Derek Chauvin guilty in death of George Floyd
George Floyd's final moments were captured on bystander video and viewed by millions of people around the world in a matter of hours. The incident became one of the most infamous police encounters in history, sparking unprecedented international protests and renewed discussion about race and policing.
MINNEAPOLIS — It took a Hennepin County jury 10 hours of deliberation to find Derek Chauvin guilty on all charges in the May 25, 2020, death of George Floyd .
Judge Peter Cahill read the jury's verdict Tuesday, April 20, shortly after 4 p.m. in the Hennepin County Courthouse. Ex-Minneapolis Police officer Chauvin was charged with second- and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in Floyd's death.
The judge revoked Chauvin's bail after announcing the verdict, and remanded him into the custody of the county sheriff's office. Chauvin was seen in a broadcast from inside the courtroom being placed in handcuffs and taken away.
Chauvin, 45, appeared in court Tuesday wearing a face mask as a coronavirus pandemic precaution, which made it difficult to gauge his reaction to the news of the verdict. His sentence will not be announced for several more weeks.
Second- and third-degree murder convictions are punishable in Minnesota by a prison sentence of up to 40 and 25 years, respectively. A second-degree manslaughter conviction is punishable by a maximum sentence of 10 years. Under state sentencing guidelines for first-time offenders, Chauvin could potentially face less time than that, though state prosecutors have signaled they will seek a longer sentence.
Floyd's brother, Philonise Floyd, was present for the reading of the verdict, and was praying in the moments leading up to it, according to a courtroom pool report. He wept and hugged state prosecutors after the verdict was read, and later told the reporter in the courthouse lobby he was "praying they would find him guilty."
"As an African American, we usually never get justice," Philonise Floyd said.
Video of the verdict announcement
The trial’s conclusion comes less than one year after Chauvin and three other city police officers were filmed kneeling on Floyd’s neck and back outside the Cup Foods convenience store in south Minneapolis on May 25, 2020, in an act that sparked nationwide protests and periods of civil unrest and violence.
Floyd's final moments under Chauvin's knee were captured on bystander video and viewed by millions of people around the world in a matter of hours. The incident became one of the most infamous police encounters in history, sparking unprecedented international protests and renewed discussion about race and policing.
The video documented in painstaking detail Floyd’s cries for his “mama,” and “I can’t breathe.” His death was met with widespread calls for police reform.
The Minneapolis Police Department’s top official, Chief Medaria Arradondo , who is Black, was one of Chauvin’s most notable admonishers, and testified during the trial that his treatment of Floyd was "not part of our training and it is certainly not part of our ethics and our values."
Prosecutors throughout the trial sought to establish asphyxiation as Floyd’s cause of death, and Chauvin as the one responsible for it. Several medical expert witnesses said that by kneeling on Floyd’s neck and back, Chauvin crushed his chest and airway against the pavement he was held down to, slowly depriving him of air.
Dr. Martin Tobin, a Chicago-area pulmonologist and textbook author, testified that it would have been as if Floyd was "in a vise," and that he likely did not die of sudden heart death.
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That view conflicted somewhat with the Hennepin County Medical Center’s autopsy of Floyd, which labeled his death a homicide and attributed it to "cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression." Dr. Andrew Baker, who performed the autopsy, said as a witness for the prosecution that being restrained was, in combination with his underlying heart conditions "just more than Mr. Floyd could take."
Floyd’s heart health and drug ingestion were a major focus for Chauvin’s defense attorney, Eric Nelson, who sought to portray them as having more to do with the death than his client did.
"When you take into consideration the presumption of innocence and proof beyond a reasonable doubt, I would submit to you that it is nonsense to suggest none of these other factors had any role," Nelson said this week during his closing arguments.
But expert witnesses had differing perspectives as to whether the amount of methamphetamine and fentanyl Floyd was found to have in his system could produce intoxicating effects or overdoses. And though Floyd had an enlarged heart, clogged arteries and high blood pressure, there was some disagreement among witnesses as to whether they were “significant factors” in his death as Baker’s autopsy report indicated.
Heart deaths are more sudden, some said, and Floyd’s gradual cessation of movement and speech under the officers’ weight suggested a death by oxygen deprivation.
"There’s no evidence to suggest that he would have died that night except for the interactions with law enforcement," Dr. Lindsey Thomas, who retired as the assistant medical examiner for Hennepin County in 2017, said during the trial.
Whether Chauvin used an allowable amount of force in restraining Floyd was the subject of much debate. Minneapolis police are not trained to kneel on a suspect’s neck and back to subdue them, according to city officers who testified in the trial, but can do so briefly to place them in handcuffs.
As a witness for the prosecution, Los Angeles Police Lt. Jody Stiger, a use-of-force expert and training officer, called Chauvin’s actions toward Floyd "excessive" in one of the trial’s more striking moments. Barry Brodd, a retired Bay Area police officer who testified as a use-of-force expert for the defense, later said in contrast that Chauvin was "justified" and had acted "with objective reasonableness."
According to Brodd, Chauvin could be excused for not rolling Floyd on his side in the recovery position because of space limitations created by the squad car officers held him near and the purported safety hazard posed by a crowd of bystanders. Prosecutors argued that Chauvin had a duty to render Floyd first aid given his protestations and gradual loss of consciousness.
Nelson also pointed to the lack of bruises found on Floyd’s neck and back as being inconsistent with a strangulation death. Indeed, many of the injuries Floyd sustained the night he died were to his face and knuckles, which scraped against the asphalt during his struggle with the officers on top of him.
Medical experts testifying in the trial offered dueling views as to whether smothering deaths can occur without bruises forming in the process. Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell at one point in the trial cited medical literature stating that it can, which Tobin said he agreed with.
It was ultimately the video of Floyd's death that prosecutors would emphasize in their closing statements. On rebuttal Monday, April 19, Blackwell called the bystanders who recorded it a "bouquet of humanity" and criticized defense claims of their combativeness.
They demonstrated respect for "the badge," Blackwell said, by not interfering with the officers' restraining of Floyd even as they spoke out against it.
"They didn’t deserve to be called unruly because they weren't," he said. Nelson in his closing arguments asked jurors to look at the case in the "totality of the circumstances," and to put segments of footage from the night Floyd died into "proper context."
"You have to look at it from the reasonable police officer's standpoint. You have to take into account that officers are human beings capable of making mistakes," he said. "This was an authorized use of force, as unattractive as it may be."
Prosecutor Steve Schleicher was somewhat more succinct, telling jurors: "This case is exactly what you thought when you saw it first, when you saw that video."
Former Minneapolis Police officers Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao will be tried together beginning in August on charges of aiding and abetting second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter in Floyd’s death.