A flyer circulating on the internet accurately describes the career of ex-Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin.
Snopes also has in-depth reporting on the background of George Floyd. Read that report here. George Floyd, a 46-year-old unarmed black man, died in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020, after a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, pinned him to the ground and kneeled on his neck while Floyd repeatedly said, “I can’t breathe.” A bystander recorded the confrontation in a video that swiftly spread across social media as a deadly example of what many viewers dubbed racism by American cops. The footage sparked chaotic clashes between law enforcement officers and protesters condemning Minneapolis’ racial disparities in policing. Over the course of days, protests in dozens of U.S. cities had coalesced to show solidarity for Floyd’s family, including in Washington, D.C., where a group gathered in front of the White House and drew a derisive reaction from U.S. President Donald Trump: By May 30, tens of thousands of Americans gathered in streets nationwide to protest Floyd’s death in what The Associated Press (AP) dubbed a movement that “seemed to rival the historic demonstrations of the civil rights and Vietnam eras,” despite recommendations from public health officials to limit large gatherings to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus disease. The demonstrations largely began peaceful during the day and then escalated to chaos at night, with many cities reporting property damage, fires, violent clashes between law-enforcement officers and civilians and graffiti-marked buildings in Floyd’s memory. The damaged buildings included properties near the White House, the AP reported. At the center of the national discussion were the police officers with Floyd at the time he died, particularly Chauvin, 44, whom authorities have charged with second-degree murder, in addition to third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter with culpable negligence. He spent two nights in a county jail after his arrest on May 29, court records show, and then authorities moved him to a state prison. (No, he did not commit suicide, like some rumors online claim.) He was held on $1.25 million bail and was scheduled to make his first court appearance in downtown Minneapolis on June 8. What follows is everything we know about Chauvin, a 19-year veteran of the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD), based on court records, news reports, and police documents — evidence that pieces together a policing record that includes complaints against him, as well as several shootings of civilians. We should note at the outset that the office of Chauvin’s former attorney, Tom Kelly, did not respond to Snopes’ request for comment and his current attorney, Eric Nelson, declined to be interviewed. Additionally, Sgt. John Elder, a spokesman for MPD, declined to answer questions about Chauvin’s career with that department (which ended with Chauvin’s termination the day after Floyd died), asserting that, “We don’t comment on former employees,” and “Anything we say” could affect the current investigation into Floyd’s death. To structure our examination into Chauvin’s career with MPD, we measured the validity of each point included in a popular flyer titled “Who is Derek M. Chauvin?” that began circulating shortly after the video of Floyd and Chauvin went viral:
1. Chauvin Killed George Floyd on May 25, 2020?
Chauvin is set to become the first white police officer in Minnesota to be criminally prosecuted in the death of a black resident. Initially, the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office charged Chauvin with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in Floyd’s death on May 25, 2020. (The full complaint outlining those charges against Chauvin can be read here.) But in early June, after Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz requested the state’s Attorney General Keith Ellison to prosecute the case, Ellison upgraded the charges against Chauvin so he now faces a more severe charge of second-degree murder, in addition to the original charges brought forth by Hennepin County prosecutors. The maximum prison sentence for second-degree murder is 40 years; for third-degree murder is 25 years; and for second-degree manslaughter is 10 years. The full complaint outlining Ellison’s charges against Chauvin can be read here. According to the complaints, two police officers (not including Chauvin) responded to a 911 call reporting that someone had used a counterfeit $20 bill at a South Minneapolis convenience store. According to video evidence cited in the complaint, upon arriving at the scene the two officers approached Floyd, who was sitting in the driver’s seat of a vehicle also occupied by two other persons. As one of the officers began speaking with Floyd, the officer pulled his gun out and instructed Floyd to show his hands. Floyd complied with the order, whereupon the officer holstered his gun. The same officer then ordered Floyd out of the car and “put his hands on Floyd, and pulled him out of the car,” the complaint stated. The original complaint by Hennepin County prosecutors said Floyd initially resisted being handcuffed, but “once handcuffed, Mr. Floyd became compliant and walked” with the officer to the sidewalk. Ellison’s charges state simply an officer handcuffed Floyd. Both complaints say that minutes later, while police tried walking Floyd to their squad car, “Floyd stiffened up, fell to the ground,” and told the officers he was claustrophobic. Chauvin and another officer arrived at the scene at that point. The officers tried again to get Floyd into a squad car but were unsuccessful in doing so, according to the complaints. While the officers tried to force Floyd into the vehicle, he began asserting that he could not breathe. “He did not voluntarily sit in the backseat and the officers physically struggled to try to get him into the vehicle,” the complaint from Ellison’s office states. It continues:
The defendant pulled Mr. Floyd out of the passenger side of the squad car at 8:19:38 p.m. and Mr. Floyd went to the ground face down and still handcuffed. …The defendant placed his left knee in the area of Mr. Floyd’s head and neck. Mr. Floyd said, “I can’t breathe” multiple times and repeatedly said, “Mama” and “please,” as well. At one point, Mr. Floyd said “I’m about to die.” The defendant and the other two officers stayed in their positions.
