State Court Rejects Chauvin Divorce Settlement

As previously reported, only days after the May 25th killing of George Floyd, Kellie Chauvin filed an action for divorce from her husband, Derek Chauvin, who was a Minneapolis police officer and principal actor involved in that killing. This divorce case was filed in the Minnesota state court in Washington County, where they lived. [1]

In that divorce case it was revealed that the two Chauvins had an agreement whereby Kellie would receive all the equity in their homes in Minnesota and Florida, all of their funds in their bank and investment accounts, and all of Derek’s pension and retirememt accounts except for the non-marital portion of two accounts.[2]

On October 26, the Minnesota state court judge in that divorce case, District Court Judge Juanita Freeman, issued an order stating that the “court has a duty to ensure that marriage dissolution agreements are fair and equitable” and that “one badge of fraud is a party’s transfer of substantially all of his or her assets.” The court, therefore, ruled that their divorce settlement agreement was unenforceable and directed them to submit for the court’s consideration a revised agreement with a balance sheet showing all their assets and liabilities. If there is no revised agreement or if such a revision is not approved by the court, then Judge  Freeman would try and decide the case.

A Minnesota divorce attorney who is not involved in this case said, “This is just speculation, but it’s possible that the [agreement] was intentionally drafted to get assets out of Chauvin’s name in anticipation of a civil judgment against him from the estate of George Floyd.”

Indeed, in July, the attorneys  for the Floyd family filed a civil wrongful death action against Derek Chauvin and the other three police officers involved in the killing, and the lead attorney for the family, Benjamin Crump, said they they would seek “a precedent that makes it financially prohibitive for police to wrongfully kill marginalized people.”[3]

Also before the same state court are charges that the Chauvin couple engaged in tax fraud by failing to submit Minnesota income tax returns for several years and under reported their income.[4]

================================

[1] Developments in Criminal Cases Over Death of George Floyd, dwkcommentaries.com (June 28, 2020); Derek Chauvin’s Wife’s Divorce Petition Raises Questions, dwkcommentaries.com (July 8, 2020

[2] Xiong, Judge rejects proposed Derek Chauvin divorce agreement, citing possible fraud, StarTribune (Nov. 20, 2020); Semenov, Proposed divorce agreement between Chauvin and wife rejected for possible fraud, FOX9 News (Nov. 20, 2020).

[3] Floyd’s Family Sues City of Minneapolis and Four Ex-Officers Involved in George Floyd’s Death, dwkcommentaries.com (July 16, 2020); George Floyd Family’s Complaint Against Four Ex-Police Officers Involved in George Floyd’s Death, dwkcommentaries.com (July 17, 2020).

[4] Chauvin and Wife Now Charged with Minnesota Tax Crimes, dwkcommentaries.com (July 22, 2020); Derek Chauvin makes first court appearance on tax fraud charges, Fox9 News (Sept. 8, 2020).

Parties’ Latest Reactions to Issues for Trial in George Floyd Criminal Cases

On November 5, the Hennepin County District Court issued five significant orders regarding the joint criminal trial of Derek Chauvin, Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao over the killing of George Floyd. These orders (1) granted the State’s motion for a joint trial of the four defendants; (2) preliminarily denied the defendants’ motions for change of venue; (3) provided for  juror anonymity and sequestration; (4) allowed audio and video coverage of the trial; and (5) narrowed its previous order regarding four members of the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office’s participation in the cases.[1]

On November 16, various motions and briefs were submitted objecting to the recent orders for a joint trial and allowing audio and video coverage of the trial as well as the pending motions for allowance of evidence of prior incidents of the four defendants and of Mr. Floyd. The most significant of these papers, in this blogger’s judgment, was Thomas Lane’s motion for reconsideration of the order for a joint trial of the four defendants, which, therefore, will be discussed first.

Lane’s Motion To Reconsider Joinder for Trial[2]

Lane argued that the order for joinder is premature as it does not consider the prejudice that will be caused by admission of evidence of prior incidents involving the other three defendants, none of which involved Lane.

Most significantly, Lane asserted that his  defense will be antagonistic to Chauvin in that he will be “pointing the finger” at Chauvin and that if Lane had known of Chauvin’s prior incidents, Lane would have acted differently. (Emphasis added.) (This is believed to be the first time that any of the defendants has pointed the finger at Chauvin, the principal actor in the death of Floyd.)

Moreover, said Lane’s attorney, the Court’s opinion regarding aiding and abetting liability was erroneous since it was inconsistent with a 2014 opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court, which, among other things, said such liability requires the defendant to have “advance knowledge that a crime is being committed.” (Emphasis added.)[3]

Finally, according to Lane’s attorney, a recently disclosed FBI report about its July 8th interview of Hennepin County Medical Examiner, Dr. Andrew Baker, contains significant points helpful to Lane and the other defendants.. Here are this blogger’s extracts of that report with emphasis on the points helpful to the defendants.

  • Baker’s office’s press release about its examination of Floyd’s body apparently mentioned ”cardiopulmonary arrest,” which “for a lay person would be the stopping of the heart and lungs. Other factors that contributed to Floyd’s cardiopulmonary arrest included hypertension, the presence of fentanyl and methamphetamine, as well as arteriosclerotic heart disease.”(P. 038777) (Emphasis added.)
  • “The term ‘complicating’ in the case title was a medical term meaning occurring after, during, or as a result of.” (P. 03877)
  • Baker defined the mechanism of death as Floyd’s heart and lungs stopping due to the combined effects of his health problems as well as the exertion involved in Floyd’s interaction with police prior to being on the groun” (Pp. 038777-78.) (Emphasis added.)
  • There was no evidence that Floyd’s airway was literally blocked shut. When viewing the body camera footage, the pressure did not appear to be directly over Floyd’s airway. Floyd would have been unable to speak if pressure was directly over his airway.” (P. 03778.) (Emphasis added.)
  • Officer Chauvin’s positioning on Floyd’s body does not fit anatomically with occluding Floyd’s airway.” (P. 038778.) (Emphasis added.)
  • There was no anatomic evidence of injury to Floyd’s neck but that does not rule out that pressure was applied by Chauvin.” (P. 038778.) (Emphasis added.)
  • The absence of petechiae weighs against strangulation.” (P. 038778.) (Emphasis added.)
  • Baker noted that that Floyd had no injury to . . .[his lower buttocks or upper end of Floyd’s thigh which were being held by Kueng].” (P. 038778) (Emphasis added.)
  • Baker noted that there was no relation to Floyd’s cause of death by Lane’s position [on Floyd’s feet].” (P. 038778.) (Emphasis added.)
  • “The struggle between officers and Floyd weighed into Baker’s opinion because physical exertion increases heart rate, releases adrenaline, and increases respiratory rate as well as cardiac demand. All of these things increased the likelihood of a bad outcome.” (P. 038778.)
  • Baker had no opinion on when Floyd became critical or near death.” (P. 038780.) (Emphasis added.)
  • Baker did not believe that the prone position was any more dangerous than other positions based on an article or journal he had read. “ (P. 038780.) (Emphasis added.)
  • Baker could not provide an answer on a ‘but for’ cause [of death]. (P. 038781.) (Emphasis added.)
  • Absent suspicious circumstances, if Floyd had been found dead in his bed with the level of fentanyl in his blood that was present for this autopsy, it may be classified aa fentanyl fatality due to the level of fentanyl.” (P. 039781.) (Emphasis added.)
  • When a death was labeled a homicide, it was not a legal ruling being made. The label was classified as such for public health reasons.” (P. 0388782.) (Emphasis added.)

