A jury has found former police officer Derek Chauvin guilty of murder over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last year. Shortly after the verdict was revealed, it was announced that a sweeping investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department would be carried out by the US Justice Department.
45-year-old Chauvin was filmed kneeling on African-American Floyd’s neck for almost ten minutes during his arrest last May. Footage of the incident went viral and sparked worldwide protests against racism and excessive use of police force.
Chauvin was found guilty by the jury on three charges: second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter. The former officer’s bail was revoked immediately and he was placed in custody. Sentencing is likely to happen within two months, and Chauvin is facing the prospect of decades in jail.
“Like so many of you, I have closely watched the events in Minnesota. Although the state’s prosecution was successful, I know that nothing can fill the void that the loved ones of George Floyd have felt since his death,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said during a speech following Chauvin’s verdict.
“My heart goes out to them and to all those who have experienced similar loss. I know such wounds have deep roots and that too many communities have experienced those wounds first-hand. Yesterday’s verdict in the state criminal trial does not address potentially systemic policing issues in Minneapolis.
“Today, I am announcing that the Justice Department has opened a civil investigation to determine whether the Minneapolis Police Department engages in a pattern or practice of unconstitutional or unlawful policing,” Garland announced.
“This effort will be staffed by experienced attorneys and other personnel from the Justice Department Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Minnesota. The new civil investigation is separate from, and independent of, the federal criminal investigation into the death of George Floyd that the Justice Department has previously announced.
“Congress gave the department the authority to conduct civil pattern-or-practice investigations, which looked beyond individual incidents to assess systemic failures. Those investigations allow the department to determine whether a police department has a pattern-or-practice of unconstitutional or unlawful policing. The investigation I am announcing today will assess whether the Minneapolis Police Department engages in a pattern-or-practice of using excessive force, including during protests.”
The Justice Department’s investigation will seek to determine whether Minneapolis police routinely use excessive force or treat minorities unfairly. It will also examine police training and accountability practices, among other issues.
The Minneapolis police force has long been subject to accusations of racism. According to police data, black residents are more likely to be pulled over, arrested or roughed up than white residents. Black people, who account for 20 percent of the city’s population, made up more than 60 percent of the victims in city police shootings from late 2009 through May 2019.
In Minnesota, second-degree murder carries a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison, while third-degree murder is punishable by a maximum of 25 years in prison and second-degree manslaughter is punishable by up to 10 years in prison. It is expected that Chauvin will appeal against the verdict delivered this week.
Police officers in the US have rarely been charged or convicted for deaths that occur in custody, with the verdict in this trial being widely regarded as a positive indication of how the legal system will treat such cases in the future.
Three other officers are due to face trial later this year, each facing aiding-and-abetting charges for actions on duty.
“Broad participation in this investigation from the community and from law enforcement will be vital to its success. The Justice Department has already begun to reach out to community groups and members of the public to learn about their experiences with the MPD,” Garland continued during his speech announcing the investigation into Minneapolis police.
“We also seek to hear from the department’s officers about the training and support they receive, because their perspective is essential. All these voices will help provide investigators the information they need to conduct a comprehensive assessment. All these voices will be critical to the reform efforts that will follow if the investigation determines the existence of constitutional or statutory violations.
“Most of our nation’s law enforcement officers do their difficult jobs honorably and lawfully. I strongly believe that good officers do not want to work in systems that allow bad practices. Good officers welcome accountability because accountability is an essential part of building trust with the community and public safety requires public trust.
“The challenges we face are deeply woven into our history, they did not arise today or last year. Building trust between community and law enforcement will take time and effort by all of us, but we undertake this task with determination and urgency, knowing that change cannot wait.”