Footage from the officers’ body cameras showed Chauvin kept Floyd pinned to the ground and knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes, including for nearly three minutes after Floyd became non-responsive. Floyd was later pronounced dead at a hospital. The Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s office, which encompasses Minneapolis, ruled Floyd’s manner of death a homicide. In its preliminary autopsy report, medical investigators did not “support a diagnosis of traumatic asphyxia or strangulation.” According to those findings, Floyd “had underlying health conditions including coronary artery disease and hypertensive heart disease. The combined effects of [his] being restrained by the police, his underlying health conditions and any potential intoxicants in his system likely contributed to his death.” But an autopsy commissioned by Floyd’s family had different results; it determined he did, in fact, die of asphyxiation due to Chauvin’s restraint. (Read more about those findings here.) All of that said, in reference to the first claim in the flyer, attorneys representing Chauvin are likely to argue that he did not murder Floyd but rather operated within the law as an officer. Prosecutors and viewers of the viral video have said otherwise.
2. Was the Restraint Technique Used on Floyd Part of Police Department Training?
The second claim in the flyer (that the restraint technique used is not part of MPD training) is false. MPD’s Policy & Procedure Manual, which governs everything from how officers should dress on the job to what tactics are OK to use during arrests, includes a section about use-of-force techniques.
That section allows officers to use force against civilians “to protect the peace officer or another from apparent death or great bodily harm; to effect the arrest or capture, or prevent the escape” of people who police officers have reason to believe committed violent felonies or will injure or kill themselves or others if their apprehension is delayed.
At the time of Floyd’s death, the rules on force stated the following about “Use of neck restraints and choke holds”: In cases they deemed appropriate, officers were allowed to use what they consider a “non-deadly force option” by kneeling on a suspect’s neck only if they had received training in how to do so without applying pressure to the suspect’s airway. Additionally, the department permitted two types of the restraint method: one that uses “light or moderate pressure” to get someone under “control,” and another that uses “adequate pressure” to make someone unconscious.
However, in the aftermath of Floyd’s death, MPD signed a tentative agreement with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights (which had launched an investigation into MPD after filing a civil rights charge in connection with Floyd’s death) that it would ban officers from using chokeholds and neck restraints. On June 9, 2020, after a judge approved that agreement, Minneapolis leaders revised the police manual. It now reads:
But considering that timeline, the claim in the flyer is demonstrably false.
3. Is Chauvin’s Lawyer the Same Man Who Represented a Cop in the Death of Philando Castile?
The Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association (MPPOA), which provides legal services to Minnesota’s police by drawing from about a dozen attorneys, is providing legal representation for Chauvin. And initially, yes, the association had assigned Tom Kelly to Floyd’s case; Kelly was one of the defense attorneys who represented St. Anthony, Minnesota, police officer Jeronimo Yanez, who was acquitted on all charges in connection to the fatal shooting of 32-year-old Philando Castile, a black man, in 2017. But on June 3, 2020, Eric Nelson of the Halberg Criminal Defense firm took over Chauvin’s case, Reuters reported. Nelson declined Snopes’ request for comment on Chauvin’s policing record with MPD and the charges he faces in Floyd’s death. Kelly told Reuters the association had originally assigned the case to him because he was the on-call attorney at the time of Chauvin’s arrest. But he gave up the case for medical-related reasons.
