Federal Criminal Case Over George Floyd Killing: Requests To Sever Chauvin Case from Three Co-Defendants Case 

On April 20, 2021, the  first criminal trial over the killing of George Floyd resulted in a Minnesota state court jury verdict holding former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin guilty on counts of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.  On June 25, 2021, Minnesota District Court Judge Peter Cahill sentenced Chauvin to 22.5 years imprisonment for these crimes. [1]

Since then the Minnesota state court has handled various issues relating to the Chauvin conviction and sentencing while also preparing for the criminal trial in March 2022 of the other three former Minneapolis police officers involved in the killing of Mr. Floyd (J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao).[2]

Federal Criminal Cases Over the Killing of George Floyd[3]

In the meantime, on May 6, 2021, the U.S. Department of Justice filed in the U.S. District Court in Minneapolis an indictment against Chauvin and these other three former Minneapolis police officers. These were the charges:

  • Count 1 charged Derek Chauvin, “while acting under color of law . . . willfully deprived George Floyd of the right, secured and protected by the Constitution and laws of the United States, to be free from an unreasonable seizure, which includes the right to be free from the use of unreasonable force by a police officer.”
  • Count 2 charged Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng, “acting under color of law, willfully deprived George Floyd of the right, secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States, to be free from an unreasonable seizure . . . [by failing] to intervene to stop . . . Chauvin’s use of unreasonable force.”
  • Count 3 charged all four defendants, “while acting under color of law, willfully deprived George Floyd of the right, secured and protected by the Constitution and laws of the United States, not to be deprived of liberty without due process of law, which includes an arrestee’s right to be free from a police officer’s deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs [when they saw ] George Floyd lying on the ground in clear need of medical care, and willfully failed to aid Floyd, thereby acting with deliberate indifference to a substantial risk of harm to Floyd.”

Also on May 6, 2021, the Department of Justice filed in the federal court in Minneapolis another indictment of Chauvin for alleged use of unreasonable force against a juvenile in 2017. But the other three former Minneapolis policemen were not involved in this case.

Motions To Sever the Federal Chauvin Case from That Case Against the Other Three Ex-Cops[4]

As of August 4, 2021, the docket sheet for the federal case over the killing of Mr. Floyd had 104 entries, almost all of which are preliminary matters not requiring comments here.

However, on August 3, defendants Thao, Kueng and Lane filed motions to sever their cases from the one against Chauvin, Thao’s motion had the following most extensive statement pf reasons for severance:

  1. The defendants were “not properly joined under Rule 8(b) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure,” which allows charging “2 or more defendants if they are alleged to have participated in the same act or transaction, or in the same series of acts or transactions, constituting an offense or offenses.”
  2. “The jury will have insurmountable difficulty distinguishing the alleged acts of each defendant from the alleged acts of his co-defendants.”
  3. ”Evidence may be introduced by each defendant which would be inadmissible against other defendants in a separate trial to the prejudice of these defendants.”
  4. “The counts of the indictment are not properly joined under Rule 8(a) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure,which allows charging “a defendant in separate counts with 2 or more offenses if the offenses charged—whether felonies or misdemeanors or both—are of the same or similar character, or are based on the same act or transaction, or are connected with or constitute parts of a common scheme or plan.”
  5. “Mr. Thao’s Fifth Amendment right to not incriminate himself will be prejudiced by the joinder of the counts.”
  6. “Evidence which would be inadmissible were the counts tried separately, may be admitted and considered by the jury to the prejudice of Mr. Thao.”
  7. “The jury will have insurmountable difficult distinguishing evidence presented on one count from that evidence presented on other counts, and will inevitably consider the evidence cumulatively.”
  8. “Mr. Thao will obtain a fair and more impartial Trial [if] he is tried separately from his co-defendants.”

As other filings however, make clear, the U.S. opposes the severance motions but agrees to abide by any order the Court may issue on these motions. However, “a decision on severance is pre-mature,” and all parties “jointly ask that [these] motions[s] be reserved until a point in the future when information relevant to severance of Mr. Chauvin becomes more developed.[5]

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[1] Derek Chauvin Trial: Week Seven (CONVICTION), dwkcommenbtaries.com (April 21, 2021); Derek Chauvin Trial: Chauvin Sentenced to 22.5 Years Imprisonment, dwkcommentaries.com (June 28, 2021).

