Jurors convicted former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin on Tuesday of all the counts filed against him — second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter — in the death of George Floyd, who died after being pinned under his knee for more than nine minutes last May.
Chauvin looked stern and glanced around the courtroom as the paper with the verdicts were removed from an envelope and read by Judge Peter Cahill.
The fired police officer had on a paper mask and showed no significant reaction to the results. When his bail was revoked, he stood up, put his hands behind his back, was handcuffed and gave a nod to defense attorney Eric Nelson as he was led out the back door of the courtroom by a Hennepin County sheriff’s deputy.
The Sheriff’s Office said Chauvin was transferred to the Minnesota Department of Corrections. The agency said Chauvin was booked into the state prison at Oak Park Heights, at 4:55 p.m. CDT, 48 minutes after the verdicts were read. Chauvin was transferred to the same prison for safety reasons after his initial arrest in the case last year.
Cahill thanked the jurors, who each confirmed their votes as correctly read. “”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,” he said.
He asked the attorneys to file written arguments regarding aggravated sentencing factors that could add time to Chauvin’s sentence for restraining Floyd on the pavement of 38th and Chicago on May 25, an act captured on bystander video that went viral and played a vital role in the verdicts.
If Cahill accepts the prosecution’s contention that aggravating factors should be applied at sentencing, the maximum term the 45-year-old Chauvin could receive would be 30 years, according to Ted Sampsell-Jones, a professor at the Mitchell Hamline School of Law and an appellate criminal defense attorney. The first 20 years would be served in prison and the balance on supervised release if he qualifies.
The state is already on the record that among the factors are: Floyd was especially vulnerable, Chauvin was a uniformed police officer acting in a position of authority, and his acts were witnessed by children, one of them 9 years old.
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 to reporters as members of his legal team stood behind him. “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.”
Darnella Frazier, who at age 17 shot the cellphone video that proved pivotal to Chauvin’s conviction, said on Facebook after the verdicts, “I just cried so hard. This last hour my heart was beating so fast, I was so anxious, anxiety [busting] through the roof. But to know GUILTY ON ALL 3 CHARGES!!! THANK YOU GOD THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU. George Floyd we did it!!! Justice has been served.”
Co-prosecutor Jerry Blackwell followed Ellison and said to reporters, “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.”
Matthew Frank, another of the prosecutors, kept his comments brief and said, “First and foremost, this is for you, George Floyd, and for your family and friends.” A third member of the team, Steve Schleicher, said, “I want to thank the jury for their service, for doing what was right and decent and correct, speaking the truth, and finding the right verdict in this case.”
Nelson, who was hired by the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association to defend Chauvin, left the courtroom without comment and has so far not replied to a request for his reaction to the verdicts or whether an appeal might be filed.
A prepared statement from Benjamin Crump, the Floyd family attorney, read, “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. 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. We thank Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison and his team for their fierce dedication to justice for George. But it does not end here. We have not forgotten that the other three officers who played their own roles in the death of George Floyd must still be held accountable for their actions, as well.”
One of Floyd’s brothers, Philonise Floyd, was in the courtroom for the verdicts. He hugged Blackwell, Ellison and another prosecutor. Ellison and Blackwell heartily shook hands.
The younger brother has been a steady presence on behalf of the family. About an hour after the verdicts were read, Floyd family members were spotted in downtown Minneapolis speaking on the phone with President Joe Biden, who has been keeping close tabs on the proceedings. “We’re all so relieved,” Biden said, speaking for himself and Vice President Kamala Harris.
Another brother, Terrence Floyd, said, “I will salute [George] every day of my life.
“I will salute him,” the brother said as he looked to the sky and made that gesture with his right hand, “because he showed me how to be strong. … What a day to be a Floyd, man.”
Brother Rodney Floyd thanked everyone for their constant support: “For George, this fight is not over. We’re going to stand here together, we’re going to try to get this George Floyd Act passed. It has to be passed.”
The Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis responded in a statement that “there are no winners in this case, and we respect the jury’s decision. 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.” The statement added in a line geared toward residents of Minneapolis that the federation “stands with you and not against you.”
Ellison, during his statement, also addressed policing when he said, “The work of our generation is to put unaccountable law enforcement behind us. It’s time to transform the relationship between community and the people who are sworn to protect them from one that is mistrustful, suspicious, and in some cases terrifying, into one that is empathetic, compassionate and affirming. That will benefit everyone, including police officers who deserve to serve in a profession that is honored and [in] departments where they don’t have to worry about colleagues who don’t follow the rules.”
Reaction from other leading officeholders was swift, among them Mayor Jacob Frey, who said in a statement, “Today the jury joined in a shared conviction that has animated Minneapolis for the last 11 months: they refused to look away. They believed their own eyes and affirmed George Floyd should still be here today.”
