The Chauvin Verdict

Listen to this episode

S1: Last May, the Minneapolis Police Department released a statement about the death of a man they’d taken into custody, man dies after medical incident, during police interaction, it read. The statement went on to say that after detaining this man, officers noticed he seemed to be in medical distress, which is when they transported him to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead. It wasn’t until later that we’d learned the identity of this man, George Floyd. And it wasn’t until a cell phone video taken by a 17 year old girl went viral that we’d know the real story, the story about Derek Chauvin putting his knee on George Floyd’s neck. It’s a story that pushed millions to take to the streets to demand justice. But how Derek Chauvin would be held accountable for what he did. That was an open question until yesterday.

Advertisement

S2: We’re coming on the air with breaking news. We’ve just learned the jury has reached a verdict in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derrick Showband charged in the death of George Floyd.

S3: This has been one of the most highly anticipated trials in decades. Communities across the country on edge, preparing for possible unrest following

S4: Judge Cahill now in the

S5: courtroom. Deborah, stand by.

S1: Our entire team standing by

S6: we the jury in the above entitled manner as to count one unintentional second degree murder while committing a felony, find the defendant guilty. We, the jury in the above entitled manner as to count two third degree murder, perpetrating an eminently dangerous act, find the defendant guilty. We, the jury in the above entitled manner as to count three second degree manslaughter, culpable negligence, creating an unreasonable risk, find the defendant guilty. This verdict agreed to this 20th day of April 20 21

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S7: one down last night. Good night, George.

S1: Today on the show, the Derek Shervin verdict from two very different vantage points inside the courtroom and out on the streets. I’m Mary Harris. You’re listening to what next? Stick around. We’re going to start off by talking about what happened inside the courtroom on Tuesday, John Collins of Minnesota Public Radio, he’s been following the direction of the trial since it began and he’s been investigating policing in Minneapolis for years. So I called him up Tuesday night and asked how he understood the jury’s verdicts. Director of innocent, guilty of all three charges against him, second degree unintentional murder, third degree murder and second degree manslaughter. How notable is that, that all three charges were guilty?

Advertisement

S5: You know, I think it sends a strong message. Because these charges were slightly different, you know, there’s the reason we have different charges, and so it’s the second degree murder charge is different from the third degree murder charge. And what’s required to convict someone of those is different. So it means that the jurors found some substance to convict him on all three charges. And I think because it’s going to go to appeal, because that’s what happens in our criminal justice system, it makes it more complicated for children to actually argue that. You know, these charges are baseless or that they should be overturned and to actually be able to overturn them.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: One thing that caught my attention as I watched this case play out was the way the defense continually talked about whether Derrick Chauvin was acting like a reasonable officer at the time George Floyd was killed. His lawyer even instructed the jury not to look at the case from George Floyd’s perspective or even from the perspective of bystanders who saw him killed. Instead, he said they should consider the perspective of a reasonable police officer and how he might act in the moment. This idea of a reasonable officer standard, it comes from a Supreme Court case, Graham v. Connor, so I asked John about it and whether he thought the SHERVIN case had raised the bar for what a reasonable officer could do.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S5: Well, Graham v. Carter is brought up so much by defense attorneys who are defending law enforcement officers because it’s been very effective in making sure that they’re not convicted. It’s a very high threshold, which essentially they will argue says you can’t use 20/20 hindsight to judge the officer. And when they tell that to jurors, the jurors think, you know what, being a cop is really hard. And I wouldn’t know what I would do if I was put in this situation. And they are more have been historically more willing to give these police officers leeway when they’re on trial. The question of whether anything is changing the case law itself hasn’t changed. But my question is always, especially in the last couple of years, with all that’s happened, you know, it has something changed in the consciousness of the people that make up the jury pool that allows them to see this case law that hasn’t changed in a different way than they would have seen it, say, five years ago or 10 years ago

Advertisement

S1: in its own way. The prosecution was also making an argument about what a reasonable officer might do by bringing a bunch of policemen onto the stand to testify against Shervin. Prosecutors seem to be saying Derrick Shoven can’t be a reasonable officer if all these other reasonable officers think he messed up. I asked John, was this an approach that seemed to him to cut off the finger, to save the hand, sacrifice Shervin to defend policing as a whole?

