“Police officers undoubtedly have a challenging, difficult, and sometimes dangerous job. However, no one is above the law. When they commit a crime, they must be held accountable just as those individuals that they lawfully apprehend,” the order reads. “The law only permits police officers to use reasonable force when effecting a lawful arrest. Chauvin crossed that line here when he used unreasonable force on Floyd.”
An attorney for Chauvin did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The decision comes nearly two years after a Hennepin County jury found Chauvin guilty of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in Floyd’s death.
Floyd died May 25, 2020, after Chauvin pressed his knees into the Black man’s neck and back for more than nine minutes as officers sought to arrest him for allegedly passing a counterfeit $20 bill at a South Minneapolis market. Viral bystander video of the incident showed Floyd begging for breath and ultimately going limp as Chauvin and the other officers ignored his cries for help.
Floyd’s killing spurred a national reckoning on issues of race and policing and sparked mass demonstrations around the world, including fiery protests that left parts of Minneapolis burned and destroyed. Chauvin and the three other officers — J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas K. Lane and Tou Thao — were all fired from Minneapolis force and charged with state and federal crimes in Floyd’s death.
Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter A. Cahill, who presided over Chauvin’s six-week state trial, sentenced Chauvin in June 2021 to 22½ years in prison on the state charges. Months later, Chauvin pleaded guilty to violating Floyd’s federal civil rights. In that case, Chauvin was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison — which he is serving concurrently with his state sentence.
Chauvin, who is jailed at a federal prison in Tucson, waived his right to appeal his federal sentence as part of the plea deal. In that case, Chauvin publicly acknowledged his role in Floyd’s death for the first time — admitting he kept his knees on Floyd’s neck and body even as he heard the man saying he couldn’t breathe and ultimately became unresponsive.
Chauvin also acknowledged he heard bystanders urging him to check Floyd’s pulse but did nothing and blocked others from rendering medical aid. Chauvin admitted he “new what he was doing was wrong,” according to a plea deal signed by the former officer. Under conditions of the federal plea deal, Chauvin waived his right to appeal and is expected to serve roughly 18 years before he is eligible for parole.
Yet Chauvin continued with his state appeal — even as he will remain in jail because of the federal conviction. In January, William Mohrman, an attorney for Chauvin, argued before a three-judge panel of the appeals court that Cahill should have moved the trial out of Hennepin County.
Mohrman cited extensive pretrial publicity and lingering fears of protest that led to the downtown Minneapolis courthouse and much of the surrounding area being locked down under unprecedented security, which he argued unfairly swayed the opinions of jurors.
“The primary issue on this appeal is whether a criminal defendant can get a fair trial consistent with constitutional requirements in a courthouse that’s surrounded by concrete blocks, barbed wire, two armored personnel carriers and a squad of National Guard troops all of which or whom are there for one purpose: in the event that the jury acquits the defendant,” Mohrman said.
Chauvin’s attorney cited other factors that he said unfairly tarnished his client’s right to a fair trial, including the announcement of a $27 million settlement between the city of Minneapolis and the Floyd family during jury selection. He also raised questions about a juror who admitted after the trial that he had attended a civil rights march in Washington — which he claimed was not properly disclosed during voir dire.
But the appeals court rejected those arguments, writing that Chauvin had not proven “actual prejudice by the jury,” either by the intense publicity surrounding the case or Cahill’s decision to hold the trial in Minneapolis.
“The district court found that the trial was very likely to generate substantial publicity regardless of when and where it was held so moving the trial or delaying it would not have made a difference,” the ruling said, adding it affirmed Cahill’s handling of the case.
“The publicity surrounding Chauvin’s trial was not so corrupting that it created a presumption of prejudice,” the court added.
In a statement, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison (D), whose office led the prosecution, praised the ruling, saying it “shows once again no one is above the law — and no one is beneath it.”
“We cannot bring Floyd back, but I hope today’s decision brings another measure of justice,” Ellison said.
The decision comes as the legal cases over Floyd’s death appear to be winding toward an end nearly three years after his death. The other officers at the scene — Kueng, Lane and Thao — were also convicted on federal civil rights charges in Floyd’s death and are serving jail terms.
Kueng and Lane also pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting manslaughter charges in state court. A state case against Thao, who is charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and manslaughter, is pending, with Cahill expected to issue a ruling on his fate in coming weeks.
But the fallout from Floyd’s death continues for the city of Minneapolis, which is facing its own reckoning over its policing practices. Last week, the Minneapolis City Council approved a nearly $9 million settlement for two people who accused Chauvin of pressing his knee into their necks during arrests years before he used the same maneuver on Floyd.
That came weeks after the city agreed to a sweeping set of mandated policing reforms as part of an agreement with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights after an investigation found that Minneapolis police had routinely engaged in racially discriminatory policing for at least a decade and had failed to properly train and hold its officers accountable for misconduct.
At the same time, the city is bracing 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.