There are, of course, exceptions to the rule. And even if people don’t immediately recognize May 25, 2020, as a significant date, they remember seeing video of a man slowly suffocate as a cop knelt on his neck for nine minutes.
They know the name of George Floyd. Acknowledging the extreme manner of the killing, the city of Minneapolis settled a federal lawsuit filed by Floyd’s family for $27 million – believed to be the biggest pretrial payout ever in a case involving excessive force by law enforcement. The settlement was announced as the jury was being selected in the criminal trial of Derek Chauvin, the cop who planted his knee on the back of Floyd’s neck for those excruciating nine minutes.
As reason.com reported, the payout does not equate to an automatic admission of fault by the city, though its timing and size may have weighed heavily on the minds of jurors who convicted Chauvin of unintentional second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter.
The civil suit brought by Floyd’s family included Chauvin and the other three cops who were at the scene as defendants. Qualified immunity typically protects police from being sued in a personal capacity for their actions on the job, and overcoming that barrier requires it be “clearly established” that officers employed excessive force. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, which covers Minnesota, shot down two previous cases challenging qualified immunity on the grounds that the individuals being detained were actively resisting, thus justifying the use of the amount of force necessary to address the situation.
The Floyd case was different. Although he resisted at first, he seemed not to struggle after being pinned to the ground. The continued use of force long past that point by Chauvin could have prompted the court to deny qualified immunity for him and set a precedent for future rulings.
The challenge to qualified immunity will have to await another day, but the Floyd settlement is likely to carry social and political repercussions for years to come. “When there is a city council or a mayor deciding, ‘Oh, should we get rid of no-knock warrants, should we get rid of chokeholds, do we want to change these policies?,’ they have 27 million reasons now why they should,” said L. Chris Stewart, a lawyer for Floyd’s family. “And that will make decisions happen. That will make accountability happen.”
Editors’ Note: On April 20, 2021, Derek Chauvin was found guilty on all counts.
As a digital subscriber to Criminal Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.
Already a subscriber? Login