Home U.S Derek Chauvin used force against suspects before George Floyd. The jury won't...

Derek Chauvin used force against suspects before George Floyd. The jury won't hear about 6 of those incidents.


Seventeen complaints filed with Minneapolis police about Derek Chauvin. Six times in which prosecutors say Chauvin used force against arrestees. George Floyd’s arrest for aggravated robbery in 2007.

The jury considering murder and manslaughter charges against Chauvin won’t hear about any of those incidents. Their verdict may be influenced as much by what they don’t know as what they do.

Chauvin, a white former Minneapolis police officer, is accused of killing Floyd, 46, a Black man, by pressing his knee into Floyd’s neck as he lay handcuffed on the ground. 

In the run-up to the trial, both sides sought to introduce evidence about Chauvin and Floyd’s past actions. Prosecutors wanted to introduce eight incidents involving Chauvin. Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill allowed two of them.

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In this image from video, defense attorney Eric Nelson, left, and former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, right, listen as Assistant Minnesota Attorney General Matthew Frank, questions witness Donald Williams, as Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill presides Tuesday, March 30, 2021 at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis, Minn. Chauvin is charged in the May 25, 2020 death of George Floyd.

The defense wanted to bring up two arrests of Floyd, including one in Harris County, Texas, in 2007 that resulted in a conviction for aggravated robbery. Cahill allowed only a portion of Floyd’s drug-related arrest in 2019 in Minneapolis.

It’s common for judges to make such rulings on what evidence can be introduced in a trial. The court wants to ensure the jury doesn’t punish a defendant for prior “bad acts,” as they’re called. Jurors must evaluate whether Chauvin is guilty of what he is charged with: third- and second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. 

In criminal prosecutions, wrongful acts generally aren’t admissible unless prosecutors can demonstrate that they implicate the defendant, the incidents are important to the case and they won’t unfairly prejudice the jury against the defendant.

Though police department records show 18 complaints filed against Chauvin over the course of his 19-year career with Minneapolis police, just one will be introduced at trial.

Cahill’s rulings “make sense overall,” said Ted Sampsell-Jones, a professor at Mitchell Hamline School of Law in neighboring St. Paul.

The judge is “letting in the most similar incidents for both sides, but overall, he’s limiting the inquiry – trying to keep the parties and the jury focused on the charged incident,” Sampsell-Jones said.

“This isn’t supposed to devolve into a free-ranging inquisition of Floyd’s past, or Chauvin’s,” he said.


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