Parties’ Battle Over Evidence of Defendants’ Prior Incidents[4]

 The State previously had argued for admission of evidence of eight separate incidents involving Chauvin’s actions in the course of his duties as a Minneapolis Police Officer. On November 16 the State submitted a supplemental argument in support of such evidence in light of its obtaining the body worn camera videos for one of those incidents that are relevant to show modus operandi, intent and lack of mistake and rebut any defense of reasonable use of force and that their probative value outweighs any potential unfair prejudice.

Lane’s objection to such evidence was just discussed.

In addition,  Chauvin’s attorney argued that these incidents are inadmissible to show his intent in the Floyd case or his alleged knowledge of the need to move Floyd from the prone position or a common scheme or plan or modus operandi and that evidence of such incidents is cumulative and unfairly prejudicial.

State’s Objection to Evidence of  Floyd’s Prior Incident with Minneapolis Police[5]

All Defendants intend to offer evidence of George Floyd’s May 6, 2019, incident with the Minneapolis Police Department even though the Court at the September 11, 2020, hearing held that such evidence was inadmissible. The State said the Court’s prior decision was correct and that the defendants intend to offer this evidence at trial was for the improper purpose of attacking Floyd’s character and suggesting he had a propensity to commit crimes or should be punished for his prior actions; that the prior incident does not show Floyd’s common scheme or plan in the incident that led to his death; that his state of mind in the prior incident is irrelevant; that the unfair prejudice of evidence of that prior incident far outweighs its probative value and that the defendants’ other arguments for such evidence are unpersuasive.

State’s Objection to Audio and Video Trial Coverage[6]

The State asked the Court for reconsideration of its order for audio and video coverage of the trial. The motion provided no reasons for that motion other than its previous objection to such coverage under Minnesota Rule of Criminal Procedure 4.02(d) and a brief to be filed on or before November 30.

A StarTribune editorial, however, supported this court order. It said, “It is in the best interest of trial participants and the public for this high-profile trial to be as accessible as possible. . . . [Judge] Cahill’s ruling is well-reasoned and fair.”

Reactions

An important reason for the Court’s November 5th order for a joint trial of the four defendants was there was no indication at that stage of the proceedings “that any of the Defendants is likely to be prejudiced by joinder because their defenses are not antagonistic but instead are mutually supportive.” Now, however, Defendant Lane has stated that his  defense will be antagonistic to Chauvin in that Lane will be “pointing the finger” at Chauvin and that if Lane had known of Chauvin’s prior incidents, Lane would have acted differently. This latest statement, therefore, is a serious challenge to the wisdom of a joint trial.

In addition, Lane’s disclosure of the FBI memorandum of its interview of the Hennepin County Medical Examiner, assuming it accurately reflects what the Examiner said, provides boosters for the defense and problems for the prosecution.

================================

[1] Court’s Orders Regarding Criminal Trial of Defendants in George Floyd Killing, dwkcommentaries.com (Nov. 5, 2020).

[2]  Defendant’s [Lane’s] Objection to the State’s Spreigl Notice and Motion to Reconsider the Court’s Order for Joinder, State v. Lane, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12951 (Nov. 16, 2020); Exhibit A [FBI Memorandum], Lane Objection to Spreigl and Motion to Reconsider Joinder Order,  State v. Lane, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12951 (Nov. 16, 2020).

[3]  This case was Rosemond v. United States, 572 U.S. 64 (2014), which requires close analysis.

[4]  State’s Supplemental Memorandum of Law in Support of Other Evidence, State v. Chauvin, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12646 Nov. 16, 2020); Defendant’s [Chauvin’s] Objection to State’s Proposed Introduction of Spreigl Evidence, State v. Chauvin, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12646 Nov. 16, 2020); Defendant’s [Kueng’s]Objection to the State’s 404(b) Evidence, State v. Kueng, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12953 Nov. 16, 2020); Defendant’s [Thao’s] Memorandum in Opposition to State’s Motion for Spreigl Evidence Against Mr. Thao, State v. Thao, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12949 Nov. 16, 2020); Defendant’s [Lane’s] Objection to the State’s Spreigl Notice and Motion to Reconsider the Court’s Order for Joinder, State v. Lane, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12951 (Nov. 16, 2020); Jany, Seeking to show pattern of excessive force by Chauvin, prosecutors cite incident with 14-year-old boy who couldn’t breathe, StarTribune (Nov. 17, 2020);Bailey, Former Minneapolis police officer charged in George Floyd’s death seeks to bar evidence of past neck and body restraints, Wash. Post (Nov. 17, 2020).

[5] State’s Response Opposing Defendants’ Motions To Admit Spreigl Evidence, State v. Chauvin, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12646 Nov. 16, 2020).

[6] State’s Motion for Reconsideration, State v. Chauvin, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12646 Nov. 16, 2020) State asks judge to reconsider permission for audio, video coverage of officers’ trial in George Floyd Killing, StarTribune (Nov. 16, 2020); Editorial, A victory for courtroom access in George Floyd case, StarTribune (Nov. 17, 2020).

Court’s Orders Regarding Criminal Trial of Defendants in George Floyd Killing

On November 5, Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill issued five significant orders relating to the trial in the criminal cases against the four former Minneapolis policemen involved in the killing of George Floyd: Derek Chauvin, Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao. [1]

These orders (1) granted the State’s motion for a joint trial of the four defendants; 2) preliminarily denied the defendants’ motions for change of venue; (3) provided for  juror anonymity and sequestration; (4) allowed audio and video coverage of the trial; and (5) narrowed its previous order regarding four members of the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office’s participation in the cases.

These five orders will be reviewed below.

                  Joint Trial of the Four Defendants[2]

The 51-page Order and Memorandum Opinion sets forth the Factual Background and then Discussion of the four-factor test for joinder established by the Minnesota Rules of Criminal Procedure and Minnesota case law. The following is the Court’s Summary of that detailed discussion (pp. 4-5).