[2] Xiong, State trial postponed to March 2022 for ex-officers charged with aiding and abetting murder in George Floyd death, StarTribune (May 13, 2021);  Bailey, Trial for 3 former officers charged in George Floyd murder delayed until March, Wash. Post (May 13, 2021); Furber, Judge Delays Trial for Other Officers Charged in Killing of George Floyd, N.Y. Times (May 13, 2021).

[3] Federal Court Charges Against Ex-Minneapolis Policemen Over George Floyd’s Killing, dwkcommentaries.com (May 7, 2021); Federal Criminal Cases Against Ex-Minneapolis Copes for George Floyd Death: Initial Proceedings, dwkcommentaries.com (June 2, 2021).

[4] Forliti (AP), Ex-cops charged in Floyd death want separation from Chauvin, StarTribune (Aug. 3, (2021); Xiong, Former Minneapolis officers request separate federal trial from Derek Chauvin, StarTribune (Aug. 3, 2021); Motion for Severance. United Sates v. Thao, U.S. Dist. Ct., Dist. Minn. File No. 21-CR-108(2) (Aug. 3, 2021); Defendant’s Pretrial Motion for Severance of Derek Chauvin (Defendant 1), U.S. v. Kueng, U.S. Dist. Ct., Dist. Minn. File No. 21-CR-108(2) (Aug. 3, 2021); Motion To Join Co-Defendants Pretrial Motions, U.S. v. Lane, U.S. Dist. Ct., Dist. Minn. File No. 21-CR-108 (Aug. 3, 2021).

[5] Defendant’s Meet and Confer Notice, U.S. v. Kueng, U.S. Dist. Ct., Dist. Minn. File No. 21-CR-108(2) Aug. 3, 2021.See generally List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: George Floyd Killing.

Derek Chauvin Trial: Arguments About Sentencing of Chauvin

On June 2, the State and Derek Chauvin submitted vastly different briefs about the appropriate sentence for his conviction for second- and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The State argued for 30 years imprisonment while Chauvin asked for time already served and probation. [1]

The State’s Argument for 30 Year Sentence  [2]

The State’s argument for a 30-year sentence was based upon the trial court’s already having decided that there are “beyond a reasonable doubt” four separate aggravating factors in  Chauvin’s] killing of George Floyd: () Chauvin “abused a position of trust and authority” as a police officer; (2) he “treated George Floyd “with particular cruelty;” (3) Chauvin “acted in concert with three other  .. . [officers], who all actively participated in the creimes;” and (4) children were present when Floyd was pinned to the pavement at 38th and Chicago for more than 9 minutes until he died. (Pp. 1-2.)

In reliance upon Minnesota Supreme Court decisions, the State argued that “each of these factors supplies a “substantial and compelling reason’ for imposing an aggravated sentence” and that “where one or more aggravating factors are present, the district court can impose a sentence up to ‘double the upper limit of the presumptive range.’” This is especially true in this case when the court has concluded that Chauvin’s abuse of his position of trust and authority was “egregious and that multiple aspects of his conduct were ‘particularly cruel.” (Pp. 1-2.)

Here, the “presumptive sentencing range . . . [for Chauvin’s] conviction for . . . second-degree unintentional murder, [which is the  most serious of the crimes for which Chauvin was convicted] is 128 to 180 months. The State therefore respectfully request that the court sentence . . . [Chauvin] to 360 months, or 30 years, in prison.” (P. 3.)

In addition, the State took no position “at this time” on the recommendation in the pre-sentence investigation report that Chauvin pay restitution in an amount to be determined by the Court, but reserved the right to address restitution at the sentencing hearing or thereafter. (P. 21, footnote 7.).