A statement from Gov. Tim Walz said, “Today’s verdict is an important step forward for justice in Minnesota. The trial is over, but our work has only begun.”
The governor add that “no verdict can bring George back, and my heart is with his family as they continue to grieve his loss. Minnesota mourns with you, and we promise the pursuit of justice for George does not end today.”
The foreperson was Juror No. 19, a white man in his 30s who works as an auditor. He pledged during the jury selection process that he could examine the evidence “from a viewpoint of the law.”
He and his fellow jurors, whose identities have so far been kept undisclosed by the court, remained still and quiet and kept their eyes on the judge until called upon by the judge to affirm their verdicts individually. They departed the courtroom revealing no visible emotion.
Jurors, who were sequestered, reached their decision after hearing closing arguments from the prosecution and defense Monday. They started deliberations afterward. Jurors heard from 44 witnesses over 14 days of testimony. The trial began seven weeks ago on March 8 with jury selection, and it was livestreamed across the world by several media outlets on multiple platforms.
The jurors were asked to decide between the prosecution’s claims that Chauvin used excessive force and an unsanctioned maneuver when he knelt on Floyd’s neck for about 9 1/2 minutes last May 25, 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.
The cause of death became a key issue, with prosecutors telling jurors Floyd, 46, died of asphyxia from low oxygen when Chauvin knelt on his neck as former officers J. Alexander Kueng knelt on his buttock and thigh area and Thomas Lane knelt and held onto his legs. Former officer Tou Thao kept angry bystanders at bay.
The officers were arresting him for using a fake $20 bill to buy cigarettes at Cup Foods in south Minneapolis.
Hennepin County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Andrew Baker ruled that Floyd died of a homicide, an act caused by another person, and that the cause of death was “cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression.” He also listed hardening and thickening of the artery walls, heart disease and drug use as “other significant conditions.” Fentanyl and methamphetamine were found in Floyd’s system.
Addressing the aggravating factors in an earlier filing, the prosecutors wrote:
• Floyd was “particularly vulnerable” because his hands were handcuffed behind him.
• Floyd was treated with “particular cruelty.” Prosecutors said at trial that Chauvin remained on Floyd’s neck even though he wasn’t breathing and didn’t have a pulse for nearly five minutes. Bystander video also captured Floyd repeatedly saying he couldn’t breathe before he became unresponsive.
• The officers abused their position of authority.
• The officers committed the act as a group.
• The officers’ actions occurred in front of children. The youngest witness was Judeah Reynolds, then 9. Her cousin, Darnella Frazier, then 17, recorded and shared video of the incident, which many credit for leading to the criminal prosecution.
Defense attorney Nelson argued at trial that the bystanders, which also included adults, were hostile toward the officers and created a potential threat.
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.
The verdict came at a time of heightened tensions in the metro area following the April 11 fatal shooting of Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man who was fatally shot during a traffic stop by then-Brooklyn Center police officer Kimberly Potter.
Then-Brooklyn Center Police Chief Tim Gannon, who has since resigned, said Potter mistakenly fired her gun instead of a Taser while assisting in the arrest of Wright, who had been stopped for expired tabs and was found to have a warrant. Potter, who also resigned, was charged last week with second-degree manslaughter.
Wright’s death led to several nights of protests outside the Brooklyn Center Police Department, where police fired rubber bullets, tear gas and flash-bang grenades at demonstrators, alarming residents of an apartment building across the street who said they were being impacted. Police also accused some demonstrators of throwing objects, including cans and bricks, at police.
A coalition of at least nine local law enforcement agencies working as “Operation Safety Net” has coordinated with each other to provide security during Chauvin’s trial, and are expected to respond the public’s reaction to the verdict. Coalition partners have also responded to the protests in Brooklyn Center.
The death of Floyd, who is Black, under a white officer’s knee sparked demonstrations across the world and a racial reckoning that prompted calls for defunding the police. It led to alterations to the long-held names of popular musical acts and the rebranding of well-known products that had used racially insensitive terminology or mascots, among other changes.
Many activists and community members had looked to Chauvin’s trial as a test of the criminal justice system and a potential turning point in community-police relations, only to be disrupted by Wright’s killing.
Family attorney Crump, who helped negotiate a record $27 million settlement with the City of Minneapolis, is also representing Wright’s family.
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. Noor, who is serving a 12 1/2-year prison term, was acquitted of second-degree murder.
Noor’s conviction was upheld by the Minnesota Court of Appeals, a decision that the Minnesota Supreme Court will review in June.
Washington County sheriff’s deputy Brian Krook was acquitted last year for fatally shooting Benjamin Evans, who was intoxicated, suicidal and had a gun in his hand but had not threatened to harm officers.
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. Chauvin had also been out on bond during his trial.
Star Tribune staff writer Libor Jany contributed to this report. email@example.com • 612-673-4482