“The first factor weighs strongly in favor of joinder because of the similarity of the charges and evidence against all four Defendants.” Indeed, “the critical evidence at trial”—body-cam videos of three of the defendants and cell-phone video of a bystander; Minneapolis Police Department Policies and Procedures and Training Manuals; autopsy reports and medical and forensic testimony about the circumstances and causes of Floyd’s death; and eyewitness testimony—”will be the same for all four Defendants.”

“The second factor slightly favors joinder in view of the impact of conducting four separate trials . . . would have on eyewitnesses if . .. [they] were forced to relive the events of May 25, 2020, by testifying to the same events at multiple trials,” especially since one of these witnesses is a minor.

“The third factor also strongly favors joinder because there is no indication at this stage of the proceedings that any of the Defendants is likely to be prejudiced by joinder because their defenses are not antagonistic but instead are mutually supportive.”

The “fourth factor also strongly favors joinder because conducting four separate trials arising from the same underlying incident and involving the same evidence and the same witnesses would result in unwarranted delay and impose unnecessary burdens on the State, the court, and the witnesses. Moreover, in wake of the unprecedented . . . scope of the publicity [about these cases] . . . if trials were to proceed separately for each Defendant, trial-related publicity surrounding the first trial (and succeeding trials) could potentially compound the difficulty of selecting a fair and impartial jury in all subsequent trials. Thus, the interests of justice also warrant joinder.”

Preliminary Denial of Change of Venue[3]

 The Court considered two factors in preliminarily deny the Defendants’ motions to change venue and transfer the case from Hennepin County to another district court in Minnesota: prejudicial publicity and safety concerns of the defendants and their attorneys.

With respect to the first factor, the Court took “judicial notice that the death of George Floyd has generated thousands of articles, reports and commentary in Minnesota, the entire United States, and internationally.” (n. 10.) As a result, “no corner of the State of Minnesota has been shielded from pretrial publicity regarding the death of George Floyd. Because of that pervasive media coverage, a change of venue is unlikely to cure the taint of potentially prejudicial pretrial publicity. Nevertheless, this is only a preliminary ruling and the parties are free to present the evidence from public opinion surveys they are presently conducting. In addition, this Court is planning to issue jury summons earlier than usual and to require summoned jurors to fill out questionnaires well before trial to gauge their knowledge of the case and any potential bias.”

The second factor—safety concerns—calls for “better safety planning,” which is currently being conducted by the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office and the Court. The safety concerns regarding the 9/11/20 hearing at the smaller Hennepin County Family Justice Center with limited entrances and exits suggests it is more difficult to enhance security at such facilities, which would be true if the cases were transferred to a smaller county. Having the trial at the Hennepin county Government Center would facilitate tighter control of floor access and movement. In short, the “Court believes that safety issues can be mitigated to the point that a fair and safe trial may be had in Hennepin County and a jury can be insulated from outside influence and remain impartial.”

Juror Anonymity and Sequestration[4]

After reviewing the extensive publicity about the death of Mr. Floyd and these cases and related protest and unsolicited ex parte communications to the Court and counsel, there are “strong reasons to believe that threats to jurors’ safety and impartiality exist“ in these cases and that “all reasonable means should be taken to insulate the jury from such ex parte contacts.

Therefore, the Court ordered the “jurors’ names, addresses and other identifying information . .. [to] . . .be kept confidential  by the Court and all parties throughout the trial and deliberation” After the conclusion of the trial, any information about the jurors shall be disclosed only after a “subsequent written Order” by the Court.

Each Defendant shall have five preemptory challenges of prospective jurors, and the State twelve such challenges. There will be four alternate jurors.

The jurors will be partially sequestered during trial with possible full sequestration if the partial plan “proves ineffective in keeping jurors free from outside influence.” In addition, during jury deliberations at the end of the trial, there shall be full sequestration.

Audio and Video Coverage of the Trial [5]

 The trial shall commence on March 8, 2021, and “may be recorded, broadcast, and livestreamed in audio and video subject to the conditions” contained in the order.

Order Regarding Hennepin County Attorneys[6]

The Court’s oral order removing four members of the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office from these cases is vacated although they may not “appear as advocates in the trials and may not sign any motions or pleadings in these cases.

===============================

[1] Olson, Ex-officers charged in George Floyd case to be tried together in Hennepin County, cameras allowed in courtroom, StarTribune (Oct. 5, 2020).

[2] Order and Memorandum Opinion Granting State’s Motion for Trial Joinder, State v. Chauvin, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12646, Hennepin County District Court (Nov. 5, 2020).

[3] Preliminary Order Regarding Change of Venue, State v. Chauvin, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12646, Hennepin County District Court (Nov. 5, 2020).

[4] Order for Juror Anonymity and Sequestration, State v. Chauvin, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12646, Hennepin County District Court (Nov. 5, 2020).

[5] Order Allowing Audio and Video Coverage of Trial, State v. Chauvin, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12646, Hennepin County District Court (Nov. 5, 2020).

[6] Order, State v. Chauvin, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12646, Hennepin County District Court (Nov. 5, 2020).

Court Sustains Most Charges in George Floyd Criminal Cases  

On October 21, Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill, with one exception, denied the four defendants’ motions to dismiss all criminal charges for alleged lack of probable cause in the George Floyd criminal cases. The exception was the charge of third-degree murder against Derek Chauvin, which was dismissed. These orders and the reasons for same are contained in the Court’s 107-page Order and Opinion on the four defendants’’ motions to dismiss for lack of probable cause.[1]

In so doing, the Court properly stressed that under Minnesota law its evaluation of  these dismissal motions is “to assess whether the State has come forward with sufficient admissible evidence on each element of the charges . . .to warrant binding each of the Defendants over for trial . . . to accept as true all the allegations made by the State in its Statements of Probable Cause . . . [and to] draw in the State’s favor all inferences that may reasonably be drawn from those facts.” (Pp. 7-8.)

Here, we will review the main points in the court’s sustaining the charges of second-degree unintentional murder and second-degree manslaughter against Derek Chauvin and the charges against the other three defendants (Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thau) for aiding and abetting these charges. Discussion of the dismissal of the third-degree murder charge against Chauvin will be left to the newspaper articles that are cited below.

Finding Probable Cause for Charge of Second-Degree Murder Against Chauvin

 Under the above standard for evaluating such dismissal motions, the court concluded that there was probable cause that the prosecution had established probable cause for the following requirements for this crime: (i) Floyd died; (ii) “Chauvin’s conduct was a substantial causal factor in Floyd’s death;” (iii) “Chauvin intentionally inflicted or attempted to inflict bodily harm on Floyd or intended to cause Floyd to fear immediate bodily harm or death;: and (iv) “Chauvin inflicted substantial bodily harm on Floyd.” (Pp. 35-53.)

