Minneapolis voters reject disbanding police in wake of George Floyd murder

By Brad Brooks

(Reuters) – Minneapolis voters decided on Tuesday not to replace their police force with a new department that would have taken a holistic approach to crime, 18 months after the murder of George Floyd in the city sparked global protests for racial justice.

With all precincts reporting tallies, more than 56% of voters rejected a ballot asking residents if they wanted to create a new Department of Public Safety to take the place of the police department.

Leili Fatehi, campaign manager for All of Mpls, which campaigned against dissolving the police department, said voters gave a clear mandate for continuing to work on reforms within the structure of the agency.

She said neither side of the ballot measure is happy with the status quo of policing in the city, but they disagree on how best to make changes.

“What we want to see happen next is for the residents of Minneapolis to unite behind holding the next mayor and city council accountable for rolling up their sleeves and doing that hard work without delay,” Fatehi said.

Minneapolis was thrust to the center of the U.S. racial justice debate in May 2020 when officer Derek Chauvin pinned his knee against the neck of Floyd, a Black man, for more than nine minutes. Chauvin was sentenced in June to 22 1/2 years in prison. Three other officers charged in Floyd’s death face trial in March.

Floyd’s death ignited calls from activists to “defund the police” – which even most of those who supported scrapping the Minneapolis police department rejected. Instead, they called for rethinking how and when police are used, not the disbanding all armed officers.

JaNaé Bates, a leader of the Yes4Minneapolis campaign that supported creating the new safety department, told supporters at an election watch party that despite the loss, the conversation around policing had forever changed.

“The people of Minneapolis are deserving to have a law enforcement agency that is accountable and transparent, and that is not what we have today,” she said. “We’ll continue to push for our people.”

Democrats, normally allies in the largely progressive Midwestern city, split over the ballot question. Many feared dissolving the department would provide easy election fodder for Republicans nationwide ahead of November 2022 congressional elections.

Opposed to the measure were Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo; Mayor Jacob Frey, who is up for reelection on Tuesday; U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Governor Tim Walz.

Some of the state’s best-known progressives – such as U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar and Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, who oversaw Chauvin’s prosecution – supported the change.

At the watch party for Yes4Minneapolis, supporter Sandra Williams said those seeking reforms would press on.

“The fight continues,” Williams said.

(Reporting by Brad Brooks; Additional reporting by Nicole Neri in Minneapolis; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Stephen Coates)

After George Floyd, Minneapolis voters weigh replacing police department

By Brad Brooks

(Reuters) – Minneapolis voters may decide on Tuesday to scrap their police force for a reimagined department that takes a holistic approach to crime and its causes, 18 months after the murder of George Floyd sparked global protests for racial justice.

Supporters say what the ballot calls a Department of Public Safety is badly needed after decades of failed attempts at police reforms.

Opponents in the city of some 430,000 people say it is a mistake for Minneapolis with crime on the rise. Policing needs to be more equitable, they say, but reforms should take place within the existing structure.

The city was thrust to the center of the U.S. racial justice debate in May 2020 when officer Derek Chauvin pinned his knee against the neck of Floyd, a Black man, for more than nine minutes. Chauvin was sentenced in June to 22 1/2 years in prison.

Three other officers charged in Floyd’s death face trial in March.

Democrats, normally allies in the largely progressive Midwestern city, have split over the ballot question. Many fear dissolving the department will provide easy election fodder for Republicans nationwide ahead of November 2022 congressional elections.

Opposing the measure are Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo; Mayor Jacob Frey, up for reelection on Tuesday; U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Governor Tim Walz.

Some of the state’s best-known progressives – such as U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar and Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, who oversaw Chauvin’s prosecution – support the change.

Nearly all of the dozens of Minneapolis residents interviewed last week said they were confused about how a new public safety department would operate, even those who support it.

If voters approve the creation of the new public safety department, the mayor and the city council would then analyze what type of support residents need – from armed officers responding to violent crimes to mental-health and addiction specialists to address situations where a traditional officer with a gun is not required.