S5: Yeah, I mean, we’re sitting in Minneapolis, which last year popularized this idea of defunding the police, whether that was actually what most people intended to say or not. And we have done polling and within the city and within the state. And the concept of defunding the police is relatively popular. It’s popular with some activists, but it’s not popular in general. And I think that probably what the prosecution was trying to do with some of their arguments that policing is a noble profession is to to try to win over those people and who might have been on the jury. You know, they don’t know what the jury’s politics are necessarily and make sure that they didn’t associate a prosecution of a police officer with, you know, this larger movement to abolish police or define police or things like that. Because, you know, obviously the prosecution in this particular case had anyone who was critical of police or anyone who wanted to abolish the police, who was on the jury would have been on their side. They’re not going to lose them by saying policing is a noble profession, but maybe they will win over some people who think police have been as a culture treated badly or, you know, treated as some sort of, you know, boogeyman or are blamed for things that aren’t their problems. Maybe they can win them over and say, hey, we’re saying they’re good police. We’re saying this guy was the bad apple. And look at all these good police that we brought on the stand that you can still respect and still feel like you can come over to our side and say that he’s guilty.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: So let’s talk about what happens next. There are three other officers who were with Derek Shervon when he killed George Floyd and they’re going to be tried in August. Mm hmm. How does this verdict affect the way that that trial will go?

S5: If Shervin had gotten off, if he’d been found not guilty on all three counts, then it would have made it much easier for the other three defendants to argue that, hey, how are you going to hold me accountable for aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter when you let the guy off who’s actually charged with murder and manslaughter? But the fact that he was convicted and convicted of all three charges makes it a more difficult situation for the other three defendants. And I will say that I heard in the arguments, especially in the closing arguments by the prosecution, they were not just calling out Derrick Shervin, they said the officers over and over. So they’ll be the same ones for the most part, who will be prosecuting this trial in August. And it seems like they already have a lot of the ammunition that they’re going to use against these three other officers.

Advertisement

S1: Chauvet himself is going to be sentenced in eight weeks, is that right? About eight weeks. It looks like he would be getting 12 years in prison, but he could be getting up to 40

S5: while the presumptive sentence is 12 years. Because in Minnesota, when someone is convicted of multiple charges for the same offense against the same person, then they only get sentenced for the top charge, you know, for the most harsh charge.

S1: So those charges aren’t going to like layer on top of each other. It’s not like one is 10 years. The other is 20 years. And then you get to 30 years.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S5: No. And the presumptive sentence for both the top two charges are about 12 years, although the prosecution has asked for the judge in this case to consider aggravating factors, five different ones. And so the judge will need to decide, you know, how much does he take those into account because he does have some flexibility in how he sentences him, but he needs for it to explain his reasons for it, and they need to be based in the law. So that’s going to be the next step in this and that kind of next drama, whether he gets 12 years or he gets some level above that.

Advertisement

S1: How did George Floyd’s family react when they got the news?

S5: From what I saw, they were happy about this.

S7: I feel relieved today that I finally have the opportunity to hopefully getting some sleep, a lot of days that I prayed and I hope and I was speaking everything into existence. I said I have faith that he will be convicted.