In the process of reaching these conclusions, the Court said: (i) “Chauvin never relented and never lessened the pressure of his knee against Floyd’s neck even when Floyd pleaded: ‘I can’t breathe. Please, your knew in my neck’’” (p. 39); and (ii) “Notwithstanding Floyd having gone silent and motionless, the mounting evidence of his lost consciousness, the plaintiff cries and demands from the bystanders, and the obvious reality that Floyd was no longer resisting or non-compliant, Chauvin’s demeanor never changed, and he continued kneeling on Floyd’s neck applying constant pressure to pin Floyd’s face to the pavement for an additional two and a half minutes” (p. 41).

These statements followed  the Court’s “Factual Background,” which stated, in part, the following:

  • “The Critical Nine Plus Minutes between 8:19:18 and 8:28:42 P.M.: Floyd Is Subdued and Restrained Prone in the Street, with Chauvin Kneeling on the Back of Floyd’s Neck, Pinning His Face to the Street, Kueng and Lane Restraining and Pinning Floyd’s Back and Legs to the Street, and Thao Maintaining Bystander Watch.” (p. 22).
  • “Floyd uttered his final words ‘Please,’ at 8:23:55 p.m., and ‘I can’t breathe,’at 8:23:59 p.m.. . . Floyd then fell silent.”  (p. 25.)
  • “Even after Floyd ceased talking and moving and went limp, Defendants maintained their positions.” (p. 25)
  • “As Floyd lost consciousness and shortly before uttering his final words, Lane asked Chauvin and Kueng: ‘Should we roll him on his side?’ Citing concern ‘about the exited delirium or whatever . . .[and] Chauvin rejected Lane’s suggestion, stating that the ambulance was en route.” (p. 25)
  • “Neither Lane nor Kueng did anything to challenge Chauvin’s answer. Instead, they remained in the same position and continued to hold down Floyd’s back and legs.” (p. 25)
  • “After hearing the bystanders’ pleas to check Floyd for a pulse [8:25:40-8-8:26:05 p.m.], Lane asked Kueng if he could detect a pulse. After checking Floyd’s wrist for about ten seconds, Kueng reported: ‘I can’t find one [a pulse].[8:25:45-8:26:00].” (p. 27.)
  • “Kueng continued to check Floyd for a pulse. About ten seconds later, Kueng sighed, leaned back slightly, and repeated: ‘I can’t find one.” [8:26:07-12.] (p. 27.)
  • “[8:26:12-18] Upon learning that Keung could not find a pulse, Chauvin squeezed Floyd’s fingers. Floyd did not respond.” (p. 27/)
  • “Even though Floyd remained unresponsive, the Defendants did not move from their positions. They continued to restrain Floyd—Chauvin with his left knee pressed firmly into Floyd’s neck, Kueng kneeling on Floyd’s back, and Lane holding Floyd’s legs—while Thao kept bystanders back on the sidewalk. They also ignored the off-duty firefighter’s urgent demands that they check Floyd for a pulse and begin chest compressions if he had no pulse. . . None of the Defendants ever attempted PR while Floyd was on the ground.” (pp. 27-28)
  • “At 8:27 p.m., an ambulance arrived on the scene. . . . Still, Chauvin, Kueng, Lane, and Thao did not move from their positions. . . . Indeed, even as Lane explained to emergency personnel that Floyd was ‘not responsive right now,’ Chauvin kept his knee on Floyd’s neck (8:27:36-38).” (p. 28)
  • “[F]or more than a minute after the emergency personnel arrived, Chauvin continued to press Floyd face-down into the pavement, Lane knelt over Floyd’s legs, and Thao continued to push back the crowd.” (p. 28)
  • At 8:28:42 p.m., when the stretcher was ready, Chauvin finally stood up, removing his knee from Floyd’s neck. . . .Floyd remained unresponsive.” (p. 28)
  • “In total, Floyd was subdued, pinned face-down in the street—with Chauvin’s knee pressing into his neck and Kueng and Lane restraining his back and legs—for more than nine minutes and twenty seconds.(8:19:18-8:28:42 p.m.) For over four minutes and forty seconds, Floyd did not speak. (8:24:00-8:28:42) For almost three and a half minutes, Floyd appeared not to be breathing. (8:25:15-8:28:42 p.m.) And for more than two and a half minutes, the Defendants were unable to locate a pulse. (8:25:10-8:28:42). Yet over that entire time period, Defendants remained in the same positions: Chauvin continued to kneel with his left knee pressed firmly down on Floyd’s neck pinning Floyd’s face into the street, Kueng and Lane remained atop Floyd’s back and legs, and Thao continued to prevent the crowd of concerned citizens from interceding.” (p. 29)

Finding Probable Cause for Charge of Aiding and Abetting Second-Degree Murder Against Other Defendants

 Under the previously cited standard for evaluating such dismissal motions, the court concluded “the evidence the State relies upon is sufficient for probable cause purposes for the State’s charges that Thao, Lane and Kueng each independently aided and abetted Floyd’s second-degree unintentional murder by Chauvin.” (p. 79.)

The previously discussed evidence supports a potential jury conclusion “that Lane knew Chauvin was intentionally committing an assault that inflicted substantial bodily harm on Floyd”  and that “Lane  intended to aid Chauvin in the assault on Floyd.” (Pp. 79-91.) The same was true for Kueng (pp 91-94) and Thao (pp. 94-99).

Additional comments on Thao were required because “at no point was he involved in the efforts to physically restrain Floyd. Rather, his role was primarily to maintain watch over the growing crowd of bystanders.”  (Pp. 94-99.) But “a jury could conclude, on the basis of the evidence, that Thao knew that Chauvin was intentionally inflicting substantial bodily harm on Floyd” and that Chauvin’s continuing to kneel on Floyd’s neck for minutes after he had ceased talking, moving, or breathing and knowing that Kueng had not been able to detect a pulse was contrary to MPD policy and could not be a considered a justifiable use of reasonable force.” Moreover, under Minnesota cases, “Active participation in the overt act that constitutes the substantive offense—here, the assault—is not a requirement for aiding and abetting liability” and that “’the lookout’ . . ‘is a classic example’ of an ‘aider and abetter.’”

Finding Probable Cause for Charge of Second-Degree Manslaughter Against Chauvin

 Under the previously cited standard for evaluating such dismissal motions, the court concluded there was sufficient evidence for a jury to conclude that Floyd died and that Chauvin caused that death “by culpable negligence, whereby Chauvin created an unreasonable risk and consciously took a chance of causing death or great bodily harm.” (Pp. 67- 75.)

