MINNEAPOLIS — A jury on Tuesday convicted former police officer Derek Chauvin of murder and manslaughter in the death of George Floyd, nearly a year after a viral video of the Black man gasping for breath pinned beneath the White officer’s knee sent millions into the streets demanding justice and forcing a national reckoning on race and policing.
Jurors found the former Minneapolis police officer guilty of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, sending a powerful message about police violence.
Chauvin’s conviction, in a rare case without modern precedent, was called historic by Floyd’s family and legal team, who said it symbolized that justice is attainable for all Americans.
“Let’s pause for a moment to proclaim this historical moment, not just for the legacy of George Floyd, but for the legacy of America, the legacy of trying to make America for all Americans so that George Floyd’s victory and America’s quest for equal justice under the law will be intertwined,” civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who represents the Floyd family, said at a news conference after the verdict was announced. “This is a victory for those who champion humanity over inhumanity, those who champion justice over injustice, those who champion morals over immorality.”
President Biden said in remarks from the White House that the verdict could mark a “moment of significant change.” He added, “We have a chance to change the trajectory in this country.”
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, whose office oversaw Chauvin’s prosecution, praised the “bouquet of humanity” that tried to intervene at the scene on May 25 and recorded Floyd’s final moments, providing much of the evidence for the state’s case.
“They didn’t know George Floyd. They didn’t know he had a beautiful family. They didn’t know that he was a proud father or had people in his life who loved him,” Ellison said after hearing the verdict. “They stopped and they raised their voices because they knew what they were seeing was wrong. They didn’t need to be medical or use-of-force experts. They knew it was wrong, and they were right,” Ellison said.
“He changed my world. He changed our world. He changed the world,” said Floyd’s girlfriend Courteney Ross, whose heart-wrenching testimony about the couple’s struggle with opioid addiction moved some jurors to tears.
After the verdict was read, Chauvin, who had been free on bail, was immediately handcuffed and taken into custody. He faces up to 40 years in prison when he is sentenced in about eight weeks.
The jury of 12 people — six White, four Black and two multiracial — agreed with prosecutors who argued that Chauvin betrayed the badge and his training when he pressed a knee into Floyd’s neck and back for nine minutes and 29 seconds during an arrest in Minneapolis on May 25.
Much of downtown Minneapolis came to a standstill ahead of the reading of the verdict, as hundreds of office workers left the area and were replaced by throngs of people who gathered outside the Hennepin County Government Center, where the trial was held.
Inside the courtroom, Chauvin, dressed in a gray suit, wearing a blue surgical mask, sat stoically as he had for weeks — showing no visible reaction as Hennepin County District Judge Peter A. Cahill announced each verdict of guilt and then polled the jurors one by one to affirm their individual decisions.
Chauvin avoided eye contact with the jurors, even as his $1 million bail was revoked and he was handcuffed. But just before he was taken away, Chauvin briefly glanced back at Floyd’s younger brother, Philonise, who had held his hands clasped above his head in prayer as the verdicts were announced and began weeping as the man who was convicted of murder in his brother’s death was led away.
“I was just praying they would find him guilty,” Philonise Floyd said afterward. “As an African American, we usually never get justice.”
For many, the trial was about more than Chauvin’s guilt or innocence. It was a barometer of the racial change in a country where Floyd’s death sparked what many have described as a new civil rights movement. Some viewed the Chauvin trial, the highest-profile police brutality case since the 1991 beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles, as a referendum on what justice means in a country where so many police officers have been acquitted or have gone uncharged in the deaths of countless Black Americans and other people of color.
“Painfully earned justice has arrived for George Floyd’s family and the community here in Minneapolis, but today’s verdict goes far beyond this city and has significant implications for the country and even the world,” Crump said in a statement. “Justice for Black America is justice for all of America.”
The jury deliberated for about 10 hours after a three-week trial in which graphic video of Floyd’s death, captured on the cellphones of numerous bystanders and police body cameras, was played again and again. Floyd’s final moments, punctuated by his cries for breath and appeals to his dead mother, echoed throughout a socially distanced courtroom largely empty of spectators but beamed through television cameras to viewers around the world.
Nearly all the jurors said during jury selection that they had seen the still image or a video clip of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd, hands at his waist and sunglasses sitting undisturbed atop his head. But several said they had not watched the viral Facebook video in its entirety or any of the other footage. All appeared stunned and shocked at the video when it was played open court. And prosecutors used it repeatedly throughout their case, showing Floyd’s final moments from various angles as they argued that Chauvin could have lifted his knee or rendered aid to the 46-year-old man but did neither.
“Believe your eyes,” prosecutor Jerry Blackwell repeatedly told the jury of the video, from the beginning of the state’s case until the end. “It’s murder.”
Although video was the central evidence in the case against Chauvin, prosecutors called more than three dozen people to testify, including numerous eyewitnesses who delivered searing and anguished accounts of coming across the scene of Floyd being held to the ground by Chauvin and two other officers and how they tried — without success — to intervene.
Several spoke about living with trauma and guilt because they had not been able to save Floyd. Among them was Darnella Frazier, who was 17 when she pulled out her phone and began recording the now-famous video that not only challenged the initial police account of Floyd’s death but also sparked the largest sustained protests in American history.
With tears streaming down her face throughout her testimony, Frazier told the jury of the intense guilt she feels looking at her father, her brother, her cousins, and knowing “it could have been one of them” that day. “It’s been nights I stayed up apologizing and apologizing to George for not doing more and not physically interacting and not saving his life,” Frazier said, as jurors looked on with sympathetic expressions.
Fraziers said she sobbed Tuesday after jurors convicted Chauvin.
