Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin has pleaded guilty to violating George Floyd's civil rights during the arrest that killed Mr Floyd in May 2020, sparking mass racial justice protests across the United States and beyond.
Chauvin appeared in federal court in person on Wednesday morning to change his plea to guilty. It means he will not face a federal trial in January, though he could end up spending more years behind bars when a judge sentences him at a later date.
Chauvin is charged with two counts of depriving Mr Floyd of his rights for pinning his knee against Mr Floyd’s neck as the black man was handcuffed and not resisting, and for failing to provide medical care to Mr Floyd during the arrest on May 25th, 2020, that resulted in Mr Floyd’s death. Chauvin, who is white, has already been convicted of state murder and manslaughter charges and is serving a sentence of 22½ years.
As part of the plea deal, Chauvin also pleaded guilty to violating the rights of a then 14-year-old boy during a 2017 arrest in which he held the boy by the throat, hit him in the head with a flashlight and held his knee on the boy’s neck and upper back while he was prone, handcuffed and not resisting.
Mr Floyd’s arrest and death, which a bystander captured on video, sparked mass protests nationwide in the US that called for an end to racial inequality and police mistreatment of black people.
Chauvin and three other former officers – Thomas Lane, J Kueng and Tou Thao – were indicted earlier this year on federal charges alleging they willfully violated Mr Floyd's rights. A federal trial for the other three men still appears to be scheduled for January. They face state trial on aiding and abetting counts in March.
To bring federal charges in deaths involving police, prosecutors must believe an officer acted under the “colour of law”, or government authority, and willfully deprived someone of their constitutional rights.
An accident, bad judgment or simple negligence on the officer’s part isn’t enough to support federal charges. Prosecutors have to prove the officer knew what they were doing was wrong in that moment but did it anyway.
According to evidence in the state case against Chauvin, Kueng and Lane helped restrain Mr Floyd (46) as he was on the ground – Kueng knelt on Mr Floyd’s back and Lane held down Mr Floyd’s legs. Thao held back bystanders and kept them from intervening during the 9½-minute restraint, in which Mr Floyd called for his mother and repeatedly told the officers that he could not breathe.
All four former officers were charged broadly in federal court with depriving Mr Floyd of his rights while acting under government authority, but the federal indictment broke down the counts even further.
In the 2017 case involving the then-14-year-old boy, Chauvin wrote in the police report that the teenager resisted arrest and after the teenager, whom he described as 6-ft-2 and about 240lb, was handcuffed, Chauvin “used body weight to pin” him to the floor. The boy was bleeding from the ear and needed two stitches.
That encounter was one of several mentioned in state court filings that prosecutors said showed Chauvin had used neck or head and upper body restraints seven times before dating back to 2014, including four times state prosecutors said he went too far and held the restraints “beyond the point when such force was needed under the circumstances”.
Mr Floyd’s killing reignited calls for police departments across the country to face much tighter scrutiny. However, in November, Minneapolis voters rejected the idea of replacing the city’s police department with a new department of public safety. If the “yes” vote had won, the Minneapolis police department would have been replaced with a department run by a nominated commissioner who would be approved by the city council.
The projected department would have used a “comprehensive public health approach” outlined by the mayor and city council, along with the erasure of mandatory minimum police staffing from the city chargers.
Opponents pushed back against the proposal, arguing that it would leave the communities already affected by violence more vulnerable. – Guardian, Associated Press