A white Minneapolis police officer who knelt on the neck of a handcuffed black man who lost consciousness and died opened fire on two people during his 19-year career and had nearly 20 complaints and two letters of reprimand filed against him.
Derek Chauvin, 44, became the focus of angry street protests and a federal investigation after he was seen in cellphone video kneeling on the neck of 46-year-old George Floyd for almost eight minutes Monday night during his arrest on a suspicion of passing a counterfeit bill. Floyd, who was heard saying he couldn’t breathe, was pronounced dead later that night.
Chauvin, whose driveway was splattered with red paint and the graffiti “murderer,” has not spoken publicly since Floyd’s death and his attorney did not respond to calls seeking comment. He and the other three officers involved in Floyd’s arrest were fired Tuesday.
Minneapolis City Council records show that Chauvin moonlighted as a bouncer at a downtown Latin nightclub. He was among a group of six officers who opened fire on a stabbing suspect in 2006 after a chase that ended when the suspect pointed a sawed-off shotgun at them. The suspect, Wayne Reyes, was hit multiple times and died. A grand jury decided the use of force was justified.
Two years later, Chauvin shot Ira Latrell Toles as he was responding to a domestic dispute.
According to a Pioneer Press account of the incident, a 911 operator received a call from an apartment and heard a woman yelling for someone to stop hitting her. Chauvin and another officer arrived just as Toles locked himself in the bathroom. Chauvin forced his way into the bathroom. Toles went for Chauvin’s gun and Chauvin shot him twice in the stomach. Toles survived and was charged with two counts of felony obstruction.
Toles told the Daily Beast that the mother of his child called police that night and he fled into the bathroom after officers broke down the apartment door. Chauvin then broke down the bathroom door and started to hit him without warning. He said he fought back in self-defense and was too disoriented to go for Chauvin’s gun.
Toles said he ultimately pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge and still feels pain from the shooting.
“He tried to kill me in that bathroom,” Toles said.
Online city records also show that 17 complaints have been filed against Chauvin. Sixteen complaints were closed with no discipline. The remaining complaint generated two letters of reprimand, with one apparently related to the use of a squad car dashboard camera. The records don’t include any details on the substance of the complaints.
Chauvin also was among a group of five officers in 2011 who chased down an American Indian, Leroy Martinez, in a housing complex after they spotted him running with a pistol. One of the officers, Terry Nutter, shot Martinez in the torso. Martinez survived. All the officers were placed on leave but absolved of any wrongdoing, with Police Chief Timothy Dolan saying they acted “appropriately and courageously.”
A much different side of Chauvin was portrayed in a 2018 newspaper profile of his wife, Kellie, a Laotian refugee who became the first Hmong Mrs. Minnesota. She told the St. Paul Pioneer Press that they met when he dropped off a suspect at a Minneapolis hospital where she worked.
“Under that uniform, he’s just a softie,” she said. “He’s such a gentleman. He still opens the door for me, still puts my coat on for me. After my divorce, I had a list of must-haves if I were ever to be in a relationship, and he fit all of them.”
Less is known about the other three officers involved in Floyd’s arrest.
Online court records indicate that the officer who stood guard at the scene, Tou Thao, was sued in federal court in 2017 for alleged excessive force. According to the lawsuit, Lamar Ferguson claimed Thao and his partner stopped him as he was walking to his girlfriend’s house in 2014 for no reason and beat him up. The city ultimately settled the lawsuit for $25,000.
City records show six complaints have been filed against Thao. Five were closed with no discipline. One remains open. The records didn’t include any further details.
Thomas Lane joined the force as a cadet in March 2019, according to online city records. No information about J. Alexander Kueng’s service history was immediately available. City records show no complaints against either of them. Attorneys for Thao and Kueng didn’t return messages. Lane’s attorney, Earl Gray, declined comment.
1:00 p.m. – MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Violent protests over the death of a black man in police custody rocked a Minneapolis neighborhood for a second straight night as angry crowds looted stores, set fires and left a path of damage that stretched for miles. The mayor asked the governor to activate the National Guard.