“I just cried so hard,” Frazier wrote on Facebook. “This last hour my heart was beating so fast, I was so anxious … But to know GUILTY ON ALL 3 CHARGES !!! THANK YOU GOD THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU.”
“George Floyd we did it!!” she wrote, ending her post with: “justice has been served.”
Ellison alluded to Frazier and the other bystanders-turned-documentarians, thanking “brave young women, teenagers, who pressed record on their cellphones.”
“They performed simple yet profound acts of courage,” Ellison said.
“Darnella Frazier demonstrated courage and perseverance in filming what she knew was wrong,” tweeted Pete Souza, who served as White House photographer during the Obama administration. “This verdict does not happen without her. Thank you Darnella; you have changed our country forever.”
The jurors saw Charles McMillian, a 61-year-old Black man who observed the entire encounter between Floyd and the police and tried to intervene, break down in sobs on the witness stand as he relived that day. It was through his testimony that jurors and the world at large heard Chauvin’s first and only explanation of what he was thinking when he knelt on Floyd’s neck until Floyd went limp — an exchange captured on Chauvin’s body camera as McMillian confronted him after Floyd’s lifeless body had been taken away by ambulance.
“We’ve got to control this guy because he’s a sizable guy,” Chauvin told McMillian, in the longest sentence that jurors would ultimately hear from the officer, who declined to testify in his own defense. “It looks like he’s probably on something.”
Echoing months of legal strategy in the run-up to the trial, Chauvin’s defense tried to raise doubts about whether the officer’s actions had played a role in Floyd’s death. Defense attorney Eric Nelson pressed jurors to consider the “totality of the circumstances.” He argued that Floyd died because of a combination of drugs in his system — including fentanyl and methamphetamine — and preexisting health problems, including heart disease and high blood pressure, not from the pressure of his client’s restraint.
Nelson argued that Chauvin, 45, was following department policy and his training and had acted as any “reasonable officer” would by keeping Floyd on the ground after the man had resisted being placed in a squad car.
“Derek Chauvin did exactly what he had been trained to do over his 19-year career,” Nelson told the jury. “The use of force is not attractive, but it is a necessary component of policing.”
Nelson suggested that his client was distracted and endangered by a “hostile crowd” at the scene and sought to shift blame to the mishandling of the scene by rookie officers, a delay in responding medical workers and onto Floyd himself, suggesting that his drug use and struggle with officers had caused a fatal surge of adrenaline into his already-compromised heart.
“It’s tragic,” Nelson said during closing arguments Monday.
But anticipating the defense case, prosecutors called several Minneapolis police officers to the stand, including Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, who one by one impeached Chauvin’s behavior. In a shift from other police trials, where officers have been reluctant to testify against one of their own, veteran officers, including Chauvin’s former supervisor, testified that Chauvin broke department policies on use of force, used a restraint that was unsanctioned and against training, and had violated his sworn duty as a police officer to serve and protect.
David Pleoger, a retired sergeant who was Chauvin’s supervisor the night of Floyd’s death, testified that Chauvin was not initially forthcoming about the force that had been used on Floyd, waiting until the men were standing in the emergency room where doctors were desperately trying to revive Floyd to disclose that he’d knelt on the man’s neck.
Pleoger, Arradondo and other officers testified that the use of force against Floyd, who has handcuffed and held facedown on a South Minneapolis street, should have stopped the moment he was on the ground and no longer resisting.
“Clearly, when Mr. Floyd was no longer responsive — and even motionless — to continue to apply that level of force to a person proned out, handcuffed behind their back,” Arradondo said, “that in no way, shape or form is anything that is set by policy, is not part of our training, and is certainly not part of our ethics or values.”
Jody Stiger, a longtime Los Angeles police sergeant and use-of-force expert, testified that Chauvin was “squeezing” Floyd’s fingers and pulling his wrist into his handcuffs to inflict pain on the man, a technique usually deployed by officers to gain control of suspects. But because Floyd was no longer resisting, “it was just pain,” Stiger said.
Both Stiger and Martin Tobin, a Chicago-area pulmonologist, testified that Chauvin appeared to be using most of his body weight to restrain Floyd’s neck and back and never let up — a pressure so intense that Tobin said Floyd’s left lung was rendered useless, as if it had been removed surgically.
Tobin, who at one point urged jurors to touch their own necks and throats to understand how breathing works, said the pressure of Chauvin “jamming” his knees into Floyd’s body cut off oxygen and led to brain damage within minutes, sparking an arrhythmia that caused his heart to stop — a restraint that he said would have killed any healthy person.
In a moment widely viewed as one of the most damaging to Chauvin’s defense, Tobin pointed to several seconds of footage that he said showed Floyd’s exact moment of death. “One second, he’s alive, and one second, he’s no longer,” the doctor said as he narrated a clip of a bystander’s video zoomed in to show Floyd’s face pressed into the asphalt, while the then-police officer’s knee pressed unrelentingly on his neck as Floyd slowly stopped moving. “That’s the moment the life goes out of his body.”
While Chauvin could face up to 40 years in prison, state sentencing guidelines on each murder charge suggest roughly 11 to 12 years in prison for someone with no criminal history. The manslaughter charge carries a presumptive sentence of roughly four years in prison. But prosecutors have asked for what is known as an “upward sentencing departure” or tougher sentence, citing several factors including the fact that Floyd was killed in front of children.
Chauvin’s conviction sets the stage for a trial for the other three officers charged in Floyd’s death — J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas K. Lane and Tou Thao -- who are charged with aiding and abetting murder. Prosecutors are likely to push to reinstate a third-degree murder charge against the men, which Cahill rejected in February before it was added back to Chauvin’s case. That trial is scheduled to begin Aug. 23.
Hannah Knowles contributed to this report.