Ex-cop Chauvin pleads guilty in George Floyd federal civil rights case

A man listens in court.
Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin listens as guilty verdicts are read in his murder trial on April 20.
Screenshot of Court TV video

Updated 1:40 p.m.

Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin on Wednesday changed his plea to guilty to the federal charge of violating George Floyd's civil rights, using excessive force that killed Floyd while in police custody.

The move means Chauvin will not face a federal trial in January, although he could end up spending more years behind bars. In April, jurors in state court convicted Chauvin of murder and manslaughter in the Floyd case, and a judge later sentenced him to 22 1/2 years.

Chauvin also pleaded guilty to using excessive force against a 14-year-old boy during a 2017 incident, separate from the Floyd case.

Judge Paul Magnuson asked Chauvin if he understood his rights, that without the plea deal he faced up to life in prison. Chauvin confirmed he understood.

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Chauvin signed the plea agreement from his seat in the courtroom. He was in an orange jail uniform. He was led into and out of the courtroom in handcuffs. Federal prosecutors are recommending a sentence of up to 25 years.

The three former officers who were with Chauvin when he killed Floyd are facing the same federal charges. J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane, and Thou Thao have all pleaded not guilty in the federal case.

The three also face trial later next year on state charges of aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter.

Chauvin was one of several officers called to a south Minneapolis street corner May 25, 2020 on a report of a man allegedly using a counterfeit $20 to buy cigarettes at a local store. He arrived to find other officers struggling to arrest Floyd and get him in a squad car as Floyd pleaded that he was claustrophobic.

The encounter turned fatal as officers pulled Floyd to the ground to subdue him during the arrest.

Bystander video captured Chauvin with his knee pressed against Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes as the man lay pinned to the street, handcuffed and face down, pleading that he couldn’t breathe as people shouted from the curb that Floyd was dying.

Floyd’s killing sparked worldwide outrage when the video of the police subduing him went viral on social media, driving peaceful mass demonstrations that sometimes spilled into violence.

At trial, prosecutors painted the ex-officer as a cop who disregarded his training, his department’s use of force rules and Floyd’s suffering. The image of a white police officer who appeared indifferent to the suffering of a Black man under his knee begging for mercy made race an inescapable part of the story.

‘Good day for justice’

On Wednesday morning inside the wood-paneled courtroom, nine relatives and others associated with Chauvin filled the first row behind the defendant. Three brothers of George Floyd – Philonise, Rodney and Terrence – sat on the opposite side on a bench behind the prosecuting team.

In the last row of the prosecution side was Courteney Ross, Floyd’s girlfriend, who dabbed at tears as prosecutor Allen Slaughter Jr. recited the facts of the incident for Chauvin to agree to. Philonise Floyd bowed his head during that phase of the hearing.

There were times when the Chauvin relatives exhaled loudly and looked over at the Floyd family.

An unidentified juvenile whom Chauvin admitted to kneeling on the back of in a 2017 incident was also in the courtroom, seated by his attorney Bob Bennett. Lawyers for at least two of the other officers charged in the Floyd killing were in the courtroom as well.

As Chauvin entered the courtroom, he offered a wave at those there for him. He pulled his surgical mask down at one point to say something to a woman at the end, but covered his mouth with his hand. He also acknowledged his mother, Carolyn Pawlenty, with a nod.

Chauvin listened as the plea agreement was summarized by Slaughter. He didn’t look up from his copy of the agreement in the duration of that reading. Pawlenty dipped her head as the range of possible sentences was described.

Chauvin spoke little in court, either to his lawyer or on the record. He answered, “Yes, your honor” several times as the judge asked him if he understood the consequences of a guilty plea.

He answered, “Yes, sir” when asked if he understood he could face a life sentence if he went to trial and was convicted. When the judge asked, “are there any kind of side deals of any kind,” Chauvin answered, “Not to my knowledge.”

That could include possible testimony against the three officers who still face federal charges in Floyd’s death.

That portion of the hearing concluded when Magnuson said “There will be no trial of any kind. You understand that?”

“Yes, your honor,” Chauvin replied.

“This is the end of it,” Magnuson said.

Floyd’s relatives and the unidentified juvenile lingered in the hall until given the OK to proceed to the elevator. They exchanged elbow bumps, and Philonise Floyd said to the unidentified male, “It’s a good day for justice.”

Correction (Dec. 15, 2021): An earlier version of this story misspelled Terrence Floyd’s last name.