On May 31, 2022, Derek Chauvin, the City of Minneapolis and certain other Minneapolis police officers were sued in two federal court cases for compensatory and punitive damages for Chauvin’s alleged use of excessive force in 2017.
John Pope Case
In September 2017, John Pope, then 14 years old, alleges that he was alone in his bedroom on the floor using his cellphone when two Minneapolis police officers came into his room and said he was under arrest. When Pope asked why, one of the officers hit him on the head with a flashlight and choked him until he passed out. When he woke up, one of the officers had his knee on the back of Pope’s neck, and Pope asked the officer to move his knee to Pope’s lower back to help him breathe. The officer responded, “Are you going to flounce around,” before he moved his knee. At the time, Pope did not know the name of the officer, but after seeing photos of Chauvin after the killing of George Floyd, Pope believed that Chauvin was the officer in the encounter.
Thereafter Pope, now a soft-spoken bank supervisor and college student studying criminal justice, retained attorneys who investigated the case and with the aid of body-worn camera footage determined the following:
- “That night Chauvin was acting as a field-training officer for officer Alexander Walls when the two responded to a domestic assault call at 8:45 p.m. to Pope’s home on the 5700 block of Chicago Avenue S. Pope was there with his sister and his mother, Deanna Jenkins.”
- “Upon arrival, the officers called in a ‘Code 4,’ meaning the situation was under control and no assistance was needed. But Jenkins, who was obviously drunk, the lawsuit said, told Chauvin and Walls she wanted Pope and his sister arrested for using electricity to charge their phones.”
- Jenkins “claimed Pope had grabbed her from behind, and with Chauvin watching, she filled out domestic assault paperwork.” The officers then went to talk to Pope in his bedroom, according to the lawsuit.
- “The lawsuit said Chauvin held him down for 15 minutes while Pope was ‘completely subdued and not resisting,’ but crying out that he couldn’t breathe. Citing body-camera footage, the lawsuit said Jenkins asked Chauvin eight times to get off of Pope.”
- “At least eight officers, including Walls and five others named in the lawsuit, saw Chauvin kneeling on an unmoving Pope but did nothing to stop the restraint. Chauvin was still on Pope when paramedics showed up, the lawsuit said.”
- “Pope was taken to the hospital for stitches and then the Juvenile Justice Center where he was charged with fifth-degree domestic assault, a misdemeanor, and obstructing the legal process, a gross misdemeanor, but the charges were quickly dropped.”
In addition, the lawsuit alleges that the “kneeing maneuver” Chauvin used on Pope, Floyd and “likely many others” was Chauvin’s “calling card” despite officers knowing it posed serious risk of injury and death from positional asphyxia and that the MPD culture “encourages and enables racist, predatory police officers and unconstitutional force practices.”
Moreover, according to the lawsuit, “Chauvin’s treatment of Pope and [Zoya] Code [the plaintiff in the other new case] was available to MPD supervisors because the city maintains electronic storage of all body-worn camera footage through evidence.com. ‘But the city buried its head in the sand regarding such evidence or even worse, reviewed it and did nothing, in either case continuing to condone such actions by officers.’”
As a result, says the lawsuit, “Chauvin and six other officers violated . . . [Pope’s] constitutional right to be free from excessive force” and “that rather than discipline Chauvin for his treatment of Pope, the officer was “‘left free to prowl for more Black persons to subjugate and torture.’”
More specifically, the Complaint asserts the following claims:
- Count I: Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment Violations against Chauvin individually for compensatory and punitive damages plus costs, including reasonable attorneys’ fees.
- Count II: Race Discrimination—Fourteenth Amendment Violation against Chauvin individually for compensatory and punitive damages plus costs, including reasonable attorneys’ fees.
- Count III: Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment Violations against six other officers individually for compensatory and punitive damages plus costs, including reasonable attorneys’ fees.
- Count IV: Civil Rights Violations (Monell v. Dept. of Social Services) against the City of Minneapolis for compensatory damages plus costs, including reasonable attorneys’ fees.
- Count V: Violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 against the City of Minneapolis for compensatory damages plus costs, including reasonable attorneys’ fees.
Zoya Code Case
Code, a 39-year-old mother of five alleges that in 2017 Chauvin held his knee on her back and traumatized her. She said, “I didn’t know his name. All I knew was he was a police officer with Minneapolis Police Department. I didn’t know what precinct he was at. All I knew was his face. [Chauvin] haunted me until I seen him on top of George [Floyd].” The legal bases for the five counts of this Complaint and the claimed relief are the same as the Complaint by Mr. Pope, except the latter’s Count III is only against one other officer.
Mr. Pope and Ms. Code are represented by the prestigious Minneapolis law firm of Robins Kaplan LLP and three of its partners (Robert Bennett, Andrew Noel and Kathryn Bennett) along with Counsel Marc E. Betinsky and Associate Greta Wiessner.
The skills of these attorneys are demonstrated by the obviously well researched and written complaints. They are ready for battle if that is needed.
City of Minneapolis’ Reactions
In a statement, Minneapolis City Attorney Peter Ginder called the accounts of Pope and Code “disturbing. “We intend to move forward in negotiations with the Plaintiffs on these two matters and hope we can reach a reasonable settlement. If a settlement cannot be reached on one or both lawsuits, the disputes will have to be resolved through the normal course of litigation.”
 Complaint, Pope v. Chauvin, U.S. Dist. Ct., D. MN, No.0:22-cv-01434 (May 31, 2022); Olson & Robiou, Chauvin, Minneapolis police named in two federal excessive-force lawsuits dating to 2017, involving teenager, woman, StarTribune (May 31, 2022); Vancleave, [Videotape]: Minneapolis teen recalls violent arrest by Derek Chauvin years before George Floyd, StarTribune (May 31, 2022).
 Complaint, Code v. Chauvin, U.S. Dist. Ct., D. MN, No. 0:22-cv-01438 (May 31, 2022); Olson & Robiou, Chauvin, Minneapolis police named in two federal excessive-force lawsuits dating to 2017, involving teenager, woman, StarTribune (May 31, 2022).