Minneapolis police officer at center of George Floyd's death had history of complaints

Derek Chauvin had been with the Minneapolis police since 2001. During his career, he was the subject of over a dozen police conduct complaints.
By Erik Ortiz and Donna Mendell

The Minneapolis police officer seen kneeling on the neck of an unarmed black man heard saying "I can't breathe" multiple times before he died was a 19-year department veteran who was the subject of at least a dozen police conduct complaints that resulted in no disciplinary action and one that led to a "letter of reprimand." The officer, who was praised for valor during his career, also once fired his weapon during an encounter with a suspect, records show.

The officer, Derek Chauvin, and three fellow officers were fired Tuesday from the Minneapolis Police Department, one day after the incident involving George Floyd, whose cries of physical pain were recorded on a cellphone video and whose death led to a wave of violent protests Wednesday night in Minnesota's largest city. Minneapolis police identified the other officers as Thomas Lane, Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng.

Local and federal authorities spoke at a joint press conference on Thursday, which was delayed for two hours after reports of charges possibly being announced, but no such announcement came. Representatives from the U.S. Department of Justice, FBI, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, along with Hennepin County Attorney Michael Freeman, offered no significant updates other that to promise a swift and thorough investigation of the officers.

Full coverage of George Floyd's death and protests around the country

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To be the subject of a dozen complaints over a two-decade career would appear "a little bit higher than normal," said Mylan Masson, a retired Minneapolis Park police officer and longtime police training expert for the state of Minnesota at Hennepin Technical College.

But, she added, anyone can file a complaint against an officer, whether or not it's valid, and officers might be subject to more complaints if they deal with the public often. Either way, an officer's disciplinary record will be up for scrutiny in any legal proceedings, Masson said.

An investigation including state authorities is being led by the FBI. Chauvin, 44, who is white, is being represented by lawyer Tom Kelly, who declined to comment when contacted by NBC News. Efforts to reach the other officers for comment were unsuccessful Wednesday.

George Floyd.Courtesy photo

Bridgett Floyd, Floyd's sister, said on NBC's "TODAY" show Wednesday morning that she wants all of the officers at the scene to be charged with murder. Officers were responding to a report of a forgery at a grocery store when they encountered Floyd outside.

"They murdered my brother. He was crying for help," Bridgett Floyd said.

The Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis, which represents the department's 800-plus rank-and file officers, asked the public not to rush to judgment before all video can be reviewed and a medical examiner's report is released.

"Officers' actions and training protocol will be carefully examined after the officers have provided their statements," the union said Tuesday. It did not immediately return a request for comment about Chauvin's and the other officers' options if they choose to contest their firings.

Minnesota police officer Derek Chauvin kneels on the neck of George Floyd in a still from video.Darnella Frazier / via AFP - Getty Images

National Fraternal Order of Police President Patrick Yoes said Thursday that authorities must ensure justice is served in Floyd's death, "whatever the consequences."

"The fact that he was a suspect in custody is immaterial — police officers should at all times render aid to those who need it," Yoes said. "Police officers need to treat all of our citizens with respect and understanding and should be held to the very highest standards for their conduct."

Chauvin, who joined the Minneapolis Police Academy in October 2001, has had a career that included use-of-force incidents and at least one lawsuit related to an allegation of violations of a prisoner's federal constitutional rights.

In 2006, Chauvin was one of six officers from the Third Precinct who responded to a stabbing at a Minneapolis home. Police said Wayne Reyes stabbed his friend and his girlfriend and then threatened to kill all of them with a shotgun.

Police pursued Reyes, who fled in his truck. He got out of the vehicle with a shotgun, and "several officers fired multiple shots," killing Reyes, police said in a report.

It was unclear during the initial investigation which officers fired their weapons and whether Reyes had made any verbal or physical threats.

All of the officers, including Chauvin, were put on paid leave during an investigation, which is standard protocol. It is unclear what happened with the investigation, and Minneapolis police did not immediately respond to a request for Chauvin's service record.

The same year, Chauvin and seven others were named in an unrelated federal lawsuit filed by an inmate at the Minnesota Correctional Facility at Lino Lakes. Further information was not immediately available; records show that the case was dismissed without prejudice in 2007.

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In 2008, Chauvin and a second officer were called to a residence for a domestic disturbance. According to police, Ira Latrell Toles, 21, was holed up in a bathroom and tried to escape when Chauvin got inside. When Toles refused to obey Chauvin's order to get down, police said, a struggle began and Toles grabbed for Chauvin's weapon.

Chauvin fired twice, hitting Toles in the abdomen, the Pioneer Press newspaper of St. Paul reported. Toles was taken to the hospital and survived.

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Chauvin and the other officer, who was not named, were placed on paid leave during an investigation, which is standard protocol. Police did not respond to a request for information about the outcome of the investigation.

The newspaper said that earlier in 2008, Chauvin was awarded a department medal of valor for "his response in an incident involving a man armed with a gun." Chauvin was recognized again in 2009 by the police department.

In 2011, Chauvin was again placed on temporary leave after he responded to the scene of a shooting.

Police said that Leroy Martinez, 23, drew his gun near a playground at the Little Earth of United Tribes public housing complex and that an officer shot him after he refused to drop the gun and listen to commands. Chauvin and other officers arrived at the scene, and while none of them fired their weapons, they were all placed on a standard three-day administrative leave as part of the investigation.

Tim Dolan, then the police chief, later said the officers, including Chauvin, "acted appropriately and courageously."

Chauvin has also been the subject of complaints listed in the city's Office of Police Conduct database. Details of those cases were unavailable after they were closed and listed as "non-public." They resulted in no discipline.

In addition, a list compiled by the department's Internal Affairs bureau shows several other "matters" that were closed without discipline and one that did result in a "letter of reprimand."

The substance of those matters and when they occurred are unclear. Minneapolis police did not respond to a request Wednesday for comment or more information about Chauvin's disciplinary record.

Kelly, Chauvin's attorney, has had politicians as clients and also defended Jeronimo Yanez, a police officer in the Minneapolis suburb of St. Anthony. Yanez was charged with manslaughter in the death in 2016 of Philando Castile, a black driver whom Yanez fatally shot during a traffic stop — another case that prompted Black Lives Matter protests and a national conversation about race and gun rights. Yanez was acquitted the following year.

Chauvin's personal life was the subject of a profile two years ago in the Pioneer Press, which interviewed his wife, Kellie Chauvin, a Hmong woman who was born in Laos and was vying to become Mrs. Minnesota America 2018.

She told the newspaper that she married Chauvin eight years previously and that they met when he brought someone he was arresting to the hospital where she was working. He later came back and asked her out.

"Under all that uniform, he's just a softie," Kellie Chauvin said.

Protesters demonstrated Tuesday night and again on Wednesday outside Chauvin's home in Oakdale, a Twin Cities suburb. Oakdale's police chief said the protest was "very peaceful."

Erik Ortiz
Donna Mendell
Jon Sanders and Doha Madani contributed.