(Reporting by Brad Brooks; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Howard Goller)

U.S. probes Phoenix police use of force, treatment of protesters

By Jan Wolfe

(Reuters) -The U.S. Justice Department has opened an investigation into whether police in Phoenix unlawfully have used deadly force, retaliated against peaceful protesters and violated the rights of homeless people in the latest such inquiry involving a major American city, officials said on Thursday.

Since President Joe Biden took office in January, the department also has launched civil rights investigations into police conduct in Minneapolis and Louisville, Kentucky. Those were among the U.S. cities where large 2020 protests were held after high-profile killings of Black people by police officers.

The inquiries mark a shift in the department’s focus under the Democrat Biden, who has made racial justice a priority in contrast with the administration of his Republican predecessor Donald Trump.

Phoenix, with a population of roughly 1.7 million, is Arizona’s capital and largest city – and the fifth most populous city in the United States.

Attorney General Merrick Garland and Kristen Clarke, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, announced the investigation at a news conference. Garland said such probes are “aimed to promote transparency and accountability.”

Racial justice activists have accused Phoenix police of carrying out unlawful surveillance, arrests and malicious prosecutions of protesters. Last month, Phoenix police responding to a mental health call shot and killed a man who pointed an object at them that turned out to be a water gun, authorities said.

Clarke said the Phoenix investigation has the full support of the city’s mayor and police chief.

“We look forward to working together with the city and the Phoenix police department toward the shared goals of ensuring constitutional policing and fostering greater cooperation between law enforcement officers and the community that they serve,” Clarke said.

Justice Department lawyers have met with close to 1,000 community members in Minneapolis and Louisville, and received written messages from hundreds more, Clarke said. Justice Department lawyers have also met with command staff of police departments in Louisville and Minneapolis, Clarke added.

“We will take the same approach in Phoenix,” Clarke said.

Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego in a statement welcomed the Justice Department review, adding, “Comprehensive reform of policing in the city of Phoenix has been my priority since the first day I took office.”

U.S. police use of force has been in the spotlight in the aftermath of a series of deadly incidents in various cities in recent years, with protests around the country following the death of a Black man named George Floyd in Minneapolis in June 2020 – a crime in which a police officer as been convicted of murder. Louisville officers last year fatally shot Breonna Taylor, an unarmed Black woman, in a botched raid.

Clarke said police officers must use their authority in a manner that does violate the constitutional rights of people, complies with federal civil rights laws and “respects human dignity.”

(Reporting by Jan Wolfe; Additional reporting by David Schwartz in Phoenix; Editing by Will Dunham, Scott Malone and Richard Chang)

Chauvin seeks probation for Floyd death, state wants 30 years

(Reuters) -Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin asked a judge on Wednesday for probation after being convicted for the murder of George Floyd, while the prosecution said his crime “shocked the Nation’s conscience” and he should be imprisoned for 30 years.

In a motion filed with Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill, lawyer Eric Nelson said Chauvin’s actions in pinning Floyd to the pavement during an arrest was “best described as an error made in good faith” based on his training.

“Mr. Chauvin asks the Court to look beyond its findings, to his background, his lack of criminal history, his amenability to probation, to the unusual facts of this case, and to his being a product of a ‘broken’ system,” Nelson wrote.

The lawyer asked the judge for a so-called dispositional departure resulting in probation or a downward durational departure, which he said would lead to a sentence less strict than the 128 months to 180 months suggested by state guidelines.

In their own filing, prosecutors argued that Chauvin acted with cruelty, among other aggravating factors, and therefore deserved twice the upper limit of the sentencing range, or 30 years in prison.

“His actions traumatized the community, prompting an outpouring of grief and protest across Minneapolis and the State. And his actions shocked the conscience of the Nation,” prosecutors in the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office wrote.

A Minneapolis jury in April found Chauvin, 45, guilty of second- and third-degree murder and manslaughter after hearing three weeks of testimony in a highly publicized trial. He is scheduled to be sentenced on June 25.

He is being held at a maximum security prison in Oak Park Heights, Minnesota, while awaiting sentencing.

Last month, Cahill found that prosecutors had shown there were four aggravating factors in the death of Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man.

The judge said Chauvin, who is white, abused his position of trust and authority and treated Floyd with particular cruelty. He committed the crime as part of a group with three other officers and did so with children present, Cahill ruled.