S5: They said that they wanted to see him convicted. You know, they saw that partially as justice. And they did do a press conference afterwards with their attorney, Ben Crump and Al Sharpton and other civil rights leaders. And I think what the main thrust of a lot of what we heard from the family, from civil rights activists, from people in the community, is that this verdict, these verdicts, these three guilty verdicts

Advertisement

S7: were

S5: powerful testament to the fact that in this particular case, it’s possible for the criminal justice system to hold a white police officer. Accountable for killing a black man, which no one had that much confidence could have actually happened because that has never happened in the state of Minnesota before, but that this is just one case and that now there needs to be steps to make sure that. This isn’t just an isolated incident and that, you know, the sort of equity and. Opportunity that. You know, people talk about it all the time is actually available for people to so it’s not just one particular criminal case and one cop going to jail. It’s a broader look at and a broader changes to the systems here in the state of Minnesota, which have led to some of the biggest disparities in the country across a range of issues.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: I was struck by the fact that right after the verdict came down, the president called George Floyd’s family and you could hear the family. And you could hear how emotional they were, but they also they clearly saw their job now as continuing to advocate.

S7: Hopefully this is the momentum for the jobs law and justice and police to get past. Have you seen that? And a lot more than that. Thank you, Mr. President.

S1: You know, we want this law to pass. It’s going to make policing safer for black and brown people. And it really did strike me that this seemed like the first step towards to them, not the end.

S5: Yeah. And I think a lot of families who experienced this sort of thing get a sort of that similar mentality, I think about Flandreau Castile’s mother, Valerie Castillo, who she was in court every single day. She, you know, believe that the system would function like she hoped it would, which would be to hold the police officer who killed Flandreau Castile accountable. And it didn’t. But she and her brother afterwards continued to get involved. And she has I can’t even say all the things that she’s done, but she has participated in, you know, conferences of prosecutors essentially saying here’s how we can prosecute these cases, you know, more effectively. Her brother was on the Minnesota Police Board, which is the board that certifies police officers. So I think it’s very common for these families to start to see this as a mission because they want the legacy of their loved one to be something positive. You know, they don’t want it to be that, you know, those final moments on the concrete, they wanted to be, you know, a systematic change that makes life better for for all sorts of people.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: John Collins, thank you so much for joining me.

S5: Thanks for having me.

S1: When we come back, how the verdict played out in George Floyd Square. So, Eamon, where were you when the verdict was read?

S4: I was in George Floyds Square when the verdict was read. That’s the corner of thirty eighth in Chicago where George Floyd was pinned by dark children.

S1: Slate’s Ayman Esmail has gone back and forth to Minneapolis five times since George Floyd was murdered last May. He’s reported on the family who owns Cub Foods, the store where Floyd was killed and he’s reported on my killings like this one just keep happening in Minnesota and all those trips. He spent a lot of time in this one spot, George Floyd Square. And over the last year, he’s watched it transform into this tiny autonomous bubble, trying hard to take care of its own without resorting to law enforcement.

S4: Everyone is allowed in except for police. So I say it’s a controlled space where the community has deemed it. They’re like they have they have taken the streets and one of the chance that they’ll use over and over in this space is no justice, no streets,

S8: no justice, no justice, no just

S4: so they’re sort of using the space that where they live as like a bargaining chip to try and get the systemic change that they want to see.

S1: Yeah, it’s funny. My kids saw that’s a sign that said that today when we were watching the verdict and he was like, what does that mean? What does that mean? No justice, no streets. Can you explain it?

S4: Yeah. So they had barricades in every direction going up Chicago Avenue and going across on 30th Street, and there meant twenty four hours a day, seven days a week by these volunteers who sit there in these booths and wait for cars to come in. And if it’s anyone but a cop, I think the sort of let them in or if they live nearby and they know them and recognize them, they’ll open the gate and let them through. But they’re on walkie talkies. They’re very organized. And they will try and resist any attempt that any officer or law enforcement officer has been has tried to come into the space. And there are like some flare ups of violence. I was here the last time when a young man inside the square was shot and killed and they didn’t let emergency vehicles in. And I remember that being a big controversy. But that just goes to show how serious they are about maintaining their space and keeping it. There’s one of the residents was talking to me about how the community has started taking care of themselves since George Floyd died. And she said that she hasn’t gone grocery shopping since the whole almost the whole year now

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: because she doesn’t need to

S4: because people are growing their own food. And inside there’s gardens. There’s a greenhouse in the in the zone now. And so they’re feeding themselves and they’re policing themselves and they’re trying to create a community that can prove to the rest of the world that there’s a way to do policing without it risking the lives of the people who live there.

