Why John Pope Wanted to Release the Body Camera Footage Behind the Derek Chauvin Brutality Settlement

May 18, 2023

John Pope was 14 when he was pinned down over the course of 15 minutes under the knee of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who was later convicted of murdering George Floyd.

Pope spoke to FRONTLINE recently, after the city of Minneapolis approved a multi-million dollar settlement with him on April 13 and a judge ordered the release of the body camera footage related to the incident. Pope said the release of the footage was “key.”

“It shows the story,” he said. “You could put words on the paper, but when you have a video to show, it shows more.”

In 2017, Chauvin and another officer responded to a domestic assault call at Pope’s home. Pope said that when the officers went to talk to him in his bedroom, he tried to give them his account. Chauvin struck Pope on the head with a flashlight and restrained his neck. During the encounter, Pope was handcuffed. Pope can be heard in the bodycam footage saying that he couldn’t breathe, and later, the video shows Chauvin kneeling on Pope’s neck. At least six officers watched Chauvin’s actions, but didn’t intervene. Pope started bleeding from his ear and had to be taken to the hospital for stitches.

In the 2022 documentary Police on Trial, FRONTLINE and Pulitzer Prize-winning reporters from local journalism partner the Star Tribune documented the trial and murder conviction of Chauvin and examined ongoing struggles for police accountability and reform in Minneapolis. During the multiplatform investigation, the team tracked past complaints against Chauvin, including Pope’s case and that of Zoya Code, who was in her 30s in 2017 when Chauvin knelt on her neck. In December 2021, Chauvin pleaded guilty to federal charges of violating both Pope’s and Floyd’s civil rights.

In April, in response to two federal lawsuits, the Minneapolis City Council approved two police brutality settlements involving Chauvin — one of $7.5 million for Pope, who is now 20, and another of $1.375 million for Code. After the council voted to approve the settlements, Mayor Jacob Frey and Police Chief Brian O’Hara publicly apologized to Pope and Code.

The city of Minneapolis initially argued that it was legally prohibited from releasing the full body camera footage in Pope’s case. After the judge ordered its release, the footage was shared publicly the same day that the settlements were approved.

In an April 25 interview with FRONTLINE, Pope was skeptical about whether the settlement meant accountability. He said, “It’s kind of like you’re trying to right a wrong too late.”

Follow Pope’s story and watch some of the body camera footage from the incident in the video above.

Chantelle Lee

Chantelle Lee, Tow Journalism Fellow, FRONTLINE/Columbia Journalism School Fellowship


Marcia Robiou

Marcia Robiou, Hollyhock Filmmaker-in-Residence, FRONTLINE



More Stories

When Criminal Justice Systems Have to Deal with Mental Illness
Mental health court data shows graduates of its program are less likely to re-offend. But what happens if one isn't eligible?
June 6, 2023
After Uvalde, Gun Safety Groups Amped Up Spending in Texas This Year, But Will Still Likely Be Outspent
In Texas this year — against the backdrop of the first legislative session since the deadly shooting in Uvalde — gun rights groups are likely to outspend gun safety groups.
June 2, 2023
A Year After the Uvalde Shooting, Robb Elementary Student Remembers Her Slain Best Friend
Caitlyne Gonzales made it out of Robb Elementary on May 24, 2022. Her best friend, fellow fourth grader Jackie Cazares, did not. Caitlyne, her parents, and Jackie’s parents share their story with correspondent Maria Hinojosa in the new documentary ‘After Uvalde.’
May 30, 2023
“Somber Day” in Uvalde as Community Commemorates One Year Since Robb Elementary Shooting
From our partners at The Texas Tribune: Numerous vigils and memorials in Uvalde marked one year since the massacre at Robb Elementary School.
May 24, 2023