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Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin is awaiting trial for the murder of George Floyd. But even before the killing that sparked nationwide protests last summer, Chauvin had a history of using excessive force. Hari Sreenivasan speaks with Jamiles Lartey and Abbie VanSickle of The Marshall Project about their report on civilians who experienced Derek Chauvin up close.
I spoke with The Marshall Project's Jamiles Lartey and Abbie VanSickle who interviewed several who say they were also victims of Chauvin's use of excessive force.
When you look back and talk to other people who have had these interactions with Officer Chauvin, what is the picture that we get?
Yeah, I think the picture that we get is, from a number of folks who have had other interactions with law enforcement, the way Derek Chauvin treated them, the way he interacted with them was beyond the pale. It was different. That was something that I heard in– in every interview, really, that there seemed to just be maybe a heartlessness, a callousness to their pain, to their– their cries for– for air or help or, or even just the– the feeling that this is unnecessary, right? This is so over the top.
How many people came forward and what was it like when you all spoke to them?
Yeah. So we were able to identify six instances where the Attorney General had concluded that Chauvin may have used excessive force and we were able to find three of those people and then we were able to find the witness to a fourth– a fourth incident.
Abbie, what was the conversation like with some of these individuals when they're telling you that they also were struggling to breathe under the officer?
So one of the things that surprised us in the reporting is that they had not told their stories before. They had– we were the people explaining that this was the same officer from the George Floyd case. Like, for example, the witness who I interviewed, he said that he had seen this arrest happen and as he was recalling it, he said, you know, one of the weirdest things is how they just kept this man's head in the puddle. This one officer kept his face down. He was just mentioning it so casually, like it's the thing that's always bothered him, but no one had ever asked him about it. I thought people would have already talked with them and– and they would know what had happened and their place in this, you know, enormous case.
The stunning thing is not just that you spoke to these individuals that had found themselves in the same situation, but that somehow nothing happened to the officer– that he was still on the force.
When we look at Derek Chauvin's behavior in real time, there was– there was no official discipline for any of these. Minneapolis does have what's called a "coaching program" in its police department where officers can be sort of corrected in their approach to use of force, rather than a reprimand. And those records are not public, so we would not know if Officer Chauvin was coached in any of these instances. But what we do know is that there was no official determination of wrongdoing by the department in any of these. And the majority of them happened after the Minneapolis Police Department had voluntarily worked with the Department of Justice to revamp its accountability measures, including that coaching program.
So I think it's a– it's a good reminder that departments can be doing, can be making efforts that look productive and look progressive and still have a lot of potentially criminal or potentially– acts that are violating people's civil rights or violating use of force principles going unchecked.
So, Abbie, one of the stories that you dove into is going to show up in the court proceedings against Officer Chauvin. But you also write that the prosecutor is picking a case where Officer Chauvin did the right thing. Why?
He and the other officers received a commendation for the way that they handled a case. And the prosecutors in their court filings have pointed to wanting to show he knew how to use force. He had been trained in the appropriate use of force, that he knew how to do it. And so that's why it looks like this other case may be something that the jury hears.
Were either of you surprised when you found these individuals? What was that moment like when they recognized that this could have been them?
None– none of the folks who we spoke to were sort of surprised that this officer had other instances that we could point to that may have been excessive uses of force. None of them were surprised that there were officers on the Minneapolis Police Department who routinely engaged in excessive use of force and were not punished for those things. None of that was surprising.
Yeah, and I'll say, you know, in Zoya Code's case, she remembered Chauvin. She also knew Philando Castile. So I think Zoya's story is– is really powerful to me because, in a sense, it is the connection point between these two fatal incidents–Philando Castile in 2016 and George Floyd in 2020–that, you know, were flashpoints in our national conversation about policing.
Jamiles Lartey, Abbie VanSickle, both from The Marshall Project, thanks so much for joining us.
Thanks for having us.
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