S1: But on Tuesday, the people in George Floyd Square were on edge as the police officer who set this experiment in motion was handed his verdict.

S4: It was a little chaotic in the sense that there were about 150 people all lined up there to share that moment together in the square where it all started. And there was this big jeep playing off the radio at this moment.

S7: For a long time, I guarantee, as he defended their children and his attorney, Eric. That means the jury is likely to make the point. So if we have audio yet, let’s listen in on the proceedings as the verdict is

S1: sitting right there and the courtroom audio is kind of muted. Like I remember listening and thinking how quiet it was.

S4: Yeah, I couldn’t hear it. I had no idea what happened. I could only tell the the guilty verdict because of the way that everyone responded. Yeah. It was crazy, it sounded like Six Flags. It was like a theme park in there. And this is a space that I’ve been to a lot of times. And I’ve I’ve seen people break down to tears and cry. I’ve always associated that intersection with so much pain. And it was so weird to see it explode with that amount of joy. Thank you, sir.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S7: I feel a great injustice to you, sir.

S4: It was like watching catharsis happen in real time.

S7: It’s a first deep breath and being able to take in months. And I was going to take care of all the folks have been hold their breath for all this time and getting to breathe for the first time.

S4: Someone else told me that they felt the weight of dark children being lifted off their shoulders

S7: and let the healing start.

S4: But as the day sort of progressed and people started sinking into the feeling and starting to process the news, I was starting to hear more answers like this is step one

S7: to do the right steps

S4: or we’ve got one now. There’s three to go

S7: down four years ago.

S1: What do they mean? We’ve got one of those three to go

S4: because there were four officers who were there. Who will they all see as complicit in the killing of George Floyd

S1: and their trials coming up in August?

S4: Exactly. Yeah. So they see this is just step one of of many steps to get ultimate justice. And the people in the square, the activists, they have a list of demands. And this is like demand one.

S7: There’s so much work that we’ve done, but it’s so much what there is to do for justice and educational justice, for a societal justice. I mean, we have to watch to make sure that we are taking care of our communities. And we believe that it is only a force. It is a very important step, but it’s only a first. Yes, ma’am. This can’t be served without opportunity. Thank you. Thank you.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: It’s not our justice system, as important as it is to demand. One is for Derek Chauvin to be convicted. That’s right. And then it felt a little bit like we’re on to the next the next thing on this list.

S4: Right. They see this as one cog in this huge system that needs reform. And I think they’re treating it that way.

S1: I know you’ve spent time in a lot of different communities just trying to take the temperature, like I heard that you went to a cop bar at one point to kind of see what was happening there. I know that you spent a lot of time with the owners of Cop Foods, the corner store where they called the police and George Floyd ended up being murdered. Have you talked to any of the people you met from other sort of facets of your reporting in Minneapolis?

S4: Yeah, yeah. So I heard from one of the brothers who owns Cobb Foods where it all began, and he said he was delighted. He was really satisfied with the verdict. I think he was hoping that it would come back guilty. I also heard from Alicia Smith, who is a community organizer. So she was one of the people who I interviewed previously who told me that there was no way or that she seriously doubted that they would come back with a guilty verdict. And she said that she was happy to be proved wrong. She she’s still in shock. She wants to see it in writing. So she said.

S1: Was there one person who stood out to you? Were you you just couldn’t shake meeting them?

S4: Yeah, yeah, there’s one young man I met named Lincoln,

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S7: a Lion King. Yeah. Yes, sir.

