilian, as in the case of Stephon Clark.
Prior to George Floyd’s murder, a new California law, Assembly Bill 392, which took effect on January 1, 2020, narrows the scope of circumstances under which police can use deadly force.
Police Killings Continued Unabated During Derek Chauvin’s Trial
In a recent article in the New York Times titled Throughout Trial Over George Floyd’s Death, Killings By Police Mount, we see video interviews with families grieving over their loved ones who have been killed by police, and crying as they watch the George Floyd trial. In the 30 years since Rodney King was brutally beaten by a gang of baton-wielding cops in L.A., nothing’s changed.
At least one person was killed by police somewhere in the U.S. every day of the trial, on some days as many as three killings, and the killings continue. Some of these victims were minor children, like 13-year-old Adam Toledo, gunned down in a Chicago alley as he stopped running, turned, and faced the cop who was chasing him with his hands up; and Anthony Thompson Jr., age 17, who was killed in his Austin East High School bathroom in Knoxville, Tennessee after somebody reported a gun at the school. Daunte Wright, age 20, was killed during a traffic stop less than ten miles from where Derek Chauvin’s trial was being held, by a Brooklyn Center cop who claimed she mistook her gun for a taser. Kim Potter, the cop who shot Daunte Wright, was a Brooklyn Center Police Department Field Training Officer.
The choices we have in response to widespread lethal violence perpetrated by police wielding the authority of the state against the public are clear:
- We can resign ourselves to living in a police state, in fear for our lives and the lives and safety of our loved ones, or
- We can keep the pressure on to hold police accountable.
Call The Sehat Law Firm if You or Somebody You Love is Injured or Killed in Police Custody
The Sehat Law Firm has been fighting for many years to uphold and defend the Civil Rights and Liberties guaranteed to all by our United States Constitution. This struggle is frequently disheartening, yet we cannot surrender our rights and the safety of our communities and our loved ones to violent criminals operating behind a badge.
Once somebody is arrested and taken into the custody of the State, the arresting officers, jailers, jail medical staff and everybody involved has a duty to protect the detainee’s safety and provide medical assistance if he or she is in physical distress.
In the seminal 9th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals decision, Mary Gordon v County of Orange 888 F. 3D 1118 (April 30, 2018), the Sehat Law Firm along with appellate Co-Counsel David Schlesinger, succeeded in getting the standard of proof changed from subjective deliberate indifference (you had to prove that the person responsible acted with deliberate indifference to the rights and safety of the victim) to objective deliberate indifference (what would a reasonable government agent do in similar circumstances). We represent Mary Gordon in her lawsuit against Orange County after jailers and jail medical staff allowed Mary’s son Matthew to die from heroin withdrawal in Orange County Jail. Matthew’s withdrawal lasted for hours, during which he was in obvious need of medical assistance and suffered excruciating pain, without his captors rendering any help.
In the criminal case, Objective indifference was the standard of proof used to convict Derek Chauvin of murdering George Floyd. In other words, would a reasonable police officer behave like Derek Chauvin behaved towards somebody he/she had taken into custody? The prosecutor did not have to prove that Chauvin killed George Floyd on purpose, just that his actions were objectively unreasonable and dangerous.
Similarly, in a civil action, because the new standard of proof for deliberate indifference case was changed from subjective indifference to objective indifference, fewer barriers stand in the way to hold police, jailers and jail staff accountable for their actions and also for their reckless disregard for the rights and safety of those they have under their control.
In a criminal case the burden of proof is beyond a reasonable doubt (98-99% sure the accused is guilty of the crime). In a civil case it is much lower: more likely than not (51%).
However, it is still an uphill battle to win a civil case against police and other public servants who abuse their power and/or otherwise fail to do their jobs. In the most egregious cases, such as the George Floyd murder, the city settles the civil lawsuit rapidly to avoid a public trial, possible punitive damages, and more publicity.
A Message from Cameron Sehat, Civil Rights Attorney
Hello, my name is Cameron Sehat. Like many of you, I am sad and weary of the incessant and unremitting news of unarmed and nonresisting people being bullied, brutalized, and suffering serious injuries and death at the hands of police. Though it’s hard to have hope of positive change after years and years of hearing about these terrible tragedies daily, we must not, we cannot give up the fight for our Constitutional right to live in safety and freedom.
If you or somebody you love suffers a serious injury or death at the hands of police, jailers, or anybody acting under the authority of the state, call Sehat Law without delay. Our dedicated team of attorneys and other legal professionals will fight for justice for you or your loved one, even taking your case to the Supreme Court if necessary.
There is so much at stake. We must continue to fight to hold police and sheriff departments accountable to abide by the laws they are sworn to uphold and obey.