4. Was Chauvin Placed on Leave in the Shooting of a Native Alaskan?
By and large, this is true. Here is what we know about the shooting of Leroy Martinez in 2011, which the flyer claimed was “an inappropriate police shooting” involving Chauvin and resulted in the police officer’s being placed on administrative leave. According to news reports, on Aug. 8, 2011, Chauvin and other officers chased down Martinez, 23, in a public housing complex in South Minneapolis after they said they heard gunshots and saw Martinez running with a gun. (The Indian County-Today news outlet confirmed that Martinez is an Alaskan Native.) One of the officers shot Martinez in the torso, and as he recovered in the hospital, Martinez faced second-degree assault charges in connection with a shooting that had taken place before police arrived on the scene. Here’s how the Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper reported the incident: According to the Star Tribune’s coverage, a witness who said she watched the shooting from her balcony in the housing complex maintained to journalists that police weren’t telling the full story. The witness said Martinez had thrown down his gun and was holding his hands in the air when one of the officers (not Chauvin) shot him, after warning that he would open fire. All the policemen involved, including Chauvin, were placed on three-day administrative leave, which is standard procedure in officer-involved shootings. All three were eventually exonerated of any wrongdoing. Whether the flyer is correct in describing the shooting as “inappropriate” is a subjective issue. The police chief at the time said he believed the officers acted “appropriately and courageously,” suggesting they had acted within department policy under the circumstances, The New York Times reported.
5. Did Chauvin Shoot an Unarmed Black Man in 2008?
This claim in the flyer is largely true. Here’s what we know about that incident: While responding to a call of domestic violence at a South Minneapolis apartment, Chauvin opened fire on a 21-year-old black man, Ira Latrell Toles. The Associated Press reported the following about the incident:
For a period of time there was an open 911 line into the residence and the 911 operator could hear a woman yelling for someone to stop hitting her, police said. Officers were refused entry when they arrived at the residence but could hear the assault continuing so they forced their way in. Police say Toles tried to run from officers, and when they tried to subdue him he tried to take an officer’s gun. They say the officer shot him to prevent that from happening. The two officers on the scene are on paid administrative leave, which is standard in shootings. Police have not released their names.
Toles, who survived the shooting and later faced criminal charges, recalled the incident differently. Following Floyd’s death in May 2020, Toles told the Daily Beast that yes, the mother of his child had called police on him that night, and that he had locked himself in the bathroom “with a cigarette and no lighter” after officers broke down the apartment door. Then, Toles alleged, Chauvin busted in the bathroom door and started hitting Toles without warning, alleging that he was too disoriented to go for the officer’s gun. That means the flyer is accurate, with the caveat that only Toles’ account suggested that he was unarmed at the time of the confrontation.
6. Was Chauvin Among a Group of Cops Who Shot and Killed Wayne Reyes?
This claim is true. In 2006, Chauvin and five other officers opened fire on a truck in South Minneapolis while responding to a stabbing report. MPD said the suspect, 42-year-old Wayne Reyes, had pulled out a shotgun when police pulled him over, and officers said they believed Reyes had stabbed his girlfriend and another friend in a domestic dispute, according to news reports. In total, the six officers fired 42 rounds in four seconds, according to the The Washington Post. Reyes (who the Canadian national news outlet, APTN News, reported was a member of the Leech Lake Ojibwe Band in Minnesota) was struck multiple times and died, but it was unclear if Chauvin had fired any of the fatal shots. Reyes’ death was already controversial at the time it occurred and did not become so only after Chauvin’s subsequent actions drew international recognition to it in 2020. Investigators evaluated the circumstances under the watch of Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who at the time led the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office. However, Klobuchar vacated the county office for the U.S. Senate before Reyes’ case made it to a grand jury, and in the end the jury ruled that the officers’ deadly use of force had been justified. In reference to the flyer, no reports detailed how many times he was struck, but otherwise it would be factual, based on available evidence, to state as true that “Chauvin was among a group of officers that opened fire and killed Wayne Reyes, an indigenous man (a total of 42 rounds were shot off).”
7. Did Chauvin and Another Cop Chase a Car and Cause Three Deaths?
This claim is unproven based upon the available evidence. Roughly four years into Chauvin’s MPD career in 2005, he and another police officer were involved in a car chase that turned deadly, according to news reports. The officers were apparently pursuing a car that ended up crashing into another vehicle, killing three people. But we have not yet uncovered further details on why the officers were chasing the car, or whether the other drivers (and their conditions) were major factors in the collision. In reference to the flyer, it’s accurate to say “Chauvin and another officer were chasing a car in 2005,” but we cannot assert on trusted evidence that the officers’ actions most definitely caused the three fatalities.