S4: I’m not sure if that’s his real name, that they like code names, but he he

S7: told me there is the illusion that George Foy got justice. I don’t I don’t I like to see everybody happy out here and whatnot. I just hope everyone doesn’t get complacent. Right. Like we got a guilty verdict on Derrick shoving. Right. So, like, there’s still so much other stuff to do. We got to we got to fire and press charges against the officers who killed 13 year old Adam Toledo. We got to raise.

S4: And he just kept on going on and on and on. And it just sort of stuck in thinking, well, yeah, this is worthy of celebration, but this is such a small part of the system that created their children. So it got me thinking more about the systemic change that some of these folks on the ground are still waiting for.

S1: There are also people who found themselves changed by everything that’s happened, like Marcia Howard, a former teacher who has thrown herself into the community that sprung up in George Floyd Square.

S4: So she is sort of the unofficial security liaison for the for the area, for the intersection. She has a military background. She was a Marine and she was a high school teacher on summer vacation when George Floyd was was was killed. And she leaned into that role. She started providing security for the area after it became an autonomous zone and they sealed up the area. So when I first met her, she was so invigorated and energized by the community that was growing around her. And she saw this responsibility as something that would replace her identity. She she stopped talking to me as as a school teacher at a certain point. Then she started talking to me as just a community member and an activist. And she is about 11 months in. And every day she she’s outside patrolling. She’s on the walkie talkies every single day, always trying to chase fires and and protect the square as much as she can.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: So this is her life now.

S4: This is her life. Yes. She’s she’s not teaching anymore. This is this is what she does, huh? Yeah. It’s it’s really impressive. But really what I’m trying to get at is when I talked to her today, she said something really interesting. She told me that she is running out of oxygen and she only planned to swim to get there. She didn’t bring any oxygen for the swim back, implying that this was it for her. She was just going to give all of her energy and all of her life to this movement. And, you know, I feel like I got to witness that whole transformation in real time. You know, she’s she’s exhausted. She’s so tired. So many of the people there are so tired. But she’s she’s she’s still at it. She’s still burdening herself with the responsibility to protect the whole neighborhood.

S1: And there’s no going back

S4: there’s no going back for her.

S1: Now, you mentioned how. One person you talked to was like, I want to see this in writing, I won’t believe it until it’s written down, and it just makes me think about the fact that we have, I think, eight weeks until sentencing. We have a while until sentencing. What do you think those two months are going to be like in Minneapolis?

S4: Well, leading up to this, the square was pretty quiet. I hadn’t seen a ton of people in the area for a long time now. And they’ll they’ll sometimes have like events and parties and meetings. But it was nothing like today. And so I expect more people to keep coming. I think they’re going to try and use the momentum from the decision from the jury today to to try and get people refocused on other things like qualified immunity for the police. And so they’re working for a total justice, criminal justice reform. And they’re not going to get that with one with one decision from the jury. But I am especially curious to see how the inner workings and the politics inside the square play out. One of the things that we haven’t talked about yet, which I think is very interesting, is that the city is planning on reopening the square in the intersection after the trial, and they had promised to reintroduce vehicular traffic of Chicago Avenue to the stores there can get more traffic. So people don’t really know what’s going to happen right now. Are they because of this when going to feel more inclined to let it happen? Or are they going to resist insisting that they didn’t get justice, that they need more? Nobody really knows. So I’m really interested in chasing that story and maybe even coming back to Minneapolis and seeing where the story goes.

S1: Eamon Esmail, thank you so much for joining me.

S4: Thanks, Mary.

S1: Ayman Ismaeel is a staff writer for Slate. And that’s the show big thanks to Ayman for recording all of the audio you heard in his segment, he’s pretty great. What Next is produced by Kamal Dilshad, Elena Schwartz, Mary Wilson, Daniel Hewat and Davis Land. We are led by Alison Benedict and Alicia Montgomery. And I’m Mary Harris. Could track me down on Twitter. I’m at Mary’s Desk and thanks for listening. I’ll catch you back here tomorrow.