Floyd’s May 25, 2020, death – after he was handcuffed on a Minneapolis street with Chauvin’s knee on his neck for more than nine minutes – prompted massive protests against racism and police brutality in many U.S. cities and other countries.

In Wednesday’s motion, Nelson said the fact that the officers on the scene called for an ambulance “served to mitigate any cruelty” in the treatment of Floyd. Chauvin, he noted, remained on the scene until medical assistance arrived.

“Mr. Chauvin has established that he is particularly amenable to probation and is a prime candidate for a stringent probationary sentence plus time served,” Nelson wrote.

Chauvin has been in prison since his April 20 conviction.

(Reporting by Nathan Layne and Jonathan Allen; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Bill Berkrot)

Police kill Black man in Minneapolis suburb, sparking protests near Chauvin trial

By Nicholas Pfosi and Jonathan Allen

BROOKLYN CENTER, Minn. (Reuters) – A police officer in a Minneapolis suburb fatally shot a young Black man during a traffic stop for what his mother said was air fresheners dangling from his rear-view mirror, sparking protests that spilled into Monday morning.

The shooting and subsequent unrest in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, came hours before the resumption of the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former white Minneapolis police officer charged with murdering George Floyd. The trial began its 11th day on Monday in a courtroom less than 10 miles (16 km) away from the incident.

The Brooklyn Center Police Department said it would hold a briefing at 11 a.m. CDT (1600 GMT) on the shooting.

Relatives and Minnesota Governor Tim Walz identified the man killed by police as Daunte Wright, 20. Walz said in a statement on Sunday that he was monitoring the unrest as “our state mourns another life of a Black man taken by law enforcement.”

Wright’s mother, Katie Wright, told reporters she had received a call from her son on Sunday afternoon telling her that police had pulled him over for having air fresheners dangling from his rear-view mirror, which is illegal in Minnesota. She could hear police tell her son to get out the vehicle, she said.

“I heard scuffling, and I heard police officers say, ‘Daunte, don’t run,'” she said through tears. The call ended. When she dialed his number again, his girlfriend answered and said he was dead in the driver’s seat.

In a statement, Brooklyn Center police said officers pulled over a man for a traffic violation just before 2 p.m., and found he had an outstanding arrest warrant. As police tried to arrest him, he got back in the car. One officer shot the man, who was not identified in the statement. The man drove several blocks before striking another vehicle and dying at the scene.

Late Sunday, a group of about 100 to 200 protesters gathered around the Brooklyn Center police headquarters and threw projectiles at the building, Minnesota Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington said in a livestreamed news briefing. The group was later dispersed.

Another group of protesters broke into about 20 businesses at a regional shopping center, with some businesses looted, according to the police and local media reports.

Brooklyn Center’s mayor ordered a curfew until 6 a.m. (1100 GMT) on Monday morning, and the local school superintendent said the district would move to remote learning on Monday “out of an abundance of caution.”

Anti-police protesters have already spent recent days rallying in Minneapolis as the trial of Chauvin enters its third week in a courthouse ringed with barriers and National Guard soldiers.

In response to the protests, Derek Chauvin’s lead attorney, Eric Nelson, renewed his request to have the jury sequestered by having members moved to a hotel. Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill again denied the request, saying he would not sequester jurors until they begin deliberations in downtown Minneapolis, which is already heavily fortified against potential unrest.

(Reporting by Nicholas Pfosi in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, and Jonathan Allen in Minneapolis; additional reporting by Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Minneapolis judge says no to moving trial of ex-policeman in Floyd death

By Jonathan Allen

(Reuters) – The judge in the murder trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer charged in the death of George Floyd, denied Chauvin’s request to delay or move his trial out of the county on Friday morning.

Chauvin’s lead lawyer, Eric Nelson, has complained to the court that publicity around the trial has tainted the jury pool in and around Minneapolis, not least the city’s announcement last week it would pay Floyd’s relatives $27 million to settle their wrongful-death lawsuit.

Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill ruled against Chauvin from the bench on Friday, saying that delaying or moving the trial would make it no easier to seat an impartial jury.

