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Prosecutors allege former Minneapolis officer used neck restraint in several other cases before George Floyd’s death

Protesters gather outside the Hennepin County courthouse on Friday in Minneapolis, where the four former officers charged in George Floyd’s death appeared for pretrial hearings. (Kerem Yucel/AFP/Getty Images)
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MINNEAPOLIS — Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who held his knee at George Floyd's throat for over nine minutes and is now charged with murder, allegedly used a similar neck restraint at least four other times, including during a 2019 arrest in which a male suspect was "rendered unconscious" because of the tactic, according to prosecutors.

That episode was listed in a new court filing as one of eight cases from Chauvin’s 19-year history on the Minneapolis force that prosecutors say they plan to cite as evidence of a pattern of excessive force, including at least four times Chauvin allegedly restrained suspects “beyond the point when such force was needed.”

Eric Nelson, Chauvin’s attorney, declined to comment.

The filing came as Chauvin made his first in-person court appearance in the Floyd murder case, joining the three other former police officers implicated in the 46-year-old Black man’s death. A county judge heard arguments on several central issues in the case, including whether the officers should be tried together or separately and if the trial should be moved out of the city.

Attorneys for the former officers have filed motions seeking to move the case out of the region, arguing that it will be impossible to have a fair jury in Hennepin County because of pretrial publicity. On Friday, several of the attorneys said the threat of civil unrest could scare potential jurors into rendering guilty verdicts to avoid the kind of destructive anti-police protests that raged across the Twin Cities in the days after Floyd’s death.

“Cities have been ablaze as a result of this case,” said Robert Paule, an attorney for former officer Tou Thao. “If I was a juror, I would be very worried about that.”

A short while later, the three former officers who are out on bail — Thao, Thomas K. Lane and J. Alexander Kueng — were surrounded and pursued by angry protesters as they left the courthouse and walked down a street that had been closed to traffic for security reasons. “Murderers!” some yelled.

Prosecutors on Friday revealed during the hearing that they had filed new allegations listing eight use-of-force incidents that they plan to introduce as evidence in the trial against Chauvin. The incidents date to 2014.

Judge Peter A. Cahill, who is overseeing the trial, mildly scolded prosecutors for filing the notice so close to the hearing, which limited defense attorneys in their ability to respond.

Though Minneapolis police officials have repeatedly said Chauvin was using a restraint technique in violation of department rules, Nelson has filed materials with the court that included training manuals with photos demonstrating a knee-on-neck hold similar to the one Chauvin used on Floyd.

“Mr. Chauvin did exactly as he was trained to do,” Nelson wrote in earlier court filings.

The prosecutors’ filing Friday listed summaries taken from a Minneapolis police database that tracks use-of-force incidents, prosecutors said. The filing did not include full police reports. Minneapolis police officials have said at least 17 disciplinary complaints were filed against Chauvin while he was an officer, but it was unclear if they include any of these newly disclosed events.

Two of the cases involved Chauvin restraining suspects described as “intoxicated” — including in July 2019, when prosecutors say Chauvin “kicked an intoxicated male in the midsection and then applied a neck restraint on the male until the male was rendered unconscious.”

Prosecutors say Chauvin, in June 2017, “restrained an arrested female by placing his knee on her neck while she laid in a prone position on the ground.” The summary says Chauvin “shifted his body weight unto the female’s neck and continued to restrain the female in this position beyond the point when such force was needed.”

Chauvin, who is being held on a minimum $1 million bail, attended his first court hearing since his May 29 arrest dressed in a gray business suit and wearing a blue medical mask.

As Chauvin was escorted into the courtroom by sheriff’s deputies, Kueng and Lane — former rookie officers who have deflected blame for Floyd’s death by saying they were following orders from Chauvin — avoided eye contact with their former colleague, as they sat at socially distanced conference tables with their attorneys.

Chauvin has been charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter, while Kueng, Lane and Thao have been charged with aiding and abetting murder. All four were fired by the Minneapolis Police Department.

The former officers have argued for separate trials as they have sought to shift responsibility for the handling of the scene and Floyd’s death on other officers. Chauvin and Thao have argued they were deferring to Kueng and Lane, the first officers to encounter Floyd as they investigated a 911 call about the use of a counterfeit $20 bill, while they say they were listening to Chauvin, who was the senior officer at the scene.

Judge Cahill pressed the defense lawyers on why they are seeking separate trials. “Wouldn’t you agree that most of the evidence is the same?” he asked.

Paule, Thao’s attorney, argued he would be forced to not only defend his client against prosecutors but also allegations from the other defense attorneys.

Cahill said he would decide on a change of venue and separate trials in coming weeks.

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