Derek Chauvin admits violating George Floyd’s civil rights

Derek Chauvin admits violating George Floyd’s civil rights
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Gareth Milner

By Gareth Milner

Published: 15/12/2021

- 15:53

Updated: 14/02/2023

- 11:45

Chauvin’s plea on Wednesday means he will not face a federal trial in January, though he could end up spending more years behind bars when a judge sentences him at a later date.

Former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin has pleaded guilty to federal charges of violating George Floyd’s civil rights.

Chauvin’s plea on Wednesday means he will not face a federal trial in January, though he could end up spending more years behind bars when a judge sentences him at a later date.

Chauvin appeared in person Wednesday for the change of plea hearing in an orange short-sleeve prison shirt. He said “Guilty, your honour” to confirm his pleas.

Federal prosecutors recommended up to 300 months, or 25 years, in prison. A judge will determine his sentence later, but a 25-year federal sentence would likely extend Chauvin’s time behind bars by about six years if he earns credit for good behaviour.

Judge Paul Magnuson did not set a date for sentencing.

Chauvin, who is white, is charged with two counts of depriving Floyd of his rights for pinning his knee against Floyd’s neck as the Black man said he could not breathe and for failing to provide medical care to Floyd during a May 25 2020, arrest that resulted in Floyd’s death.

Chauvin has already been convicted of state murder and manslaughter charges and is serving a sentence of 22 1/2 years.

In Minnesota, defendants with good behaviour serve two-thirds of their sentence in prison, and the remaining one-third on supervised release, also known as parole.

Under that formula, he is expected to serve 15 years in prison on the state charges, and 7 1/2 years on parole.

Under sentencing guidelines, Chauvin could get a federal penalty ranging from 27 years to more than 33 years in prison, with credit for taking responsibility, said Mark Osler, a professor at the University of St Thomas School of Law.

But the guidelines are not mandatory, and Osler estimated Chauvin would be sentenced toward the lower end of the range.

He faces two more counts in a separate case involving the restraint of a Black teenager in 2017. Prosecutors filed a document on Wednesday combining the 2017 case with the Floyd case, suggesting Chauvin was ready to plead guilty in that case as well.

Floyd’s arrest and death, which a bystander captured on video, sparked mass protests nationwide that called for an end to racial inequality and police mistreatment of Black people.

Chauvin and three other former officers: Thomas Lane, J Kueng and Tou Thao; were indicted earlier this year on federal charges alleging they wilfully violated Floyd’s rights.

A federal trial for the other three men still appears to be scheduled for January.

To bring federal charges in deaths involving police, prosecutors must believe an officer acted under the “colour of law”, or government authority, and wilfully deprived someone of their constitutional rights. That is a high legal standard.

An accident, bad judgment or simple negligence on the officer’s part is not enough to support federal charges. Prosecutors have to prove the officer knew what he was doing was wrong in that moment but did it anyway.

According to evidence in the state case against Chauvin, Kueng and Lane helped restrain the 46-year-old Floyd as he was on the ground — Kueng knelt on Floyd’s back and Lane held down Floyd’s legs.

Thao held back bystanders and kept them from intervening during the 9 1/2-minute restraint.

All four former officers were charged broadly in federal court with depriving Floyd of his rights while acting under government authority, but the federal indictment broke down the counts even further.

The first count against Chauvin alleges he violated Floyd’s right to be free from unreasonable seizure and unreasonable force by a police officer when he kept his knee on Floyd’s neck, even after Floyd was unresponsive.

The second count alleges Chauvin willfully deprived Floyd of liberty without due process, including the right to be free from “deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs”.

In the 2017 case involving the then-14-year-old boy, Chauvin is charged with depriving the boy, who was handcuffed and not resisting, of his right to be free of unreasonable force when he held him by the throat, hit him in the head with a flashlight and held his knee on the boy’s neck and upper back while he was in a prone position.

According to a police report from that 2017 encounter, Chauvin wrote that the teen resisted arrest and after the teen, whom he described as 6ft 2in and about 17st, was handcuffed, Chauvin “used body weight to pin” him to the floor. The boy was bleeding from the ear and needed two stitches.

That encounter was one of several mentioned in state court filings that prosecutors said showed Chauvin had used neck or head and upper body restraints seven times before dating back to 2014, including four times state prosecutors said he went too far and held the restraints “beyond the point when such force was needed under the circumstances”.

The other three former officers are still expected to go to trial on federal charges in January, and they face state trial on aiding and abetting counts in March.

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