“I don’t think there’s any place in the state of Minnesota that has not been subjected to extreme amounts of publicity in this case,” Cahill said.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

Judge in George Floyd police trial calls timing of $27 million settlement unfortunate

By Jonathan Allen

(Reuters) – The judge in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer charged with murder in the arrest of George Floyd, said on Monday it was unfortunate the city had announced a $27 million settlement with Floyd’s family on Friday in the midst of jury selection.

Judge Peter Cahill of the Hennepin County District Court said he would soon recall the seven jurors seated last week to ask whether they had seen news of the settlement and whether it would affect their impartiality.

“I wish city officials would stop talking about this case so much,” the judge said before resuming jury selection on Monday morning. “At the same time, I don’t find any evil intent that they are trying to tamper with the criminal case.”

The trial in a heavily fortified tower in downtown Minneapolis is being closely watched as a bellwether of the way U.S. law enforcement agencies use force and violence in policing Black people.

Chauvin, who is white, was captured in a bystander’s video with his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes as Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man in handcuffs, cried out for his life and his mother, who had recently died. The death ignited global protests against racism and police brutality. Chauvin and three other police officers were fired the day after the arrest.

Floyd’s family filed a federal wrongful-death lawsuit against Chauvin and the city of Minneapolis last year. The city held a widely viewed news conference with family members on Friday to announce the $27 million settlement, described by Benjamin Crump, a lawyer for Floyd’s family, as one of the largest-ever settlements of its kind.

Eric Nelson, Chauvin’s lead lawyer, said the news was “profoundly disturbing” to the defense.

“By my count, this is the third highly prejudicial press leak or press release that has very suspicious timing, to say the least, and has an incredible propensity to taint a jury pool,” he told the court before jury selection resumed.

Besides asking to recall the seven jurors already seated, Nelson asked the judge to reconsider his request to move the trial to a different county, which Cahill said he would consider.

‘ALL OVER THE MEDIA’

Prosecutors from the Minnesota attorney general’s office told the court they had no control over the city’s mayor, council or news media.

“You would agree that this is unfortunate, wouldn’t you?” the judge asked prosecutors. “That we have this reported all over the media when we’re in the midst of jury selection?”

A spokeswoman for the city said she would inquire whether Mayor Jacob Frey had any comment.

The first potential juror to appear in court on Monday, who appeared to be a white woman in her 50s, said the size of the settlement made an impression on her and that she was familiar with civil litigation from her work in human resources.

“My guess is that with that large of a settlement the city did not feel it would prevail in court,” she told the judge, who went on to dismiss her.

Jurors seated last week include four white men, one of them Hispanic; one white woman; a woman of mixed race; and a Black man who immigrated to the United States about 14 years ago. All but one are in their 20s and 30s, the court said. Judge Cahill has promised the jurors anonymity for the duration of the trial.

An eighth juror was picked later on Monday: a Black man in his 30s who has worked in the banking industry and said he likes writing poetry and coaching and watching sports.

He said he strongly supported the message of the Black Lives Matter movement, and that he was able to be impartial in weighing Chauvin’s conduct.

“I don’t think he had any intention of harming anyone,” he said of Chauvin, “but somebody did die.”

Chauvin, 44, is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. He has pleaded not guilty, saying he followed his police training.

All potential jurors who have appeared so far said they know who Chauvin is and what the video shows him doing; most said they had formed a negative opinion of him, though some said they could remain open to the possibility his actions were not criminal.

The court is planning to have opening arguments commence on March 29. Chauvin faces up to 40 years in prison if convicted on the most serious charge.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Howard Goller)

Minneapolis to pay $27 million to settle George Floyd’s family lawsuit over deadly arrest

By Jonathan Allen

(Reuters) – The city of Minneapolis will pay $27 million to settle a lawsuit by the family of George Floyd over his death in police custody, a case that stirred national protests over racial injustice and police brutality.

Mayor Jacob Frey will join other elected officials and members of Floyd’s family on Friday afternoon for a news conference to discuss the settlement, the city announced.

Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, died in May as Derek Chauvin, a white Minneapolis police officer, kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes. Floyd’s dying pleas for help were captured on widely seen bystander’s video, which helped spark one of the largest protest movements ever seen in the United States.