Finding Probable Cause for Charge of Aiding and Abetting Second-Degree Manslaughter Against Other Defendants

Under the previously cited standard for evaluating such dismissal motions, the court concluded that there was probable cause for the charge of aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter because there was sufficient evidence for (i) Chauvin’s causing Floyd’s death by culpable negligence, whereby he created and unreasonable risk and consciously took a chance of causing death or great bodily harm; (ii) the other three defendants “knew Chauvin by his culpable negligence, created an unreasonable risk and consciously took a chance of causing death or great bodily harm; “ and (iii) the other three defendants “intended that . . .[their] presence or actions aided Chauvin’s commission of that crime.” (Pp.  99-107)

Conclusion

To this retired lawyer bystander, this Order and Memorandum is exceptionally well reasoned, documented and written. Moreover, I think it implicitly signals that the Judge will deny the defense motions to change venue (unless the demonstrations and protests get further out-of-line) and grant the prosecution’s motion for a joint trial of the four cases. An implicit or explicit consideration for Judge Cahill’s deciding the change of venue motions by the four defendants would have to be not wanting to impose the immense burden that would be placed on another district court in the state in taking on this complex case in which so much already has happened.

If I were representing one of these defendants, I would be very worried about my chances for success at trial.

====================================

[1] Order and Memorandum Opinion on Defense Motions To Dismiss for Lack of Probable Cause, State v. Chauvin, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12646 (Hennepin County District Court (Oct. 21, 2020); Xiong, Ex-Minneapolis police charged in George Floyd’s killing will go to trial; one count against Derek Chauvin dropped, judge rules, StarTribune (Oct. 22, 2020); Assoc. Press, Judge Dismisses a Third-Degree Murder Charge in George Floyd’s Death, W.S.J. (Oct. 22, 2020); Ismay, Judge Dismisses Third-Degree Murder Charge in George Floyd Case, N.Y. Times (Oct. 22, 2020);  Bailey, Judge dismisses third-degree murder charge against officer in George Floyd’s death: upholds more serious charge, Wash. Post (Oct. 22, 2020).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Post-Hearing Developments in George Floyd Criminal Cases

As previously discussed, on October 12, the attorney for Defendant Thomas Lane filed a motion to include in trial evidence a video of Mr. Floyd’s incident on May 6, 2019, with three other Minneapolis police officers. This caused the Prosecution that same day to seek an order for a temporary protective order on future filings in the cases that the court denied in a hearing on October 15.[1]

On October 16, the other three defendants—Derek Chauvin, Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng—made similar applications for use of evidence regarding Mr. Floyd’s May 6, 2019 incident with Minneapolis police. Also on the 16th the court denied Kueng’s related motions to file video exhibits for his motion to change venue.[2]

As discussed in a prior post, immediately after the October 15th hearing, Thomas C. Plunkett, the attorney for Defendant J. Alexander Kueng, and Earl Gray, the attorney for Defendant Thomas Lane, were harassed by protesters.

The next day Mr. Plunkett filed a motion for leave to file video evidence of the protesters conduct after the hearing. It said, “once again, protestors engaged in criminal conduct placing at least one attorney and the general public at risk. This conduct was captured on video. The video depicts a protestor committing acts in violation of Minn. Stat. 609.749 Subd. 3 (4) – Harassment, Stalking. A separate video depicts a protestor being arrested and deputies finding a gun in the course of the arrest.” [3]

================================

[1] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Important Prosecution Filings in George Floyd Criminal Cases (Oct. 14, 2020); Court Denies Prosecution’s Motion for Temporary Protective Order in George Floyd Criminal Cases (Oct. 15, 2020).

[2] Defendant’s Notice of Motion and Motion To Admit Floyd’s May 6, 2019 Incident, State v. Chauvin, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12946 (Hennepin County District Court Oct. 16, 2020); Motion for Leave To Supplement the Spreigl Motion with an Additional Motion with an Additional Video Exhibit, State v.Thao, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12949 (Hennepin County District Court Oct. 16, 2020); Defendant’s Motion and Memorandum of Law to Allow Video Exhibits, State v. Kueng, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12953 (Hennepin County District Court Oct. 16, 2020); Order, State v. Kueng, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12953 (Hennepin County District Court Oct. 16, 2020).

[3] Court Denies Prosecution’s Motion for Temporary Protective Order in George Floyd Criminal Cases, dwkcommentaries.com (Oct. 15, 2020); Motion and Memorandum of Law To Allow Video Exhibits, State v. Kueng, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12953 (Hennepin County District Court Oct. 16, 2020).

Court Denies Prosecution’s Motion for Temporary Protective Order in George Floyd Criminal Cases    

On October 15, as anticipated, the Media Coalition filed  its opposition to the Prosecution’s Motion for a Temporary Protective Order in the George Floyd Criminal Cases. Later that same day, the Court held a hearing on that motion.

Media Coalition’s Opposition[1]

The Media Coalition’s 12-page brief “respectfully requests that the Court, consistent with its obligations under the common law, its own rules of access, the First Amendment—and, indeed, consistent . . . with its own August 7 Order and August 11 Memorandum Opinion—immediately make the motion papers that Defendant Thomas K. Lane filed on October 12, 2020, including all video exhibits, available to the press and public and that it deny the State’s motion requesting their continued sealing. The Coalition further requests that the Court deny the State’s Motion for Order Temporarily Restricting Public Access to Motions and Exhibits.”

Hearing on the Motion[2]

At a 25-minute hearing, Judge Peter Cahill denied the Prosecution’s motion, but added he would not allow audio, video or photographs to be attached to future filings by the parties. He said the video of George Floyd’s 2019 arrest in Minneapolis “shows what basically everybody already knows: Floyd was arrested on a previous occasion.” Moreover, the Judge noted that this arrest video was potentially helpful to the prosecution and that previously he had banned evidence of Floyd’s involvement in an armed robbery in Texas before he had moved to Minneapolis.

Subsequent Developments [3]

Immediately after the hearing, Jonathan Mason, an activist with 10K Foundation, interrupted attorney Earl Gray’s interview by a reporter, to protest alleged behavior by Chauvin and to accuse the attorney of “protecting a killer.” (This Foundation’s website says, “We are helping communities preserve their freedom, justice and access to the American dream.”)

Later that same afternoon, a group of about eight protesters walked around the skyway level of the Government Center. Some were yelling, “[Expletive] Derek Chauvin.” One of them, Thomas W. Moseley, a 29-year-old from Blaine, yelled. “Kill Derek Chauvin,” and he was handcuffed, searched and taken away after deputies found a black handgun and several knives on him; he was charged with possession of a dangerous weapon, a felony.

Similar heated protests directed at the defendants and their attorneys (and damage of an attorney’s vehicle). occurred after the September 11th hearing. Thereafter these protestors’ actions were cited by one of the defendants as an additional reason (protecting the safety of the defendants and their attorneys) for transferring the case out of Hennepin County. [4]

These incidents provided additional grounds for defendants’ motions to change the venue of the cases—move them from Hennepin County District Court to another state court in a different county.

Therefore, this blog must reiterate that persons who are interested in justice for George Floyd and want the murder and manslaughter trial(s) to be held in Hennepin County, where the killing occurred, must change their tactics. Such protests merely provide evidence to the defendants’ motions to have the cases transferred to another county court in the state.

