Derek Chauvin’s Policing Background

On July 19, the New York Times published a report on its investigation of the policing background of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who led the February 25th physical restraint and killing of George Floyd.[1] Here are the highlights of that report.

From the start of his career with the Minneapolis Police Department in 2000, “Chauvin stood out as gung-ho.”

In May 2013, Kristofer Bergh, than a 17-year old, and three friends were playing “Nerf Gun Assassin” when one of them accidently fired an orange dart out the window. Chauvin and another officer “pulled up, pointed their guns at the teenagers and shouted orders laced with expletives.” The four teenagers then were put into the police car  for what seemed like an hour. As they were being released, Chauvin said, “Most of you will be 18 by the end of the year. That means you’ll be old enough for ‘big boy jail.’” This led to a complaint against Chauvin. And one of these boys, now in their early 20’s, told the Times reporters that Chauvin “was overly aggressive and not understanding that we were just kids.”

Moreover, many interviewees said Chauvin “did his job as if he were playing a role — a tough Dirty Harry on the lookout for bad guys” and he “seemed to operate at an emotional distance from those around him. Mr. Chauvin was a quiet and rigid workaholic with poor people skills and a tendency to overreact — with intoxicated people, especially — when a less aggressive stance might have led to a better outcome.” In other words, he “was awkward. Other officers often didn’t like him or didn’t know him. He didn’t go to parties and didn’t seem to have many friends. Some neighbors knew so little about him that they didn’t even know he was a police officer until after his arrest.”

An unnamed officer said, “In a group setting he would never connect and [instead] stand there like a small child. I was put off by his lack of communication skills. You never felt like he was present.”

Lucy Gerold, a retired police commander, said Chauvin “occasionally . . . would seem a little  cocky” and was “the guy not everybody liked or wanted to work with.” When he left work “in full uniform,” he “stood ramrod straight like he was still in the military.”

Although Chauvin received some kudos for his work, he did receive 22 complaints or internal investigations. According to Dave Bicking, a board member of the Twin Cities’ Communities United Against Police Brutality, this is a high number and “should have definitely raised alarm with the department and triggered a review,” when most officers might get one or two complaints in the same period of time.

As has been noted in other reports, the Times says that Chauvin on most weekends for 17 years worked an off-duty police gig outside the El Neuvo Rodeo nightclub in south Minneapolis, whose owner said he “often overreacted when he saw something that bothered him, like unruly behavior around the club, including drunk patrons congregating on the street — especially on ‘urban nights’ when the clientele was largely Black.” Chauvin also frequently used pepper spray when there was a disturbance at the club, and when the owner complained, he merely said, “That is protocol.”

George Floyd also worked on security at that nightclub, but the owner said she does not recall ever seeing the two men together. Apparently the Times’ reporters never sought out other nightclub employees to see if they ever saw any contact between the two men, including any conflicts or arguments. This should have been an obvious line of inquiry to see if Chauvin had some grudge against Floyd that the May 25th encounter near Cup Foods gave Chauvin an opportunity to redress.


[1] Barker & Kovaleski, Officer Who Pressed His Knee on George Floyd’s Neck Drew Scrutiny Long Before , New York Times (July 18, 2020).