Chauvin’s Argument for Mitigated Departure  and Sentencing [3]

First, Chauvin argued for a discretionary downward departure and a sentence for a “stringent probationary term.” This departure purportedly was justified by the following alleged facts (pp. 4-10):

  • Chauvin was 44 years old at the time of his encounter with George Floyd and his having led “a hard-working, law-abiding life . . .[his not having experienced] a legal issue,  [his still having] the ability to positively affect his family and his community” and the likelihood as a former police officer of his  “becoming a target in prison” by other inmates.
  • “Chauvin has a criminal history of zero [with] no previous convictions for felony, gross misdemeanor, or misdemeanor offenses.” Moreover, “prior to his conviction, [he] complied with all the terms of the Court’s release orders and made every court appearance.”
  • ”Chauvin has been very respectful of the judicial process, the Court, and the State;” upon learning that a complaint and warrant had been issued for him, he turned himself into custody; [after being released on bail, he] remained out-of-custody, attended all court appearances, was never unruly, was properly dressed for court, and was deferential to the Court under all circumstances.” He thereby “established that he is particularly amenable to probation.”
  • Before “this incident” occurred, Chauvin was an average man with a loving family and close friends, and he still has such close relationships. “He has the support of his mother, stepfather, father, stepmother, and sister [and his] ex-wife, her family and his former stepchildren.”
  • Chauvin has demonstrated that he is amenable to probation and will be an asset to the community.

Second, these same alleged facts also support Chauvin’s alternative request for a  durational  downward departure for his sentence as do the following additional factors (Pp. 10-12):

  • “Chauvin was unaware that he was even committing a crime.[ Instead,] in his mind, he was simply performing his lawful duty in assisting other officers in the arrest of George Floyd.” Chauvin’s “offense is best described as an error made in good faith reliance [on] his experience as a police officer and the training he had received—not intentional commission of an illegal act.”
  • Chauvin did not use “a dangerous weapon” and “did not intend to cause George Floyd’s death.”

Third, Chauvin argued that an aggravated upward departure was unwarranted for the following reasons (pp. 12-16):

  • “There is no evidence that the assault perpetrated by Mr. Chauvin against Mr. Floyd involved a gratuitous infliction of pain or cruelty not usually associated with the commission of such an offense.” This assault “occurred in the course of a very short time, involved no threats or taunting, such as putting a gun to his head and pulling the trigger. . . and ended when EMS finally responded to officers’’ calls.”
  • The officers twice called for medical assistance and Chauvin remained on scene until it arrived.
  • “The defense is aware of no caselaw in Minnesota . . in which a peace officer’s position has been considered an aggravating factor for an upward departure in sentencing.”
  • None of the codefendants has been convicted of a crime related to the crimes of which Chauvin has been convicted.
  • “The defense is unaware of any case in Minnesota in which the presence of children factor has been considered in a bystander-witness situation where the children, themselves, were not placed in danger.”

Conclusion

 The State’s argument for a 30-year sentence was persuasive, given the court’s prior determination that there were four factors favoring upward sentencing departure.

Chauvin’s argument, on the other hand, was ridiculous in claiming the right to probation or downward departure in the length of any sentenced imprisonment, given the trial record and his conviction of all three counts by a jury.  Here are some additional reasons for that reaction.

First, Chauvin did not testify at trial, and there were no purported evidentiary bases asserted for his sentencing argument.

Second, many people who were interviewed about Chauvin by the New York Times said Chauvin “did his job as if he were playing a role—a tough Dirty Harry on the lookout for bad guys … [and] seemed to operate at an emotional distance from those around him. [He] was a quiet and rigid workaholic with poor people skills and a tendency to overreact—with intoxicated people especially .” [4]

Third, Chauvin ‘s record as a MPD policeman for 19 years includes 22 complaints that many people believe should have raised alarm in the MPD and triggered a general review.[5]

Fourth, In the state criminal case, in which the jury concluded that Chauvin was guilty of all three charges—second- and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter–the prosecution requested court permission for admitting into evidence eight of the previous MPD complaints against Chauvin for his actions as a policeman, and the court granted permission for evidence of one such incident on June 25, 2017 and provisional permission for another on August 25, 2015 if there was “clear and convincing evidence that Chauvin was present when a medical professional made certain remarks.” [6]

Fifth, the previously mentioned June 25, 2017 MPD complaint against Chauvin recently has been asserted in a separate federal grand jury indictment of Chauvin in the Minneapolis federal court. It alleges that in this instance Chauvin deprived a 14-year-old boy of his civil rights by pinning him down, striking him on the head with Chauvin’s flashlight and grabbing him by the throat and hitting him again.[7]

