Derek Chauvin, former Minneapolis police officer found guilty of George Floyd's death, was known for excessive force

  • Chauvin was sentenced to 22 and a half years in prison for Floyd’s murder, which sparked protests against racial injustice and police brutality
  • The ex-cop had racked up 22 complaints against him in his 19 years on the force, but was only reprimanded for one
Agence France-Presse |

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Protesters march during a brief rally after the sentencing of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis policeman found guilty of killing George Floyd, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, US. Photo: Reuters

Derek Chauvin, the former police officer sentenced on Friday to 22 and a half years in prison for the murder of George Floyd, had a record of using excessive force before the unarmed Black man died under his knee in a crime prosecutors branded a “shocking abuse of authority.”

But he was never punished for such behaviour, until now.

After 13 months of silence, Chauvin spoke out publicly for the first time Friday about the Floyd case.

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“At this time, due to some additional legal matters at hand, I’m not able to give a full formal statement at this time,” he said after removing his face mask.

“I do want to give my condolences to the Floyd family,” Chauvin added.

Other than this, he remained expressionless during Friday’s sentencing hearing, as he did during the trial, even when witnesses gave damning testimony against him.

Defense attorney Eric Nelson, left, and former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin listen to a witness during Chauvin's trial in April 2021. Photo: Court TV/Zuma Press/TNS

Chauvin, described by colleagues as rigid and silent, knelt on the 46-year-old Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes on a street in Minneapolis, in the US state of Minnesota, on May 25 last year, despite the dying man’s pleas and those of shocked passers-by who filmed the tragedy.

The killing sent shockwaves throughout the United States and the world, and sparked a conversation on racial injustice in America.

Chauvin’s lawyer Eric Nelson has said his client “exuded a calm and professional demeanor” in his interactions with Floyd, and sought to convince the jury that the white ex-cop only applied a hold that was authorised and consistent with his training.

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But the prosecution argued, successfully, that Chauvin had used excessive force - not only with Floyd, but with others he arrested during his 19-year career on the force. Prosecutor Steve Schleicher described Chauvin’s actions as a “shocking abuse of authority” against Floyd, saying “This wasn’t policing, this was murder.”

Chauvin, 44, had the opportunity to testify in his own defense, but he declined. He did attend every day of the trial, however, dressed in a suit and often taking notes on a yellow legal pad.

After he was found guilty on all three charges - second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter - Chauvin was placed in handcuffs and led out of the courtroom.

Protesters march during a brief rally after Chauvin’s sentencing. The death of George Floyd sparked a summer of protests in the US in 2020. Photo: Reuters

22 complaints

People who have interacted with Chauvin over the years have said he used more force than necessary in applying restraining holds.

Prior to the trial, the prosecution dug up several examples to support this argument, including the case of Zoya Code, a young black woman arrested by Chauvin in 2017.

“Even though the female was not physically resisting in any way, Chauvin kneeled on her body, using his body weight to pin her to the ground,” the prosecution said.

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Andre Balian, a kung fu instructor who trained with Chauvin some 20 years ago, said there was “no perceivable way” that Chauvin was unaware of the damage he did or was capable of doing in situations like the one where he knelt on Floyd’s neck.

In an interview with AFP he recalled Chauvin as a “jerk” who would stand with his arms folded and glare at those around him.

Since the Floyd killing, few details have filtered out about Chauvin.

People watch Chauvin’s sentencing hearing on a smartphone outside the Hennepin County Government Centre in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Photo: AFP

But former colleagues have sketched a portrait of a silent, rigid, workaholic who often patrolled the city’s more difficult neighbourhoods.

His commitment to the job earned him four medals over the course of his career. But he also racked up 22 internal complaints and investigations, according to public records.

Only one of these numerous complaints, filed by a white woman whom he had violently pulled from her car in 2007 for speeding, in front of her crying infant, was followed by a letter of reprimand.

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