Former Minneapolis police officers convicted of violating George Floyd’s civil rights

Three former Minneapolis police officers have been convicted in federal court of violating George Floyd’s civil rights. They were on the scene assisting fellow officer Derek Chauvin when he pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes, killing him and setting off a wave of racial justice protests worldwide. John Yang reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As we reported earlier, three former Minneapolis police officers have been convicted in federal court of violating George Floyd's civil rights.

    They were on the scene assisting fellow officer Derek Chauvin when he pressed his knee into Floyd's neck for nine-and-a-half minutes, killing him and setting off a wave of racial justice protests worldwide.

    John Yang has the story

  • John Yang:

    Judy, all three of the officers were convicted for not giving Floyd medical aid, and two were convicted for not stopping Derek Chauvin as he knelt on Floyd's neck.

    The jury rejected the defense argument that the officers were just following their training and deferring to a senior officer.

    After the verdicts, federal prosecutors remembered George Floyd.

  • Leeann Bell, Assistant U.S. Attorney:

    George Floyd was a human being. He deserved to be treated as such. He was a son, a father, a significant other, a family member, and a friend to so many. My hope, the hope of our team is that today's verdict will bring a measure of justice.

  • John Yang:

    The three still face a state trial on charges of aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter in Floyd's death.

    Shannon Prince is an attorney in private practice in New York. Her work focuses on policing policy and restorative justice.

    Shannon Prince, thanks for being back with us.

    This was a verdict that came after only about a day-and-a-half of deliberations, apparently very emotional for the jury. Reporters in the courtroom say that some jurors were in tears as the verdict was read.

    What is your reaction to this verdict?

  • Shannon Prince, Boies Schiller Flexner:

    Well, I think that this verdict shows an increasing trend towards police accountability.

    First in the Derek Chauvin case, we saw an officer held accountable for the deliberate acts he took that led to the death of a Black man. Then, in the recent Kim Potter verdict, we saw an officer held accountable for the accidental action she took that led to the death of a Black man, albeit though given a light sentence.

    And now, in this case, we see accountability proceed a step further, because these ex-officers were held accountable for the actions they failed to take. This case is different from the upcoming state case, because that case is about the actions that the officers are alleged to have taken to have aided and abetted Derek Chauvin.

    What this case was about was the actions they failed to take, their deliberate indifference to George Floyd's medical need and their failure to intervene in Derek Chauvin's unreasonable use of force.

  • John Yang:

    And the rejection of the defense argument, that they were just following their training, that they had been shown officers doing what Derek Chauvin had done in their training, and that this was simply bad training on the part of the Minneapolis police, what do you think of that?

  • Shannon Prince:

    So, I think that the prosecution put on a very strategic case. First, they put on witness after witness, from Katie Blackwell, who formerly led the department's training program, to Zimmerman, who was one of the most senior men on the force, to say that officers are trained to intervene in the unreasonable use of force.

    The prosecution even elicited testimony from the defendants themselves that they knew they had a duty to intervene no matter how junior they were.

    Now, the defense put on a use of force expert who testified that, although Derek Chauvin's use of force was unreasonable, it was unlikely that someone like Officer Kueng, who was such a rookie, would physically move to remove Chauvin from George Floyd.

    However, I think that the prosecution ultimately said, this is a case of policy vs. what the defendants were saying, that it is a case about culture, about a culture that wouldn't let junior officers challenge more senior officers. And we see that the jury ultimately sided with the prosecution that policy trumps culture.

  • John Yang:

    This is the sort of charge that federal prosecutors have not been bringing in previous cases. It has been unusual. And now they have got a conviction in a case like this. Do you think we might see more of these?

  • Shannon Prince:

    It is possible that we could see more of these cases, because every case sets a precedent, and those precedents an example for prosecutors to what cases are reasonable to bring because it is feasible that those cases could be successful.

    But it is important to note that we shouldn't have been distracted by these blockbuster cases, because what ultimately changes policing is policy. So, while we have had these recent convictions, the state case against Derek Chauvin, Chauvin's plea deal in his federal case, the case against Kim Potter, and this case today, we have to be mindful of the fact that, for example, Congress has not yet passed a George Floyd Justice in Policing Act that would have transformative change on policing policy.

  • John Yang:

    Beyond policing policies, of course, earlier this week, we had the hate crimes conviction against the three men in Georgia in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery.

    Are we seeing a shift, whether it is — I don't know if it is a tidal shift, or are we seeing a shuttle shift in how people are viewing these crimes?

  • Shannon Prince:

    I think that we have a Department of Justice that is willing to bring these hate crime cases.

    It is important to note, though, that of all the cases that U.S. attorneys look into as possible hate crimes, the Department of Justice ultimately goes forward with only about 17 percent of them. And the primary reason for that is lack of evidence.

    In this case, if one of the defendants, William "Roddie" Bryan, hadn't taped the killing and then made that tape available, there may not have been enough evidence in this case. And so, although these precedents are important, these cases remain rare. And one case or even one verdict doesn't represent a sea change.

  • John Yang:

    Shannon Prince, thank you very much.

  • Shannon Prince:

    Thank you for having me.

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