==============================

[1] Important Prosecution’s Filings in George Floyd Criminal Cases dwkcommentaries.com (Oct. 14, 2020); Media Coalition’s Opposition to State’s Motion to Restrict Access to Defendant Lane’s October 12 Filings and State’s Motion for a “Temporary” Protective Order (Oct. 15, 2020).

[2] Olson, Judge denies prosecution’s request to seal all filings in Floyd case for at least 48 hours, StarTribune (Oct. 15, 2020).

[3] Olson, n.2; Xiong, Defense Attorney in George floyd case renews call to move ex-cops’ trial after armed protester’s arrest, StarTribune (Oct. 16, 2020).

[4] See these posts and comment to dwkcommentaries.com: Results of 9/11/20 Hearing in George Floyd Criminal Cases (Sept. 12, 2020); Additional Developments in George Floyd Criminal Cases (Oct. 4, 2020); Comment: Woman Charged for Damaging Car of Defendant’s Lawyer in George Floyd Criminal Cases (Oct. 13, 2020).

Important Prosecution Filings in George Floyd Criminal Cases

On October 12, the prosecution (the State of Minnesota) filed two important documents in the George Floyd criminal cases against four ex-Minneapolis policemen—Derek Chauvin, Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao. The first is a motion to have all motions and exhibits in the case remain under seal for two business days “to permit the parties to review . . . [them] before they are made available to the public and, if necessary, to notify the Court within two business days of their intent to oppose public disclosure.” The second is the prosecution’s memorandum in support of other evidence the State intends to offer at trial. Here is a summary of those documents.

Motion To Limit Public Access to Case Materials[1]

The prosecution’s motion to limit public access to case materials was precipitated by an October 12th motion by Earl Gray, the attorney for Defendant Thomas Lane, to include in trial evidence a video from an incident on May 6, 2019, when three other police officers were attempting to have George Floyd show his hands, stop moving around and spit out something he had put in his mouth and when Floyd cried out for his “Mama” and “Don’t shoot me, man.”

Gray in his motion for admission of this evidence apparently argued that the 2019 arrest is relevant to his client’s defense because prosecutors have presented a ‘false narrative’ by portraying Floyd as a ‘law-abiding citizen that was afraid for his life.’ Instead, Gray said, “Floyd’s behavior in the earlier arrest is ‘almost an exact replica’ of how he behaved during his fatal encounter with police a year later outside Cup Foods in south Minneapolis. . . . Floyd cried, mumbled and yelled throughout his interview with the police ,” and Gray argued that‘s how Floyd behaves under ‘the influence of a pill.’”

In response to this motion by Mr. Gray, the prosecution immediately filed the motion to have all motions and exhibits in the case remain under seal for two business days “to permit the parties to review . . . [them] before they are made available to the public and, if necessary, to notify the Court within two business days of their intent to oppose public disclosure.” If any of the parties “oppose public disclosure, the court may then request briefing and set a briefing schedule on a motion opposing public disclosure.”  In support of this motion, the prosecution cited U.S. and Minnesota Supreme Court decisions supporting such a restriction, especially where there is a risk of prejudicial pretrial publicity.

This prosecution motion is opposed by the Media Coalition, which includes the StarTribune.

On October 15, Hennepin County District Court Judge, Peter Cahill, will hold a hearing on the prosecution’s motion

Arguments for Additional Evidence[2]

On October 12th the State filed a 44-page memorandum in support of additional evidence it plans to offer at the criminal trials of Derek Chauvin, Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thau.

After a short Introduction, this memorandum sets forth in 12 pages a detailed “Statement of Facts” with evidentiary citations regarding “The Events of May 25, 2020” (the day that Floyd was killed). This included the following regarding the physical restraint of Floyd on the pavement:

  • At 8:11 p.m., Kueng “and Lane handcuffed Floyd’s arms behind his back. . . From this moment on, and for all of the remaining minutes of his life, Floyd’s hands remained handcuffed.” (P.3.)
  • “At 8:19:14-45 p.m., Chauvin, Kueng, and Lane pinned Floyd to the pavement face-down.” (p. 7.)
  • At 8:23:58—8:24:00 p.m., “Floyd then said what would be his final words: ‘I can’t breathe.’ . . .He soon fell silent and lost consciousness.” (P. 9.)
  • “But even after Floyd went limp, Chauvin continued to restrain Floyd’s neck and restraining Floyd’s left hand. Kueng and Lane continued to restrain Floyd’s back and legs.” (P. 9.)
  • At 8:25:20-31 p.m., the “body camera videos appear to show that Floyd’s shallow breaths stopped.” (P. 10.)
  • At 8:25:40-8:26:00 p.m., the “officers maintained their positions—Chauvin on Floyd’s neck, Kueng on his back, Lane on his legs, and Thao standing guard.” (P. 11)
  • At 8:26:12-18 p.m., after Kueng reported he could not find a Floyd pulse and after Floyd did not respond to Chauvin’s squeezing Floyd’s fingers, “Chauvin continued to kneel on Floyd’s neck.” (P. 11.)
  • At 8:27:36-38 p.m., Chauvin “continued to press his knee into the back of Floyd’s neck.” (P. 12.)
  • At 8:27:43-50 p.m., “while emergency personnel leaned down and attempted to check Floyd’s neck for a pulse, Chauvin did not remove his knee from Floyd’s neck.” (P. 12.)
  • At 8:28:45 p.m., “when the stretcher was ready, Chauvin finally removed his knee from Floyd’s neck.” (P. 12.)
  • “All told, Floyd was pinned to the ground—with Chauvin’s knee pressing into his neck, Kueng and Lane atop his back and legs, and Thao standing watch nearby—for approximately nine minutes.” (Pp. 12-13.)

The bulk of this memorandum was the 28 pages of the “Argument” setting forth why the State’s “evidence of 18 prior incidents involving Defendants Chauvin, Kueng, and Thao” Is admissible. (Pp. 15-43.)

Conclusion

EsarlWe now wait to see what happens at the October 15th hearing and how Judge  Cahill resolves these motions. (By the way, another October 12th filing by the prosecution was a supplemental argument for enhanced sentences of these defendants.[3)

===========================

[1] State’s Motion for Order Temporarily Restricting Public Access to Motions and Exhibits, State v. Chauvin, Court file No. 27-CR-20-12646 (Hennepin County District Court Oct. 12, 2000); Olson, Prosecutors seek privacy order to keep details of George Floyd’s 2019 arrest from public view, StarTribune (Oct. 13, 2020)  Gray’s motion is not available on the public website of filings in the Lane case, but the StarTribune obtained a copy since it is a member of the Media Coalition and thus a party in an ongoing dispute over what documents are public in the case. (See Gag Order in George Floyd Murder Cases, dwkcommentaries.com (July 9, 2020); Media Coalition Asks Court To Release BodyCam Footage of George Floyd Killing, dwkcommentaries.com (July 14, 2020).)

