Minneapolis reaches settlements in lawsuits involving former MPD officer Derek Chauvin

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The City has reached settlements in two civil lawsuits involving former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin. The two litigation matters are Pope v. Chauvin, et al. and Code v. Chauvin, et al., both are based on incidents that occurred in 2017.  

The City Council unanimously voted today to approve the settlements in an action that will be signed by Mayor Jacob Frey. A $7.5 million settlement was approved in the John Pope litigation matter and $1.375 million in the Zoya Code case.

The City of Minneapolis has not released the body worn camera footage for either of these incidents as the footage is considered private data under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act. As subjects of the footage, the plaintiffs may choose to release video as soon as today.

If the plaintiffs choose to release the body-worn camera video, the City will support their decisions to do so. The footage may be difficult for many to watch, and it’s likely it will be triggering or traumatizing to community members. As the plaintiffs allege, Chauvin used excessive force against them.

The following information is drawn from public documents filed and proceedings in U.S. District Court.

Unreasonable use of force against John Pope 

In the complaint filed in U.S. District Court, John Pope described his interaction with Derek Chauvin as it occurred on the evening of Sept. 4, 2017. Derek Chauvin was convicted criminally on federal charges related to this incident and pleaded guilty on Dec. 15, 2021. During the change of plea hearing, Chauvin testified under oath and described the force he used against John Pope.

The following information is a summary based on the allegations in the complaint, the City’s answer, and Chauvin’s sworn testimony in the federal criminal proceedings that resulted in a federal, felony conviction.

On the evening of Sept. 4, 2017, MPD officers responded to John Pope’s home for the report of a domestic assault. John Pope, who was 14 at the time, lived at the residence with his mother and sister. 

Chauvin was one of two officers who initially responded to the call. With him was Alexander Walls, an officer Chauvin was training at the time. The complaint says when the officers arrived at the house around 8:45 p.m., it was “quiet and peaceful.”  

When the officers arrived, they were equipped with department-issued body-worn cameras that were activated and captured detailed video and audio of the incident, including the criminal use of force by Chauvin.

The officers were let into the house by John Pope’s mother, who, according to the complaint, was “clearly and obviously drunk.” 

John Pope’s mother told officers she wanted her son and daughter removed from the home after an interaction about unplugging phone chargers from the wall. John Pope’s mother told officers her son had “grabbed her” and tried to “wrestle her or whatever” after their conversation. She also said John Pope’s sister had made contact with her. 

The complaint says John Pope’s mother spoke calmly and did not say she had any injuries or show proof she had any. She proceeded to fill out domestic-assault paperwork that the officers provided to her. 

More than 30 minutes later, Chauvin and Walls eventually followed John Pope’s mother to an open bedroom door, where John Pope was laying on the ground inside, quietly using his cell phone. 

Walls asked John Pope to come out, but according to the complaint, did not allow time for the then 14-year-old to comply. Instead, Walls walked inside the room and told John Pope he was under arrest and to stand up. John Pope responded to the officer by saying his mother had assaulted him and was drunk, and that the officers could verify these events with his sister. 

After a few moments, Walls then reached out and grabbed John Pope’s wrist. Chauvin entered the bedroom right behind Walls with a large metal flashlight in his hand. At no time did John Pope threaten the officers and he did not pose immediate threat. 

Chauvin moved straight towards John Pope and within seconds, struck John Pope at least twice on the head with a large metal flashlight. 

Chauvin strangled John Pope with his left hand as he gripped John Pope’s throat and shoved John Pope against the wall. Chauvin applied a neck restraint to John Pope that rendered John Pope unconscious. 

After John Pope regained consciousness, for more than fifteen minutes, Chauvin kept John Pope in a prone position, handcuffed, while Chauvin kneeled on John Pope’s neck and upper back. 

During that time John Pope cried out and pleaded with the officers— John Pope said he couldn’t breathe and repeatedly asked that Chauvin’s knee be taken off his neck. 

According to the complaint, at least eight officers* responded to the house throughout the incident and observed Chauvin with his knee across John Pope’s neck and back.

Paramedics eventually arrived at the house and Chauvin was still kneeling on John Pope’s neck. One paramedic examined John Pope’s head and said he would need stitches. 