The trial of Chauvin, who was fired by the police force, began earlier this week in Hennepin County’s district court on charges of murder and manslaughter. Chauvin has pleaded not guilty and said he properly followed his police training.

Judge Peter Cahill has set aside about three weeks for jury selection in the high-profile case. So far, six jurors have been seated.

Last year, Floyd’s relatives sued the city, Chauvin and three other police officers involved in federal court, saying police used excessive force against Floyd in violation of his constitutional rights.

The settlement announced on Friday includes a $500,000 contribution from Floyd’s family to the community at the Minneapolis intersection where Floyd died, which has been barricaded against police access by residents and is filled with flowers and other tributes to Floyd.

Chauvin was helping arrest Floyd on the evening of May 25 on suspicion of his using a counterfeit $20 bill to buy cigarettes at the Cup Foods grocery store at the intersection.

The other three officers are due to go on trial later this year on charges of aiding and abetting Chauvin in Floyd’s death, which was ruled a homicide by the medical examiner. The Minneapolis Police Department fired all four officers the day after the deadly arrest.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen, Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

Judge grants motion to reinstate third-degree murder charge against officer on trial for George Floyd’s death

By Jonathan Allen and Gabriella Borter

MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) – A Minnesota judge granted a request by prosecutors on Thursday to reinstate a charge of third-degree murder against Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who is on trial already facing second-degree murder and manslaughter charges.

Judge Peter Cahill’s decision comes after the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled on Friday that he must reconsider a third-degree murder charge against 44-year-old Chauvin, whose trial got underway with jury selection this week in Minneapolis.

Chauvin already faces a more serious charge of second-degree murder, which carries a sentence of up to 40 years in prison, as well as a charge of second-degree manslaughter.

The reinstatement of a third-degree murder charge was a victory for state prosecutors, who had sought the additional lesser murder charge in part to afford them an extra path to a conviction should the jury find the evidence does not support the most serious charge. The third-degree murder charge carries a sentence of up to 25 years in prison.

Videos show Chauvin, who is white, kneeling on George Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes on a sidewalk outside a grocery store on May 25 as the Black man pleaded for his life and then stopped moving. Police were arresting him on suspicion of using a counterfeit $20 bill at the store.

Floyd’s death outraged people around the world and helped fuel one of the largest protest movements ever seen in the United States, with daily demonstrations against racism and police brutality.

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis)

Judge hears arguments in George Floyd case, as protesters chant ‘Black Lives Matter’ outside

By Nick Pfosi

(Reuters) – All four former Minneapolis police officers charged in the death of George Floyd appeared in court on Friday, with the prosecution arguing their trials should be combined and the judge weighing a request to move the cases outside the city.

Derek Chauvin, who faces the most serious accusations, was wearing a gray suit and dark shirt and tie for his first in-person court appearance since he was charged with murder for kneeling on Floyd’s neck for about nine minutes on May 25.

Chauvin, who is white, was not shackled and appeared thinner than in the bystander videos that captured the incident, according to a media pool report. His hair was cut short and he wore a blue surgical mask due to the novel coronavirus.

The death of Floyd, who was Black, sparked worldwide protests against racism and calls for police reforms nationwide that are still ongoing, reignited in recent weeks by incidents in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and Rochester, New York.

About 100 protesters had gathered outside the heavily fortified Family Justice Center, chanting “Black Lives Matter” and “no justice, no peace” as the hearing, which started at 9 a.m. CDT (10 a.m. EDT), got underway inside.

The other three former officers on the scene – J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao – are charged with aiding and abetting Floyd’s murder. Kueng, Lane and Thao all appeared in court wearing dark suits, according to the pool report.

All four men oppose a motion by prosecutors to consolidate their cases into one trial.

Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank said in court the cases should be combined, arguing that separate trials could delay justice for years and would traumatize Floyd’s family, according to KARE 11 reporter Lou Raguse.

Addressing the request by all four defendants to move their trials outside of Minneapolis due to concerns about pretrial publicity, Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill said he believed a questionnaire would need to be sent to potential jurors to see how they have been affected by the publicity around the case, Raguse wrote on Twitter.

(Reporting by Nick Pfosi in Minneapolis and Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)