Derek Chauvin’s 19-Year Reign of Terror
At least twenty-two complaints of misconduct were filed against former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin before he would go on to murder George Floyd in front of a Cup Foods store— and the whole world — last year. That is, according to reporting from the New York Times. According to the Minneapolis Police Department, Chauvin only had eighteen prior complaints filed against him with the Department’s Internal Affairs. And according to Communities Against Police Brutality, a Minnesota nonprofit that created a database of complaints against officers in the state, Chauvin appears to have received twenty-six complaints.
In all likelihood, we’ll never know how many times people were terrorized by Derek Chauvin since not every person who’s been mistreated by police files a complaint.
One of the more vocal complaints came in June 2017 when Chauvin responded to a domestic dispute at the home of Zoya Code, a black woman. Like George Floyd, Ms. Code found herself handcuffed, facedown on the ground, with Chauvin’s knee pressing into her neck:
“He just stayed on my neck,” Code said, ignoring her desperate pleas to get off. Frustrated and upset, she challenged him to press harder. “Then he did. Just to shut me up,” she said.
Prior to that moment, she’d had an altercation with her mother, and Zoya Code left the house “to cool down.” When she returned, Chauvin and his partner were there. Chauvin then told Ms. Code that she was under arrest, and he grabbed her arm (details that were confirmed by both prosecutors and Mr. Chauvin’s body camera). Not understanding why she was under arrest, Ms. Code pulled away from Chauvin. A NYT article describes the scene:
When she pulled away, [Chauvin] pulled her to the ground face first and knelt on her. The two officers then picked her up and carried her outside the house, facedown. There, prosecutors said, Mr. Chauvin knelt on the back of the handcuffed woman “even though she was offering no physical resistance at all”…
Ms. Code, in an interview, said she began pleading: “Don’t kill me.” At that point, according to the prosecutors’ account, Mr. Chauvin told his partner to restrain Ms. Code’s ankles as well, though she “was not being physically aggressive.” As he tied her, she said, she told the other officer, “You’re learning from an animal. That man — that’s evilness right there.”
Fortunately, Zoya Code didn’t lose her life that day, and ultimately, all charges against her were dropped. But Code was just one of several victims who experienced or witnessed excessive force and abuse of power by the white, male, ex-police officer who was charged and found guilty on all three counts of murder in the George Floyd case.
In fact, as far back as 2015, Chauvin used neck or head and upper body restraints six separate times that we know of, including four incidents where prosecutors say he went “too far.” Like during a July 2019 arrest, when Chauvin kicked an intoxicated male in the midsection and then applied a neck restraint until the man fell unconscious. Or a March 2019 incident where a 74-year-old Minneapolis resident was a chance witness to an officer — later identified as Chauvin — who sprayed mace at a young man who appeared mentally ill, before restraining him by the neck and pinning him to the ground. The witness also noted that the man, identified as Sir Rilee Peet, had an officer kneeling on his lower back.
According to the witness, who was observing from about seven feet away:
“The officer put Mr. Peet’s head, facedown, in a rain puddle. Other officers were present as well. He said, ‘I can’t breathe — can I just put my head up?’” And they just held his face in the water, and I couldn’t see a purpose for that.”
The witness recounted how he watched Mr. Peet struggle for air, how he saw bubbles surfacing as the man tried to breathe. He estimated that the officer kept Mr. Peet facedown in the puddle for two to three minutes, and “whenever Peet managed to turn his head for air, the officer grabbed him by his long hair and put his head back in the water.”
Zoya Code nailed it when she identified Chauvin as ‘evil.’
In 2015, Julian Hernandez was on a road trip, watching a band in a Minneapolis nightclub called the El Nuevo Rodeo, when Derek Chauvin arrested him. Chauvin worked there as a security guard when he was off duty. Hernandez says he was arrested because he tried to leave out of the wrong door. The police report stated that Chauvin “escorted” him down the stairs and out of the building.
Though Hernandez admitted he’d had a few drinks that night, he vividly remembers Chauvin pushing him down the stairs (not “escorting” him down the stairs). And he remembers Chauvin pushing him up against a wall, before ultimately grabbing him by the throat and choking him.
The police report stated that because Mr. Hernandez was resisting handcuffs, Mr. Chauvin applied pressure toward his Lingual Artery.
In that moment, Hernandez recalls Chauvin telling him, “you just need to leave,” and how he was thinking that he was trying to leave, but was not being allowed to do so. As Chauvin continued holding him by his throat against the wall, Hernandez realized, “You’re choking me.”
Incidentally, the El Nuevo Rodeo nightclub was a place where both George Floyd and Derek Chauvin worked security at the same time. The club’s former owner, Maya Santamaria, said the two men would likely have come in contact during a popular Tuesday night event they both worked, but she was unsure whether they knew each other, and doubted they ever interacted. However, one thing Santamaria was sure of was that during the club’s urban nights, when it drew mostly African-American patrons, Mr. Chauvin was overly aggressive with patrons, sometimes using pepper spray.
In April 2016, Jimmy Bostic had just made a purchase at the Midtown Global Market and was waiting for a ride when security guards approached and asked him to leave. A shop owner from another store had mistakenly accused Bostic of panhandling, according to the arrest report. A short time later Mr. Chauvin arrived to the scene and escorted Mr. Bostic outside, noting in the report that he “closed distance with” Bostic and “secured his neck/head area with my hands.”
During an interview, Bostic said that when Chauvin and the security guards tried to to put him in handcuffs, he yanked his arm back. As reported in the NYT, Mr. Bostic said:
“The next thing I felt was arms just wrapped around my neck. I started telling him, ‘Let go, I’m having trouble breathing. I have asthma. I can’t breathe.’”
Bostic was ultimately released from police custody at the scene, and taken to the hospital by emergency medical workers. He was suffering from an asthma attack and ended up staying in the hospital for over a day. As in the other cases where Chauvin used excessive force, the charges against Bostic ended up getting dropped.
Communities Against Police Brutality reveals twenty-six incidents in which Chauvin had complaints filed against him for issues like using a “demeaning tone,” “derogatory language” and other language that merited discipline. The majority of those complaints are also marked “closed — no discipline.”
Police records reveal that Chauvin was never formally reprimanded for any of the excessive force arrests outlined here, even though at least two of those arrested said they had filed formal complaints. In nineteen years and likely thousands of encounters, the only discipline Derek Chauvin ever received (before his guilty verdict for murdering George Floyd) was a slap on the wrist: a few “oral reprimands” and two “letters of reprimand.” Which doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in this world.
The letters of reprimand came about from an August 2007 incident:
Melissa Borton was heading home from grocery shopping when Mr. Chauvin and a fellow officer pulled her over. Mr. Chauvin reached into the open window of Ms. Borton’s minivan, unlocked her door, undid her seatbelt and started pulling her out, without any explanation, she recalled. Her baby and dog were left in the vehicle.
She said the officers put her in their cruiser and told her that they were looking for a vehicle resembling hers that had been involved in a crime. Eventually they told Ms. Borton, who was by then quite upset, that she could leave.
“When I got out, they noticed that my shirt was wet, which was from being a breastfeeding mother,” Ms. Borton recalled. She could not tell who taunted her as she returned to her car. “Chauvin or the other officer rudely said, ‘You probably have postpartum depression, and you need help.’”
Again the word “evil” nails it.
A guilty verdict was long overdue, but not just for Chauvin. As we await his sentencing in eight weeks, may we all take some comfort in knowing that justice has finally, at long last, been brought for one victim by the name of George Floyd. But, may we also rest a little easier knowing that every officer who’s abused their position of public trust must be shaking in their boots right about now.