Derek Chauvin is convicted of killing George Floyd in Minneapolis, cuffed and sent to prison
The crowd reacted to the verdict Tuesday outside the Hennepin Government Center in Minneapolis, Minn. (Elizabeth Flores/Star Tribune)
A sheriff’s deputy led former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin away in handcuffs Tuesday after jurors convicted him of murdering George Floyd, a dramatic ending to a case that captivated the world and became the latest flash point in a raging debate about police brutality against the Black community.
The conviction, almost a year after a bystander video captured Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes, was the first time in Minnesota history that a white police officer was convicted of killing a Black civilian on the job.
Jurors deliberated for about nine hours and 45 minutes over two days before finding Chauvin guilty of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
Chauvin, dressed in a shirt and tie and gray suit, glanced around the courtroom as the verdicts were read, and was immediately handcuffed behind his back and escorted out of the courtroom by Hennepin County sheriff’s deputies when his bail was revoked. Chauvin, who also wore a blue surgical face mask as mandated by the court for COVID-19 safety, gave a nod to his attorney, Eric Nelson, as he was led out a back door. He was transferred to the Minnesota Department of Corrections and booked about 4:55 p.m. into the state prison at Oak Park Heights for his safety while he awaits sentencing.
As news of the verdicts — guilty on all counts — spread, social media sites reposted the Minneapolis Police Department’s initial report that Floyd died of a medical incident at the scene, an assertion that might never have been contradicted so forcefully were it not for a teenage girl, Darnella Frazier, walking by and recording Floyd’s death last May 25 on her cellphone and posting it for the world to see.
“I just cried so hard This last hour my heart was beating so fast, I was so anxious, anxiety [busting] through the roof,” Frazier, who was 17 at the time, posted on Facebook after the verdict. “But to know GUILTY ON ALL 3 CHARGES !!! THANK YOU GOD THANK YOU… George Floyd we did it!! Justice has been served.”
The jury’s decision ended a fraught six-week trial that left many community members fearing a possible acquittal and law enforcement officials braced for massive clashes with angry protesters.
The verdicts, read aloud at 4:07 p.m. and streamed live across the world, prompted immediate celebrations in the plaza outside the courthouse in downtown Minneapolis, which until then had hosted somber prayer sessions and vociferous rallies calling for justice.
Before Chauvin was taken away, Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill individually polled jurors, who each confirmed their verdicts as correctly read. He then thanked them as a group. “I have to thank you on behalf of the people of the State of Minnesota not only for jury service, but heavy duty jury service,” the judge said.
The jurors stared at Cahill until they were called upon, remaining still and quiet and displaying no noticeable emotional reactions during the brief proceeding, according to a reporter in the courtroom.
Attorney General Keith Ellison, whose office oversaw Chauvin’s prosecution, saluted the “bouquet of humanity” who attempted to intervene and recorded Floyd’s final moments.
“They didn’t know George Floyd, they didn’t know he had a beautiful family, they didn’t know that he was a proud father or had people in his life who loved him,” Ellison said at a news conference with members of his legal team. “They stopped and they raised their voices because they knew what they were seeing was wrong. They didn’t need to be medical or use of force experts. They knew it was wrong, and they were right.”
Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell followed, saying, “No verdict can bring George Perry Floyd back to us, but this verdict does give a message to his family that his life mattered, that all of our lives matter, and that’s important.”
Nelson left the courtroom without comment, and did not return messages seeking comment.
Benjamin Crump, an attorney for the Floyd family, issued a prepared statement in addition to holding a news conference with the family. “Painfully earned justice has arrived for George Floyd’s family and the community here in Minneapolis, but today’s verdict goes far beyond this city and has significant implications for the country and even the world,” said Crump’s statement. “Justice for Black America is justice for all of America. This case is a turning point in American history for accountability of law enforcement and sends a clear message we hope is heard clearly in every city and every state.”
One of Floyd’s younger brothers, Philonise Floyd clasped his hands over his face as the verdicts were read, according to a reporter who was present. His hands shook as Cahill read the first guilty verdict on the second-degree murder count. He nodded his head up and down after the final guilty verdict on manslaughter was read. Soon, he was weeping and hugging all four prosecutors in the courtroom — Ellison, Blackwell, Matthew Frank and Steve Schleicher, who wiped away tears from his reddened eyes.
“I was just praying they would find him guilty,” Philonise Floyd told a reporter afterward. “As an African American, we usually never get justice.”
In a statement, police chief Medaria Arradondo thanked the jurors, as well as members of the police department during a “difficult and challenging” year.
“We recognize that our community is hurting, and hearts are heavy with many emotions. However, I have hope,” the statement said. “The community that I was born and raised in and that we serve is resilient and together, we can find our moment to begin to heal.”
The Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis, the police union, issued a statement telling residents of the city that the federation “stands with you and not against you.”
“There are no winners in this case, and we respect the jury’s decision,” the statement said. “We need the political pandering to stop and the race-baiting of elected officials to stop. In addition, we need to stop the divisive comments, and we all need to do better to create a Minneapolis we all love.”
Chauvin is the second Minnesota officer to be convicted of killing a civilian on the job. He is the first officer in Minnesota to be convicted of second-degree murder, the highest murder count prosecutors can file without convening a grand jury to review evidence in a case.
The jury of six people of color — two multi-race women, three Black men, a Black woman — and six white jurors began deliberating about 4 p.m. Monday after hearing unusually long closing arguments from the prosecution and defense that totaled nearly six hours; they signed their verdicts at 1:45 p.m. Tuesday.
They were asked to decide between the prosecution’s claims that Chauvin used excessive force when he knelt on Floyd’s neck for about 9 1/2 minutes, and the defense’s argument that Chauvin was following his training when he arrested an unruly Floyd, who died of a cardiac arrest that stemmed from drug use and pre-existing heart disease and clogged arteries.
At a later date Cahill will decide whether there were aggravating factors that could merit a prison term above state sentencing guidelines. Prosecutors previously said there were five aggravating factors that should compel a stiffer sentence, including that Floyd was “particularly vulnerable” and was treated with “particular cruelty.”
Second-degree unintentional murder is punishable by up to 40 years in prison. Third-degree murder is punishable by up to 25 years in prison. However, Minnesota sentencing guidelines call for identical presumptive prison terms for both counts, starting at 12 1/2 years for someone with no criminal history.
Second-degree manslaughter is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and/or a fine of $20,000. The count carries a presumptive sentence of four years for someone with no criminal history.
Chauvin will be sentenced on the highest charge. Ted Sampsell-Jones, a professor of law at Mitchell Hamline School of Law, said that if Cahill found aggravating factors and applied them to sentencing, Chauvin would receive at maximum 30 years in prison. Without the factors, he said, Chauvin would receive 15 years maximum.
Chauvin was the fourth officer tried in Minnesota for killing a civilian on the job. Former St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez was acquitted in 2017 for fatally shooting Philando Castile during a traffic stop. Former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor was convicted in 2019 of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter for fatally shooting Justine Ruszczyk Damond while responding to her 911 call about a possible sexual assault in an alley. Washington County sheriff’s deputy Brian Krook was acquitted last year for fatally shooting Benjamin Evans, who was intoxicated, suicidal and had a gun but had not threatened to harm officers.
Three other officers at the scene of Floyd’s arrest — J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao are scheduled to be tried Aug. 23 for aiding and abetting second-degree murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death. All three, who were fired like Chauvin, are out on bond.
This story is part of a collaboration with the Star Tribune through FRONTLINE’s Local Journalism Initiative, which is funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.