[2] State’s Memorandum of Law in Support of Other Evidence, State v. Chauvin, Court file No. 27-CR-20-12646 (Hennepin County District Court Oct. 12, 2020); Mannix, Prosecutor: Ex-officers pinned George Floyd for 9 &1/2 minutes, including after they could not find a pulse, StarTribune (Oct. 14, 2020). See also Revised Length of Time for Minneapolis Police Restraint of George Floyd, dwkcommentaries.com (June 18, 2020).

[3] Prosecution’s Supplemental Argument for Enhanced Sentences for Defendants in George Floyd Criminal Cases, dwkcommentaries.com (Oct. 13, 2020).

Prosecution’s Supplemental Argument for Enhanced Sentences for Defendants in George Floyd Criminal Cases

On October 12, the State of Minnesota submitted additional arguments for enhanced sentences for the four former policemen in the event they are found guilty of murder and/or manslaughter in the killing of George Floyd. [1]

Background for This Submission[2]

On August 28, the State submitted its Notice of Intent To Seek an Upward Sentencing Departure in all four of these criminal cases. It alleged that Floyd was particularly vulnerable and was treated with particular cruelty by Chauvin, that Chauvin abused his position of authority, committed the crime as part of a group of three or more offenders who actively participated in the crime and in the presence of multiple children. (Similar assertions were made in notices in the other three criminal cases.)

This notice in the Chauvin case was submitted in accordance with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Blakely v. Washington, 542 U.S. 2996 (2004), which held that the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial can be violated any time the court imposes a sentence greater than that called for in the guidelines, even when the sentence imposed is below the maximum punishment permitted by the legislature.

This submission by the prosecution was argued at the September 11, 2020, hearing before Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill. Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank argued that Floyd was particularly vulnerable because he was handcuffed and pinned to the ground. Judge Cahill expressed some skepticism of this point by asking whether what happens during an encounter qualifies for this purpose.

In its Notice of Intent To Offer Other Evidence of 9/10/20, the State said it intended to offer evidence of Chauvin’s eight prior instances of use of excessive force, including use of neck and upper body restraints.  In four of those, Chauvin allegedly used them “beyond the point when such force was needed under the circumstance,” an indication of his pattern, including his restraint of Floyd.

Details of Supplemental Submission

 The supplemental submission answered “yes” to two questions posed by the Court at that hearing.

  1. “Whether the particular vulnerability of the victim justifies an upward sentencing departure when the defendants are responsible for creating the victim’s vulnerability?”

Under Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines 2.D.3.b(1), “When a defendant commits a crime against a victim who was “particularly vulnerable due to . . . reduced physical or mental capacity, and the offender knew or should have known of this vulnerability,” an upward sentencing departure is permissible.”

That standard is met in the current cases because the defendants “handcuffed Floyd’s arms behind his back, pressed him chest-down into the pavement, and rendered him unconscious. As a result, Floyd was “particularly vulnerable” when Defendants committed the crime, and Defendants knew or should have known as much.”

Moreover, the Minnesota Court of Appeals in six cited cases has “upheld the application of this enhancement where the victim became “particularly vulnerable” as a result of a defendant’s actions.”

  1. Whether a defendant’s abuse of a 27-CR-20-12646 Filed in District Court State of Minnesota 10/12/2020 3:09 PM 2 position of authority supports an upward sentencing departure even if there is not a pre-existing relationship of trust between the defendant and the victim?”

The Minnesota Supreme Court and Court of Appeals in cited cases have upheld upward sentencing departure where there are “power imbalances” even when there is no pre-existing relationship between the perpetrator and the victim “so long as the defendant holds either a’a position of trust or [a] position of authority.”

Here, “as police officers in full uniform, Defendants had a ‘defined relationship’ of authority over Floyd, and were ‘in a position to dominate and control’ him. . . . That ‘position of control” ’allowed them to handcuff and restrain Floyd, and therefore to ‘manipulate the circumstances and commit the crime.’”

Reaction to This Submission

Earl Gray, Lane’s defense attorney, said the request for an upward sentencing departure is an attempt to poison the potential pool of jurors. “They first have to get a conviction,” he said. The other defense counsel had no comments or could not be reached.

================================

[1] Supplemental Brief in Support of Notice of Intent To Seek an Upward Sentencing Departure, State v. Chauvin, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12646 (Hennepin County District Court Oct. 12, 2020); Olson, Prosecutors want stiff sentences for ex-cops charged in George Floyd’s killing, StarTribune (Oct. 13, 2020).

[2] State’s Notice of Intent To Seek an Upward Sentencing Departure, State v. Chauvin, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12646 (Hennepin County District Court Aug. 28, 2020), State’s Notice of Intent To Seek an Upward Sentencing Departure, State v. Lane, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12951 (Hennepin County District Court Aug. 28, 2020); State’s Notice of Intent To Seek an Upward Sentencing Departure, State v. Kueng, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12953(Hennepin County District Court Aug. 28, 2020); State’s Notice of Intent To Seek an Upward Sentencing Departure, State v. Thao, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12949 (Hennepin County District Court Aug. 28, 2020).  See also Preview of the 9/11/20 Hearing in George Floyd Criminal Cases, dwkcommentaries.com (Sept. 10, 2020); Results of 9/11/20 Hearing in George Floyd Criminal Cases, dwkcommentaries.com (Sept. 12, 2020).

 

Court Permits Chauvin To Live Out-of-State on Bail 

On October 8, Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill, based upon in camera evidence supporting safety concerns about Defendant Derek Chauvin, amended the conditions of his release on bail allowing him to live outside the State of Minnesota.[1]The key provisions of this Order are the following:

  • “2. Defendant shall establish residency somewhere in the State of Minnesota or a contiguous state [Wisconsin, Iowa, South Dakota and North Dakota] as soon as possible and immediately report that address to the conditional release officer (CRO)assigned by the Minnesota Department of Corrections. The CRO may share that address internally as necessary within the Minnesota Department of Corrections, and shall also share that address with the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office Court Security Division captain, prosecutors, and defense counsel. The CRO shall also share the address with the local police department and county sheriff’’ office having jurisdiction over Defendant’s residence address, with a copy of this Order and an instruction that the address be kept confidential. Anyone with knowledge of the Defendant’s residence address shall keep it confidential, except that information may be shared within agencies on a need-to-know basis.”
  • “5. Defendant shall obtain a mobile phone which is to be operational and on his person at all times. Defendant shall maintain cellular service at all times so that his CRO o other representatives of the Minnesota Department of corrections may contact him at any time. Defendant shall answer all calls from the Minnesota Department of Corrections.”
  • “6. Defendant shall sign four copies of a waiver of extradition and provide the signed original documents to the Office of the Minnesota Attorney General.”
  • “7. Defendant shall surrender any passports to his CRO as soon as possible.”
  • “8/ Any requests for warrants for conditional release violations shall be directed to the undersigned judge with copies to the prosecutors and defense counsel.”