8. Are There 12 Brutality Complaints at MPD Against Chauvin?
Although we can’t yet say for certain why, or under what circumstances, conduct complaints were filed against Chauvin, this claim is somewhat true. Chauvin’s Employee Complaint Profile Card showed 17 complaints had been filed against him over the course of his career with MPD. But the database (as the flyer suggests) does not include details of the complaints, such as when they were filed or how they were investigated. The available evidence showed that all of the cases except for one were closed without Chauvin’s facing disciplinary action. Chauvin received two letters of reprimand for one case that investigators deemed worthy of discipline, an incident that was apparently related to the use of a squad car dashboard camera, The Associated Press reported. In other words, it’s undetermined based on verifiable evidence whether all the complaints against Chauvin were based on allegations of police brutality or excessive use of force, or whether they also included accusations of the officer’s breaking MPD policy without infringing on civilians’ civil rights. Anyone can file a complaint against a police officer for any allegation. Also unclear is whether, or to what extent, the complaints were connected to the incidents described above that resulted in civilian deaths or injuries.
Beyond the Flyer, What Else is Known About Chauvin?
Other verified information we know about Chauvin: He and Floyd were employed in security at a Latin nightclub in Minneapolis, El Nuevo Rodeo club, which is in the same neighborhood where Chauvin worked. Maya Santamaria, who owned the building that housed the club, confirmed with Snopes that both Floyd and Chauvin were employed by the business during periods that overlapped, although it is unknown whether the two men knew each other before Floyd’s arrest in May 2020. Additionally, part of Chauvin’s personal life was on public display in July 2018, when a local newspaper wrote a feature story about his wife, Kellie Chauvin, a Hmong woman who was born in Laos and was vying to become Mrs. Minnesota America at the time. However, on May 29, 2020, a lawyer issued a statement to news media on her behalf declaring that she was divorcing Chauvin over Floyd’s death. Also, both Derek and Kellie Chauvin have worked in real estate in the Twin Cities area, according to the Star Tribune. She has an active real estate license, records show, while his license is inactive.
What About the Other Officers Involved in Floyd’s Death?
The three officers who watched the fatal confrontation between Floyd and Chauvin — Tou Thao, J Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane — were each charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder (maximum prison sentence is 40 years) while committing a felony, and with aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter (maximum prison sentence is 10 years).
What’s Happened in Minneapolis Since the Video of Chauvin Surfaced?
In Minneapolis, the epicenter of the Floyd protests, as of May 31, 2020, residents were planning more daytime gatherings to call attention to Chauvin’s actions and MPD’s disparities in policing. Community groups were coordinating to clean debris across the city and suburbs from the three nights of chaos and one night of threats that prompted an unprecedented National Guard presence in the city. Like in dozens of U.S. cities where people protested Floyd’s death, the peaceful marches during the day set the stage for vandalism and destruction at night. Since Floyd’s death, at least 255 Minneapolis properties have been destroyed by fires or flooding, have had their windows smashed, have become targets of theft. Among those targets was MPD’s Third Precinct headquarters where Chauvin worked, and where protesters had breached a fence before setting the building on fire. Additionally, an unknown number of people in Minneapolis have been wounded in the aftermath of Floyd’s death, either from police tear gas and rubber bullets or protesters’ actions; one 43-year-old man was fatally shot while trying to break into a pawn shop. Tags around the city included the phrase “fuck Derek Chauvin” and “Derek Chauvin is a murderer.” Initially, the city — headed by Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey — had led the government’s response to the protests and subsequent “agitators,” as Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz called them. But the state took over on May 30 after what Walz called an “abject failure” by the city to protect residents and property. Trump, too, had criticized the local government’s efforts, calling Frey a “very weak Radical Left Mayor” on Twitter. Frey responded to the president, saying at a press conference: “Weakness is refusing to take responsibility for your own actions; weakness is point your finger at somebody else at a time of crisis,” he said. On June 7, the Minneapolis City Council took an informal tally to gauge who among them supported dismantling the city’s police department in the wake of Floyd’s death. Nine of 13 council members said they would support the change if it meant pumping more dollars into community-led policing, though the details of any restructuring remained unclear as of this report. Frey, to whom the MPD police chief answers, declared at a protest a day earlier that he did not support abolishing the police, and he could veto any decision by the council. But the council, with enough votes, could override any decision by him. We will update this report as pertinent information becomes available.