Prosecutors: Chauvin Used Neck Restraints in Past Arrests
The former officers are scheduled to appear in court Friday for a hearing on several issues, including the prosecution’s request to hold a joint trial
By Amy Forliti and Steve Karnowski • Published September 11, 2020 • Updated on September 11, 2020 at 7:16 pm
The four police officers charged with the killing of George Floyd appeared at a Minneapolis courthouse on Friday for pretrial proceedings.
A white police officer accused in the death of George Floyd had used neck or head and upper body restraints seven times before, including four incidents in which prosecutors say he went too far, according to prosecution documents released Friday in the case against four former Minneapolis officers charged in Floyd’s death.
In one July 2019 arrest, prosecutors say, Derek Chauvin kicked an intoxicated male in the midsection, then applied a neck restraint until he fell unconscious. In June 2017, Chauvin restrained an arrested female by placing his knee on her neck while she was prone on the ground, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors said in those cases and in two others, Chauvin held the restraints “beyond the point when such force was needed under the circumstances.”\
The list of Chauvin’s arrests involving restraints dates to 2014. It was made public on the same day that Chauvin and three other former officers appeared in court for a hearing on the prosecution’s request to hold a joint trial, a defense request to move the trial out of Minneapolis, and other issues. Judge Peter Cahill took most issues under advisement.
Floyd, a Black man in handcuffs, died May 25 after Chauvin pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck even as Floyd said he couldn’t breathe. Floyd’s death was captured in widely seen bystander video that set off protests, sometimes violent, that spread around the world. The officers were fired. Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder and other crimes; Thomas Lane, J. Kueng and Tou Thao are charged with aiding and abetting.
Chauvin appeared in court for the first time after attending previous hearings via videoconference from the state prison where he’s being held. He didn’t make eye contact with other defendants as he arrived.
The Associated Press has made requests for detailed personnel records of Chauvin and the other officers, including any complaints and disciplinary action. The police reports mentioned by prosecutors in their court filing were not immediately available Friday. Chauvin’s attorney, Eric Nelson, had no comment on the prosecution document.
Prosecutors said in their filing that they intend to offer evidence of these incidents at trial, because they anticipate Chauvin will claim he didn’t intentionally assault Floyd in a way that’s inconsistent with his training. Prosecutors plan to file a more detailed memorandum in the future.
In addition to the arrests in which Chauvin used neck or head and upper body restraints, prosecutors also listed an August 2015 incident in which Chauvin saw other officers place a suicidal and intoxicated male into a side-recovery position after using a stun gun on him. Prosecutors noted the officers received a commendation, after medical professionals said the male could have died if they prolonged his detention.
Similar documents were filed in the cases against Thao and Keung. Prosecutors listed nine incidents in which Thao was reprimanded for not responding appropriately to a scene, intentionally avoiding police response or falsifying reports. The documents say that in two cases, in 2012 and 2017, Thao tried to manipulate domestic-abuse victims to answer questions in a way that would allow him to avoid filing a domestic abuse report.
Prosecutors said Kueng was involved in one arrest in December 2019 in which he and other officers struck an intoxicated and uncooperative individual and pinned the person to the ground in a prone position to apply handcuffs, then brought him to his feet after he calmed down.
During Friday’s hearing, prosecutors told Cahill that the four former officers should face trial together because the evidence and charges against them are similar and multiple trials could traumatize witnesses and Floyd’s family.
Neal Katyal, an outside special attorney for the prosecution, said multiple trials would place a heavy burden on the court and witnesses, and could delay justice for months or years. He also raised the possibility that a verdict in an initial trial could prejudice the jury pool for later trials.
A joint trial “would allow the community to absorb the verdicts at once. … We don’t think they should be put through the trauma of four different jury verdicts,” he said.
But defense attorneys argued for separate trials, saying they would likely offer “antagonistic” defenses and that the evidence against one officer could hurt another.
The officers have already done plenty of finger-pointing in court filings. Attorneys for Lane and Kueng argued their clients were rookies who followed Chauvin’s lead. Thao’s attorney, Bob Paule, said his client’s role was “absolutely distinct” from the others, because he was on crowd control while the others restrained Floyd.
Nelson, Chauvin’s attorney, wrote that the other men are already saying that if Chauvin committed a crime, they didn’t know about it or assist.
“They blame Chauvin,” he wrote.
But Chauvin pointed fingers, too. Nelson wrote that Lane and Kueng — the officers who responded to a forgery call — initiated contact with Floyd and that while they called for a paramedic and believed Floyd was “on something,” they didn’t elevate the call to one of more urgency or give medical assistance.
“If EMS had arrived just three minutes sooner, Mr. Floyd may have survived. If Kueng and Lane had chosen to de-escalate instead of struggle, Mr. Floyd may have survived. If Kueng and Lane had recognized the apparent signs of an opioid overdose and rendered aid, such as administering naloxone, Mr. Floyd may have survived,” Nelson wrote.
Ben Crump, an attorney for Floyd’s family members, told a crowd gathered outside the courthouse that defense filings highlighting Floyd’s drug use amount to killing him a second time.
“They are trying to claim some asinine theory about an overdose. I want to be clear about this. The only overdose that killed George Floyd was an overdose of excessive force and racism by the … Minneapolis Police Department,” Crump said.
“Who are you going to believe, your eyes or these killer cops?” he said.
Cahill took the issue of a joint trial under advisement. He also deferred discussion on whether the trial should be moved from Minneapolis. Attorneys for all four men have said pretrial publicity has made it impossible for them to receive a fair trial in Hennepin County. But Cahill said he would like to send out questionnaires to potential jurors to find out whether they’ve been affected by pretrial coverage.
Cahill granted a defense request to remove a local prosecutor from the case. Cahill said Friday that four Hennepin County prosecutors, including County Attorney Mike Freeman, are disqualified because they met with the medical examiner to discuss autopsy results. Cahill said they could be called as witnesses because the cause of Floyd’s death is in dispute. Freeman has long been out of favor with local activists for the way his office has handled cases against police officers.
Freeman issued a statement saying his office did nothing wrong and followed the rules, and that he’s confident Cahill’s order will be withdrawn or changed.
Before the hearing, a few dozen protesters gathered in front of the courthouse, chanting “No justice, no peace.” One carried a Black Lives Matter flag and wore a black helmet with swim goggles around the back of his head. By the time the hearing ended, a large, loud crowd had gathered outside. Some beat drums while others chanted anti-police slogans. They loudly jeered defense attorneys as they left the courthouse.