The protests that began late Wednesday and stretched into Thursday morning were the most destructive yet since the death of George Floyd, who was seen on video gasping for breath during an arrest in which an officer kneeled on his neck for almost eight minutes. In the footage, Floyd pleads that he cannot breathe and slowly stops talking and moving.
Mayor Jacob Frey sought calm. “Please, Minneapolis, we cannot let tragedy beget more tragedy,” he said on Twitter.
Protests also spread to other U.S. cities. In California, hundreds of people protesting Floyd’s death blocked a Los Angeles freeway and shattered windows of California Highway Patrol cruisers. Memphis police blocked a main thoroughfare after a racially mixed group of protesters gathered outside a police precinct. The situation intensified later in the night, with police donning riot gear and protesters standing shoulder-to-shoulder in front of officers stationed behind a barricade.
Minneapolis police said the violence contrasted sharply with a mostly peaceful demonstration Tuesday afternoon at the street corner where Floyd died.
“They were chanting for things to remain peaceful,” police spokesman John Elder said. “Tonight didn’t have the same feel. And that’s sad.”
Pockets of looting continued Thursday. A liquor store employee displayed a gun as he stood among the debris of broken bottles and beer cans inside the business.
Amid the violence, a man was found fatally shot Wednesday night near a pawn shop, possibly by the owner, authorities said.
Fire crews responded to about 30 intentionally set blazes during the protests, including at least 16 structure fires, and multiple fire trucks were damaged by rocks and other projectiles, the fire department said. No one was hurt by the blazes.
Firefighters were still spraying water onto hot buildings Thursday morning, and some buildings still smoldered, sending a bitter smell into the smoke-filled air.
Windows were smashed out of several businesses in a strip mall, including a department store, a charter school and other businesses, and the destruction was visible for blocks. A Wendy’s restaurant was damaged beyond recognition.
Inside some of the stores, shelves were toppled and debris strewn about. Video taken inside a damaged Target that had been looted showed empty clothing racks. Obscenities were spray-painted on the outside of the store. Streets and parking lots were also covered in debris, and many businesses had been spray-painted.
There was no sign of a police presence, except around the precinct building, where officers were in riot gear. One man standing outside the building was using a bullhorn to shout. “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe. Mama, I can’t breathe,” repeating some of Floyd’s pleas for relief.
Across from the precinct, someone had spray-painted the sidewalk in red: “Where’s humanity?”
Protesters began gathering Wednesday afternoon near the city’s 3rd Precinct station, in the southern part of the city, where the 46-year-old Floyd died on Memorial Day as police arrested him outside a convenience store on a report of a counterfeit bill being passed. Demonstrators also skirmished with officers, who fired rubber bullets and tear gas in a repeat of Tuesday night’s confrontation.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI in Minneapolis said Thursday they were conducting “a robust criminal investigation” into Floyd’s death and making the case a priority. The announcement came a day after President Donald Trump tweeted that he had asked an investigation to be expedited.
The FBI had already announced that it would investigate whether Floyd’s civil rights were violated.
The officer who kneeled on Floyd and three others were fired Tuesday. On Wednesday, the mayor called for him to be criminally charged.
Frey appealed to Gov. Tim Walz to activate the National Guard, a spokesman confirmed Thursday. The governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Walz tweeted for calm Wednesday night, calling the violence “an extremely dangerous situation” and urging people to leave the scene.
The last time the Minnesota National Guard was called out to deal with civil unrest was in a backup role during the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul. The most comparable situation to the current disturbances happened when the Guard was called up to deal with the riots in Minneapolis in 1967, a summer when anger over racial inequalities came to a boil in many cities across the country.
The Minnesota National Guard was also called out during protests against the Vietnam War in the 1960s and early 1970s and during a 1986 strike by Hormel meatpackers in Austin.
Associated Press writers Amy Forliti and Steve Karnowski in Minneapolis, Gretchen Ehlke in Milwaukee and Colleen Long in Washington contributed to this report.