The Minneapolis City Council voted unanimously to pay $7.5 million to John Pope, now 20, to settle claims related to the September 2017 incident. The council also approved a $1.4 million settlement for Zoya Code, who was handcuffed, face down and did not resist when Chauvin slammed her head into the ground and put his knee into her neck during a separate domestic violence investigation in June 2017, according to body camera footage.
Both lawsuits not only accused Chauvin of wrongdoing, but took aim at the culture of the Minneapolis Police Department, which has long been accused of racism and unnecessary and uncontrolled violence, particularly against people of color. Both complaints named officers at the scenes who failed to intervene and supervisors who later approved Chauvin’s use of force and allowed him to continue policing and training new officers despite numerous complaints of wrongdoing.
The lawsuits claimed the city turned a blind eye to Chauvin’s tactics and larger cultural problems in the department, a pattern that ultimately led to Floyd’s killing.
At a press conference, Mayor Jacob Frey called out Chauvin, who is currently serving more than 22 years in prison on state and federal charges related to Floyd’s murder, but also criticized police officials who he said should have held the officer “accountable” for his misconduct.
“Derek Chauvin is exactly where he should be, which is in federal prison. He should have been fired in 2017. He should have been held accountable in 2017,” Frey said. “If the supervisors had done the right thing, George Floyd would not have been murdered.”
Frey also apologized to Pope, Code and “to anyone else who has experienced this kind of egregious behavior at the hands of Derek Chauvin.”
But Bob Bennett, an attorney for Pope and Code, urged the public to look beyond Chauvin and to a culture where rank-and-file officers “supported Chauvin with their unquestioning obedience” and failed to stop or report “his heinous actions” even as they violated department policy and “human conscience.” He accused top executives of allowing Chauvin “to continue his predatory practices for years.”
“Beware the ease of blaming Chauvin alone,” Bennett said in a written statement. “Although he is an instrument of police brutality and racism, he could never flourish in a police agency that lived up to its mission.”
Floyd died on May 25, 2020, after Chauvin pressed his knees into the black man’s neck and back for more than nine minutes as Floyd begged for breath and eventually lost consciousness. The incident, captured on a viral Facebook video, spurred a national bill on issues of race and policing and sparked mass demonstrations around the world.
Chauvin was convicted on state charges of murder and manslaughter and for violating Floyd’s federal civil rights and is serving more than 22½ years in a federal prison in Arizona. Three other officers at the scene — J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas K. Lane and Tou Thao — were later convicted of federal civil rights charges related to Floyd’s death, including failing to intervene against Chauvin.
Kueng and Lane also pleaded guilty to accessory to manslaughter charges in state court and are in federal custody. A state case against Thao, who is accused of being an accessory to second-degree murder and manslaughter, is pending.
State prosecutors sought to include incidents involving Pope and Code as part of their case against Chauvin as they tried to prove a pattern of Chauvin using excessive force. But the judge in that case blocked mention of the earlier incidents. However, Chauvin pleaded guilty to violating Pope’s federal civil rights at the same time he pleaded guilty to federal charges in Floyd’s death.
The incident with Pope began when Pope’s mother called 911 and claimed she had been assaulted by her son and daughter during a dispute over a cell phone charging cord. The police report, written by Chauvin, alleged that Pope’s mother was “obviously and clearly drunk” and that Pope ignored “verbal commands” and resisted arrest, leading to an altercation.
But body camera video detailed in the lawsuits and ultimately released Thursday depicts a scene in which Chauvin was the aggressor. When Pope tried to explain to Chauvin and another officer what had happened to his mother, Chauvin eventually rushes the teenager and hits him in the head several times with his flashlight before choking him, causing Pope to briefly lose consciousness.
The video shows Chauvin pinning Pope face down and pressing his knees into his neck and back for about 15 minutes, even as Pope repeatedly tells him he can’t breathe. In a move similar to his actions during Floyd’s arrest, Chauvin kept his knees pressed into the boy’s body — even as paramedics arrived and saw blood coming from the boy’s ear, apparently from the blow from Chauvin’s flashlight.
Pope was arrested and taken to the hospital where he received stitches. But the charges were ultimately dropped.
Pope, who is now a college student and works as a bank supervisor, addressed Chauvin and the court during Chauvin’s federal sentencing last year and talked about how the incident had changed his life. “I was treated like I wasn’t human by Derek Chauvin,” Pope said in a halting voice. “He made a choice and didn’t care about the outcome.”
When Chauvin addressed the court, he did not apologize to Pope but said he wished the man the best. “I hope you have the ability to get the best possible education to lead a very productive and rewarding life,” the former officer told Pope.
Code’s encounter with Chauvin was “strikingly similar” to the incident with Pope, according to her lawyers. Chauvin and another officer responded to a 911 call from Code’s mother, who claimed her daughter had assaulted her.
Code was brought to the ground and “in handcuffs without incident,” according to the lawsuit. Chauvin then carried her out of the house face down in her arms, which were handcuffed behind her back. Outside the house, body camera video shows Chauvin slamming Code’s head to the ground and then kneeling on her neck for several minutes — though she was ultimately restrained using a “hobble,” or hogtie, and did not resist arrest.
Code was charged with assault, but the charges were later dropped. A statement from the city of Minneapolis issued Thursday said Chauvin “lied” in his police report about the incident “and left out critical information about the interaction.”
An attorney for Chauvin did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The nearly $9 million settlement for Pope and Code comes two years after the city of Minneapolis agreed to pay $27 million to members of Floyd’s family to settle a wrongful-death claim that named Chauvin and the other officers at the scene among the defendants . It comes just days after the city announced a sweeping settlement with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights to settle an expected lawsuit over police practices in the city.
This settlement includes a number of new reforms and rules that limit and provide more accountability around the use of force, along with new restrictions on stops, searches and arrests. It issues new officer wellness and training requirements, including mandatory instruction on issues of race and “challenges related to racism, racial inequality, and race relations in policing in the city of Minneapolis.”
All this comes as the city prepares for the outcome of a separate Justice Department investigation into Minneapolis police that many city officials expect will result in a federal consent decree likely to call for similar reforms and the appointment of an outside monitor for the department.
On Thursday, Police Chief Brian O’Hara, who was hired last year, offered scathing criticism of Chauvin, describing him as a “national embarrassment to the police profession.” Yet he also decried the “systematic failure” of the department he is now seeking to transform, saying “the notion that we are dealing with the bad actions of one officer is false.”
“More than another repetition of the hateful and violent legacy of this former employee, this is an example of the cancer that has infected this department,” O’Hara said, describing the “inaction and acceptance” of brutal policing demonstrated by Chauvin as a “disgrace to the emblem”.
O’Hara pledged that the department would have “zero tolerance” for officer misconduct and that “going forward” the department would establish processes to “identify and intervene early to prevent abuse and brutality from occurring in the first place” — a reform that would be enforced by the courts, he pointed out.
The police chief also announced that Chauvin’s badge number — 1087 — would be permanently removed from the Minneapolis police force, never to be worn by another officer, as a reminder of Chauvin’s horrific actions and the need for the department to move forward and rework its approach to policing. and the relationship with society.
“It’s a symbol, but an important one,” Frey said. “That’s not who we want to be.”