The city of Minneapolis has reached settlements totaling more than $8.8 million in two civil lawsuits that accuse former police officer Derek Chauvin of using excessive force in two incidents that happened nearly three years before he killed George Floyd during an arrest.
The plaintiffs, John Pope and Zoya Code – both Black – said Chauvin restrained them on the ground with his knee on their necks, a move similar to the one he would later deploy on Floyd and which was determined be a contributing factor in his death.
Chauvin was sentenced to more than 20 years in prison for Floyd’s 2020 murder, during which the former officer knelt on the 46-year-old Black man’s neck for more than nine minutes as he cried out, “I can’t breathe.”
The Minneapolis City Council unanimously voted Thursday to approve a $7.5 million settlement in Pope’s case and a $1.375 million in Code’s case, the city said in a release.
Their lawsuits alleged that the Minneapolis Police Department’s failure to intervene in Chauvin’s pattern of excessive force ultimately led to Floyd’s killing. The two suits collectively named seven other Minneapolis police officers who were present during the arrests as defendants.
“Derek Chauvin is exactly where he should be, which is in federal prison,” Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said during a media conference on Thursday. “He should have been fired in 2017. He should have been held accountable in 2017. … If the supervisors had done the right thing, George Floyd would not have been murdered.”
Frey went on to apologize to Pope, Code and any others who have “experienced this kind of egregious conduct at the hands of Derek Chauvin.”
The attorney who represented Pope and Code, Bob Bennett, said Thursday that problem far exceeds Chauvin.
“Beware the ease of blaming Chauvin alone. While he is a blunt instrument of police brutality and racism, he could never flourish in a police agency that lived up to its mission statement,” Bennett said in a statement.
They urged people to “focus instead on the MPD rank and file who supported Chauvin with their unquestioning obedience, failure to intervene to stop his heinous acts, and their failure to report them per policy and human conscience.”
Minneapolis Police Chief Brian O’Hara apologized Thursday to Pope and Code and called Chauvin “a national embarrassment to the policing profession.”
“This is an example of the cancer that has infected this department,” O’Hara said. “Today is not a day for excuses or attempts at justification. The notion that we are dealing with the bad actions of one employee is false. We are dealing with the ugly consequences stemming from a systemic failure within the Minneapolis Police Department that has allowed for, and at times encouraged, unjust and brutal policing.”
The US Department of Justice launched a federal civil investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department’s practices in April 2021.
CNN has attempted to reach out to Chauvin’s attorney for comment.
Code encountered Chauvin on June 25, 2017, when he and another officer responded to a call in which Code’s mother reported her daughter assaulted her, the lawsuit states.
While in the home, the officers forced Code to the ground and handcuffed her “without incident,” according to the lawsuit. Chauvin then carried her out of the house by her arms, which were handcuffed behind her back, it says.
“Outside the residence, Defendant Chauvin gratuitously slammed Zoya’s unprotected head on the ground. Then he immediately took his signature pose, kneeing on the back of Zoya’s neck,” the lawsuit states. The city said in its Thursday release that Chauvin knelt on her for several minutes, even after she had been restrained by a hobble.
Chauvin later lied about the encounter in his police report and “left out critical information about the interaction,” the city said.
Code’s experience was “strikingly similar” to that of Pope, who was 14 years old at the time of his September 4, 2017 arrest, their attorneys said.
While responding to a domestic dispute call, Chauvin repeatedly struck Pope in the head with a metal flashlight and pinned him to the floor with his knee on Pope’s upper back and neck for more than 15 minutes, the lawsuit states.
“Many significant details in the officers’ reports are not consistent with what happened,” during their interaction with Pope that day, the city said.
That encounter led to a federal civil rights indictment against Chauvin, who pleaded guilty to all charges in December 2021, admitting to using “unreasonable and excessive force.”