Sixth, another troublesome Chauvin incident that took place only three weeks before the killing of George Floyd was his takedown of another Black man (Adrian Drakeford) in a manner very similar to the takedown of Floyd that was videotaped by the man’s brother. Drakeford was not involved in any suspected crime and was released without charges and without any complaint against Chauvin and his colleagues (J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane). [8]

Seventh, the Floyd family’s complaint in a federal-court civil lawsuit for money damages against the City of Minneapolis, Chauvin (and his three colleagues) alleged that Chauvin was the subject of 17 citizen complaints from 2006 to 2015, that Chauvin as a policeman participated in the shooting and killing of three individuals and in 2005 engaged in a reckless police chase resulting in the deaths of three individuals. On March 12, 2021, in the midst of the state court trial of Chauvin, the City of Minneapolis announced its agreement to settle this case with a payment of $27 million to the Floyd family.[9]

Eighth, only a few days after Mr. Floyd’s death, Chauvin and his then-wife reached an agreement for divorce that would transfer the bulk of his assets to her and thereby presumably protect those assets from any attempt by the Floyd family to seize them to collect a future money judgment against Chauvin.  However, a Minnesota state court found that divorce agreement to be fraudulent and that the court subsequently subsequently approved that agreement only after there were major changes. This interpretation of the proposed divorce agreement is also supported by Chauvin’s claim in his sentencing brief that he “is still supported by his ex-wife, her family, and his former stepchildren.”([10]

Ninth, Chauvin and his-then wife in July 2020 were charged with criminal tax fraud by the State of Minnesota for failure to report over $460,000 of Minnesota income since 2014 resulting in illegal failure to pay over $20,000 of Minnesota taxes. [11]

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[1] Xiong, Chauvin attorney argues for probation instead of prison time for George Floyd murder, StarTribune (June 2, 2021); Forliti (AP), State seeks 30 years for Chauvin; defense want time served, Wash. Post (June 2, 2021).

[2] State’s Memorandum of Law on Sentencing, State v. Chauvin, Hennepin County District Court File No.: 27-CR-20-12646 (June 2, 2021); Derek Chauvin Trial: Court Finds Aggravating Factors for Sentencing, dwkcommentaries.com (May 12, 2021).

[3] Defendant’s Motions for Mitigated Departure and Sentencing Memorandum, State v. Chauvin, Hennepin County District Court File No.: 27-CR-20-12646 (June 2, 2021).

[4]  See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Ex-Cop Derek Chauvin: An Enigma in Blue (Aug. 9, 2020); Derek Chauvin’s Policing Background (July 20, 2021); Comment: Journalist’s Report on Derek Chauvin’s Prior Instances of Alleged Abuses (Feb. 2, 2021); https://dwkcommentaries.com/2020/07/20/derek-chauvins-policing-background/Comment: Video of Another Chauvin-Led Takedown of Black Man (Feb. 9, 2021).

[5]  See n. 4.

[6] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Evidentiary Rulings and Request for Delay in Chauvin’s Expert Report in George Floyd Criminal Cases (Jan. 26, 2021); Comment: Journalist’s Report on Derek Chauvin’s Prior Incidents of Alleged Abuses (Feb. 2, 2021).

[7] Federal Court Charges Against Ex-Minneapolis Policemen Over George Floyd’s Killing, dwkcommentaries.com (May 7, 2021).

[8]  Comment: Video of Another Chauvin-Led Takedown of Black Man, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 3, 2021).

[9]  See thees posts to dwkcommentaries.com: George Floyd Family’s Complaint Against the Four Ex-Police Officers Over His Death, (July 17, 2020); Derek Chauvin Trial: Week One, (Mar. 15, 2021); Derek Chauvin Trial: Week Two, (Mar. 21, 2021).

[10] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Derek Chauvin’s Wife’s Divorce Petition Raises Questions, (July 8, 2020);  State Court Rejects Chauvin Divorce Settlement,(Nov. 20, 2020); Complications in Derek Chauvin’s Divorce Case,(January 20, 2021); Comment: Court Approves Redacted Chauvin Divorce Agreement, (Feb. 4, 2021)

[11]  Chauvin and Wife Now Charged with Minnesota Tax Crimes, dwkcommentaries.com (July 22, 2020).