John Pope was eventually rolled over by officers and stood up. He was then walked from the home to an ambulance and taken to Hennepin County Medical Center.

Officers filed reports documenting their actions the night of Sept. 4, 2017. Many significant details in the officers’ reports are not consistent with what happened. 

*The complaint filed in U.S. District Court was filed against seven officers, not eight.

Many of the officers who responded to the scene eventually testified before a federal grand jury that indicted Chauvin based on this incident. On Dec. 15, 2021, Chauvin plead guilty in federal court to felony charges based on the incident. 

Unreasonable use of force against Zoya Code 

According to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court, Zoya Code described her interaction with Derek Chauvin as it occurred on June 25, 2017. The following information summarizes the force used on Zoya Code, based on what is alleged in the complaint and the City’s answer:

Two MPD officers, including Chauvin, were dispatched to a residence on Oakland Avenue South in Minneapolis on the evening of June 25, 2017. 

Zoya Code’s mother had called the police, alleging Zoya Code had assaulted and strangled her with an extension cord. 

Zoya Code had left the residence before police arrived and returned once the officers were inside the residence. 

When Zoya Code returned, she walked by Chauvin in the living room. A brief struggle ensued between Zoya Code and the two officers. The two officers brought Zoya Code to the ground and handcuffed her without incident. 

Chauvin proceeded to apply “upward force” to Zoya Code’s handcuffed arms, moving them up towards the back of her head. 

Chauvin carried Zoya Code out of the residence by her arms, while the other officer carried her feet. 

Once outside, Chauvin slammed Zoya Code’s head into the ground, and then kneeled on the back of her neck. He remained in this position for several minutes. 

Chauvin eventually asked the other officer with him to retrieve a hobble* from their squad car. A hobble is a device that limits a person’s motion by tethering their legs together and securing them to the person’s waist.

The officers applied the hobble device to Zoya Code, while she remained limp. Chauvin remained on Zoya Code’s neck for more than a minute after the device was on her. 

Once Chauvin got off Zoya Code, he carried her by one arm to the squad car. 

An MPD Sergeant responded to the scene and “reviewed and approved” the use of force. Zoya Code was brought to Hennepin County Jail and booked. 

Zoya Code was charged with domestic assault arising from the incident, but the charge was later dropped. 

Chauvin later filed a report about the encounter with Zoya Code. Chauvin lied in the report and left out critical information about the interaction. 

This device, and other restraint techniques have since been banned under MPD policy, according to the city.

Over the past couple of years, the City has continued a sustained push to shift the culture within the MPD. Since June 2020, Mayor Jacob Frey and MPD leadership have implemented sweeping changes, including overhauling the discipline matrix, multiple revisions to the Use of Force policy, updating the Field Training Officer program, a complete ban on neck restraints, affirmative duty to physically intervene, requiring officers to complete ABLE Training and more.

Most recently, the City and MPD entered into a court-enforceable settlement agreement with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights. Under the agreement, there is an entire section dedicated to Use of Force including:

  • Establishing new “levels” to more clearly define reportable uses of force.
  • Except for in critical incidents, requires each officer who uses level 2 or level 3 reportable use of force, and each officer who is physically present and witnessed the use of force, to accurately and thoroughly record all information in the required systems for each reportable use of force.
  • Requiring a supervisor to respond to the scene if significant force is used, which is based on the new reportable levels of force.
  • Requiring officer who uses reportable force to document the reason for the initial interaction.
  • Prohibiting officers from sharing information with another officer for the purpose of creating or producing force reports and documentation.

There are also many provisions within the agreement that bolster accountability, oversight, and supervisor review processes. Some examples include creating a new MPD Review Panel, chaired by the chief or their designee, to review, analyze and assess MPD’s enforcement practices, directing significant investment to new IT infrastructure such as new data collection, management and analysis systems to improve accountability, transparency and public safety, and new supervisory review processes that hold both supervisors and supervisees accountable.

The U.S. Department of Justice also has an ongoing pattern or practice investigation into the City and the MPD. The department launched the investigation after Derek Chauvin was found guilty of George Floyd’s murder on April 20, 2021.

Additionally, the City recently approved an ordinance establishing a 15-member Community Commission on Police Oversight designed to improve transparency and accountability. This Commission should convene later this spring.

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