MINNEAPOLIS — The white police officer charged with murder in the killing two weeks ago of George Floyd, a Black man whose death in custody led to nationwide protests, was given a bail of as much as $1.25 million Monday.
Derek Chauvin, a 19-year veteran, participated in his initial hearing at the heavily fortified Hennepin County courthouse on a video feed from jail. Chauvin, who has been behind bars since he was arrested May 29, has been charged with second-degree manslaughter and second-degree murder, a more serious count than he had originally faced. He could be sentenced to up to 40 years in prison.
Chauvin, who placed his knee on the neck of Floyd for nearly nine minutes in a video that prompted anguish and outrage across the nation, has been a focus of anger, referred to as the most hated man in the world. Activists said they feared he would not abide by bail restrictions if he was permitted to go home until trial.
Arguing for a bail of $1.25 million, prosecutor Matthew Frank said Floyd’s death had created “a strong reaction in the community, to put it mildly.” He said that created two factors in deciding bail.
“One is the likelihood to flee from the jurisdiction because of not only the severity of the charges, but the strength of the community’s opinion,” he said. “And secondly, because of the severity of those charges, a significant amount of bail is warranted.”
During the hearing, Chauvin wore an orange jumpsuit and a blue mask that muffled his responses of “Yes, your honor” to a few procedural questions. Eric Nelson, Chauvin’s lawyer, said he did not object to the state’s bail request at this time. Judge Jeannice M. Reding granted it.
Chauvin’s bail would be $1 million if he agrees to certain conditions, including surrendering any of his firearms, remaining in the state until trial, not working in law enforcement and avoiding any contact with the Floyd family.
His next court appearance is scheduled for June 29, when he will enter a plea and some of the state’s evidence could be laid out.
Chauvin’s bail is higher than the bail of at least $750,000 given last week to the other three officers accused of aiding and abetting in Floyd’s death. Lawyers for two of those men, both rookies who had just days on the job, blamed Chauvin, who was a training officer for both of them. The third former officer has cooperated with authorities. Those are all indications that the police officers will not be presenting a united front, unusual in cases in which the police are charged in a death.
All four men were fired the day after Floyd died.
On that evening of May 25, an employee of a corner store in south Minneapolis called police, reporting that a counterfeit $20 bill had been used to buy cigarettes. The two rookie officers, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane — who between them had seven days on the job — responded first.
Floyd, sitting in a nearby car, stiffened when the officers tried to put him in the back of their police car and fell to the ground, according to an arrest affidavit. Floyd told the officers that he was not resisting arrest but was claustrophobic and did not want to get in the back seat of the car.
Then Chauvin and his partner, Tou Thao, arrived. Floyd struggled and began saying he could not breathe, the affidavit says. Chauvin pulled Floyd out of the passenger side of the squad car at 8:19 p.m. Still handcuffed, Floyd went to the ground.
The rookie officers held Floyd’s back and legs. As Chauvin held his left knee on Floyd’s neck over almost nine minutes, Floyd said “I can’t breathe” and “Mama” and then, after a time, nothing at all.
The protests started the next day in Minneapolis before spreading to the world. Although some have turned into violent clashes with police, and arsons and looting were reported in the early days in some protests, demonstrations were largely calm in recent days.
It is a temporary peace, activists cautioned, if Chauvin is not convicted.
“There is a real significant discrepancy between what happens when a policeman does something and a black man does something,” said one protester, Sara Semi, who just got “#icantbreathe” tattooed on her neck. “Chauvin needs to get life in prison if we want to see justice.”
Nelson, Chauvin’s lawyer, declined to comment when contacted by The New York Times.
Since the protests, Minneapolis has made changes. The University of Minnesota, the city school board and the parks department have cut ties with police. On Sunday, a veto-proof majority of the Minneapolis City Council pledged to dismantle the city’s Police Department and create a new system of public safety in a city where police have long been accused of racism.
In addition, Chauvin’s wife of almost 10 years has filed for divorce. They separated three days after Floyd’s killing.
Chauvin, 44, did not always want to be a police officer. He studied food preparation at a technical college, taking classes like “pantry food preparation,” “job seeking skills” and “stocks, sauces and soups,” according to his personnel file with the Minneapolis Police Department. He worked as a cook at McDonald’s and made ribs and chicken at Tinucci’s Restaurant. Then he switched paths, becoming a military police officer in the U.S. Army, serving in Germany.
At the Police Department, his record was mixed. Chauvin appears to have been reprimanded — and possibly suspended — after a woman complained in 2007 that he needlessly removed her from her car, his personnel file showed. She told authorities that he searched her and put her in the back of a squad car for driving 10 mph over the speed limit.
Chauvin was also the subject of at least 16 other misconduct complaints over two decades. His personnel file, heavily redacted, included no details on these.
But he was also given at least two medals of valor. One was for his role in fatally shooting someone who was pointing a sawed-off shotgun at officers in 2006, the records said. The second was for a domestic-violence call in 2008. Chauvin broke down a bathroom door; after a struggle, he twice shot the person being sought, his file said.
Chauvin was awarded two medals of commendation. In 2008 he was recognized for apprehending a man accused of pointing a gun at a man and woman — Chauvin and his partner followed the man with a gun, eventually tackling the man, who dropped a loaded .357.
His second was for working off-duty as security in November 2008 outside El Nuevo Rodeo. After he saw a man in an altercation fire off two rounds, Chauvin arrested him, the records showed. He also arrested some of the man’s friends, the records said, all of whom were accused of being part of a street gang.
That club may have been Chauvin’s only earlier connection to Floyd, who had also worked security at El Nuevo Rodeo for much of the year before their fatal encounter. It was uncertain whether they knew one another.