=================================

[1]  Order Amending Conditions of Release, State v. Chauvin, Dist Ct. File 27-CR-20-12646 (Hennepin County District Court Oct.9, 2020);  Browning, City safety concern, judge lets Derek Chauvin live outside Minnesota pending his trial in killing of George Floyd, StarTribune (Oct. 9, 2020).

 

A Moving Biography of George Floyd

A moving short biography of George Floyd, based on intensive research, has been published by the Washington Post.[1] Here is a summary.

Floyd’s Ancestors

“Floyd’s great-great-grandfather, Hillery Thomas Stewart Sr., spent the first eight years of his life enslaved in North Carolina, where tobacco fields financed American dynasties — and perpetuated inequality — that endured from the 19th century until today.”

“Stewart was freed in the mid-1860s, the result of a bloody Civil War that led to the emancipation of nearly 4 million Black Americans who had toiled under a brutal system of chattel slavery.”

“Despite having no formal education — teaching enslaved people to read and write was deemed illegal by the North Carolina General Assembly in 1830 — Stewart acquired 500 acres of land by the time he reached his 20s. . . .[But] Stewart lost it all when White farmers seized the land, using legally questionable maneuvers that were common in the postwar South.” Floyd’s aunt, Angela Harrison, who has maintained certain family records, said, “The land was stolen from him. He was ‘targeted’ by White usurpers due to his relative wealth. ‘They used to call him the rich nigger.’”

“Floyd’s grandparents were North Carolina sharecroppers, working farms owned by White landowners in exchange for a portion of the crop. They too fell victim to state-sanctioned discrimination and wage theft, according to Harrelson and other family members. As they raised their 14 children — including Floyd’s mother, Larcenia — they were repeatedly forced out of the shacks they rented with their labor, and regularly cheated out of their pay.”

Although they were “unable to bequeath financial wealth to their descendants, . . .[they] passed down an ethic of hard work, a reverence for education and a deep familial bond borne out of shared perseverance. . . . Larcenia and her 12 surviving siblings all graduated from high school, a source of pride for their sharecropper parents who never attended.”

The grandparents also passed down an “unshakable fear of White exploitation, and a skepticism toward a system that had treated the family’s dark skin as a permission slip for oppression.”

Floyd’s Early Years in Houston

“Floyd was born in Fayetteville, N.C., in 1973, a time when Whites-only service at restaurants and segregated seating in movie theaters were fresh wounds.”

In 1977 his mother, a single mom, and her children moved to Houston, where they lived “in a predominantly Black Houston neighborhood where White flight, underinvestment and mass incarceration fostered a crucible of inequality.”

“In the crumbling Houston public housing complex where Floyd grew up — known as The Bricks’ — kids were accustomed to police jumping from cars to harass and detain them. His underfunded and underperforming public high school in the city’s historically Black Third Ward left him unprepared for college.”

According to his younger brother, their mother “used to always tell us that growing up in America [as a Black man], you already have two strikes. And you’re going to have to work three times as hard as everybody else, if you want to make it in this world.”

“Schools  remained deeply unequal as Floyd moved through predominantly Black classrooms in the 1980s and early 1990s. . . . By the time Floyd left high school in 1993, he wasn’t academically prepared to go to college.”

“But his athletic skills earned him a place at a two-year program in South Florida before he transferred closer to home — to Texas A&M University-Kingsville, a small, mostly Latino school known as a pipeline to the NFL. Big Floyd was always talking about going to the [NFL] league. . . . Floyd, a tight end, went to practice every day, but he wasn’t making the grades or completing the credits that would have allowed him to get on the field. . . . Floyd’s time in college ended with neither a degree nor a draft into professional sports. With his two planned routes out of Third Ward blocked, he moved back to Cuney Homes in 1997.”

Troubled Years in Houston

“It didn’t take much time before he was in trouble with the law.”

“Police . . . arrested him in August 1997 for delivering less than a gram of cocaine. A judge sentenced him to six months in jail. It was the first of at least nine arrests in Harris County over the course of a decade, mostly for low-level drug crimes or theft.”

In 2004 he also was convicted for selling less than a gram of cocaine, which now is under review because the arresting officer has been charged with regularly falsifying evidence in drug cases.

“The most serious charge that Floyd faced was in 2007, for aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon. Prosecutors said the then-33-year-old [Floyd] and four others forced their way into a private home and that Floyd had held a woman at gunpoint while others ransacked the place, looking for drugs and money. After a plea deal, Floyd would spend four years at a privately run prison nearly three hours northwest of Houston. There, he largely languished, without access to vocational training or substance abuse treatment. Once jovial and confident, Floyd left prison deflated, introspective and terrified at the prospect of being locked up again, according to family members and friends.”

“Throughout his lifetime, Floyd’s identity as a Black man exposed him to a gauntlet of injustices that derailed, diminished and ultimately destroyed him.” His life, in short, “underscores how systemic racism has calcified within many of America’s institutions, creating sharply disparate outcomes in housing, education, the economy, law enforcement and health care.”

.“Floyd spent a quarter of his adult life incarcerated, cycling through a criminal justice system that studies show unjustly targets Blacks. His longest stint was at a private prison in a predominantly White town where the jail housing mostly minority inmates generated a third of the town’s budget.”

“Floyd made many mistakes of his own doing. His choices landed him in jail on drug and robbery charges, while also leaving him without a college degree and with limited career prospects. He acknowledged many of his poor decisions and tried to warn others against making them too. But for him, each misstep further narrowed his opportunities.”

“In a video he posted on social media aimed at convincing young people in his neighborhood to put away their guns, he said, ‘I got my shortcomings and my flaws. I ain’t better than nobody else.’”

“When Floyd stumbled, he fell far, ultimately battling drugs, hypertension, claustrophobia and depression.”

Floyd’s Move to Minneapolis

In 2017, at the urging of a Houston pastor, Floyd left Houston to move to Minneapolis in an attempt to leave his troubles behind him. “After arriving in Minneapolis, he enrolled in a rehabilitation program, began training to become a commercial truck driver and took up jobs working security at the Salvation Army and a Latin nightclub.”

“Floyd kept a list of goals in his house to make sure he was living a meaningful life. ‘Staying clean,’ was one of them.”

In Spring 2020 he “contracted the coronavirus and lost his security job when the pandemic forced the nightclub to close. Over Memorial Day weekend he felt better, and on May 25th told a friend he was going to run out for cigarettes and promised to call later.

Instead he was killed.

====================================

[1] Olorunnipa & Witte, George Floyd’s America: Born with two strikes, Wash. Post (Oct.8, 2020).