The unanimous recommendation by the seven-member Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles now goes to Gov. Greg Abbott (R), who will have the final say on whether the request is granted. A spokesman for Abbott did not respond to requests for comment.
The video of Floyd’s May 2020 death beneath the knee of a Minneapolis police officer sparked a national reckoning on issues of race and policing. In the first of several cases related to Floyd’s killing, former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who knelt on Floyd’s neck and back for more than nine minutes as he begged for breath, was convicted of murder and manslaughter and sentenced in June to 22½ years in prison.
But years before his death, Floyd was arrested in his hometown of Houston for selling $10 worth of crack cocaine in a police sting. Gerald Goines, an undercover narcotics officer who made the arrest, claimed Floyd had given the drugs to an unnamed informant. Floyd initially battled the charge, but facing a 25-year sentence if the case went to trial, he later pleaded guilty and served 10 months in state prison.
Floyd was later charged and convicted with other crimes — including an aggravated robbery in 2007 when he was accused of pointing a gun at a woman during a home invasion. Floyd pleaded guilty and went to prison for four years in that case. But his family has said the 2004 arrest is what began the unraveling of his life.
Goines was later charged with two counts of first-degree murder as well as other state and federal charges for a deadly 2019 drug raid that killed a Houston couple. Prosecutors allege Goines, who led that raid, lied to obtain a search warrant by claiming a confidential informant had purchased drugs at the home and later admitted there was no informant. Goines, who was relieved of his duties by the Houston Police Department and later retired, has pleaded not guilty.
More than 160 drug convictions tied to Goines have since been dismissed by prosecutors. In April, Allison Mathis, a Harris County public defender, filed an application for a posthumous pardon for Floyd, alleging Goines had “manufactured the existence of confidential informants to bolster his cases against innocent defendants.”
The pardon request was backed by Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg, whose office charged Goines in the 2019 case and has been reviewing other drug cases involving the ex-officer. Her office had reportedly tried to contact Floyd in early 2019 to inform him that his 2004 arrest was being investigated, but the letter was mailed to Floyd’s old address in Houston. By then, he had moved to Minnesota.
“Former officer Goines is not credible,” Ogg wrote in an April letter to the parole board. “We do not support the integrity of Mr. Floyd’s conviction.”
On Monday, Ogg praised the parole board’s decision. “We lament the loss of former Houstonian George Floyd and hope that his family finds comfort in Monday’s decision,” Ogg said in a statement. “We urge Governor Abbott to follow the Board’s recommendation and grant clemency.”
Nicole DeBorde Hochglaube, an attorney for Goines, said her client had not been contacted about the proposed pardon and defended his handling of Floyd’s arrest. “There has been no new or old evidence of any kind presented by anyone that there was anything improper or wrong with the arrest for the case,” she said in an email.
It was not immediately clear how Abbott might respond. In the days after Floyd’s death, Abbott called Floyd’s death “the most horrific tragedy I’ve ever personally observed” and suggested he would lead efforts to enact reforms in a state that has grappled with several high-profile police killings.
But Abbott, who is running for reelection in 2022 and fending off potential primary challenges from conservatives who have accused him of being too moderate, said little as efforts to enact police reforms died in the state legislature. Instead, Abbott has led efforts to challenge cities that have cut the budgets of their police departments.
In Texas, requests for clemency are filed through the state Board of Pardons and Parole, a panel whose members were appointed by Abbott or his predecessor, Rick Perry (R). The panel reviews and votes on requests before sending them to the governor.
Abbott has rarely granted clemency. Since 2015, his first year in office, the parole board has approved and forwarded more than 170 requests for clemency, according to the board’s annual report, but Abbott has granted just 36 of those requests — mostly for people who have been convicted of low-level offenses.
“I can almost guarantee he will not grant this George Floyd pardon … even if it’s the right thing to do,” said Gary Udashen, a Dallas criminal defense attorney who sits on the board of the Innocence Project of Texas, which works to exonerate wrongfully convicted people. “Abbott just doesn’t believe in pardons … but he also doesn’t want that symbolism of what this might say about the criminal justice system in Texas in his Republican primary.”
On Tuesday, Ben Crump, a civil rights attorney who represents the Floyd family, called on Abbott to “act swiftly” to approve the pardon but also to enact reforms to prevent what happened to Floyd from happening to other people of color.
“This drug charge … helped to unravel his life,” Crump said in a statement. “Similarly, tens of thousands of Black lives are ruined by a criminal justice system that uses the war on drugs to target Black people, force them into felony pleas, incarcerate them, take away their voting rights, and destroy their families.”