By JIM SALTER
The city of Minneapolis agreed Thursday to pay nearly $9 million to settle lawsuits filed by two people who said former police officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into their necks years before he used the same move to kill George Floyd.
John Pope Jr. will receive $7.5 million and Zoya Code will receive $1.375 million. The settlements were announced during a meeting of the Minneapolis City Council.
Both lawsuits stemmed from arrests in 2017 — three years before Chauvin killed Floyd during an arrest captured on video that sparked protests worldwide, prompted a national reckoning on racial injustice and compelled a Minneapolis Police Department overhaul.
At a news conference Thursday, Mayor Jacob Frey apologized to all victims of Chauvin and said that if police supervisors “had done the right thing, George Floyd would not have been murdered.”
“He should have been fired in 2017. He should have been held accountable in 2017,” Frey told reporters.
Both lawsuits named Chauvin and several other officers. The lawsuits alleged police misconduct, excessive force, and racism — Pope and Code are Black; Chauvin is white. They also said the city knew that Chauvin had a record of misconduct but didn’t stop him. Criminal charges in both cases were eventually dropped, but Chauvin is in prison for Floyd’s murder.
Bob Bennett, an attorney for Pope and Code, noted that other officers failed to intervene or report Chauvin, and police leaders allowed Chauvin to keep working even though they had video evidence from body cameras of his wrongdoing. He said the video is expected to be released soon.
“The easy thing is to blame Chauvin for everything,” Bennett said in a written statement. “The important thing that the video shows is that none of those nine to a dozen officers at the scene ever reported it, ever tried to stop it. They violated their own policy and really any sense of humanity.”
Police Chief Brian O’Hara said the department is “forced to reckon once again with the deplorable acts of someone who has proven to be a national embarrassment.” But he also cited “systemic failure” within the police department.
“I am appalled at the repetitive behavior of this coward and disgusted by the inaction and acceptance of that behavior by members of this department. Such conduct is a disgrace to the badge and an embarrassment to what is truly a very noble profession,” O’Hara said in a statement.
Code, who has a history of homelessness and mental health problems, was arrested in June 2017 after she allegedly tried to strangle her mother with an extension cord. Pope was 14 in September 2017 when, according to his lawsuit, Chauvin subjected him to excessive force while responding to a domestic assault report.
City Council member Elliott Payne said he hoped the settlements “bring some closure to this era and is a stark reminder of the work we have lying ahead.”
The lawsuits said body camera recordings showed Chauvin used many of the same tactics on Pope and Code that he used on Floyd. Chauvin was sentenced to 22 1/2 years in prison on a state murder charge in 2021 for killing Floyd by pressing his knee to Floyd’s neck for 9 1/2 minutes as he pleaded that he couldn’t breathe. The city also paid $27 million to Floyd’s family.
Code’s lawsuit said she was in handcuffs when Chauvin slammed her head to the ground and pinned his knee on the back of her neck for 4 minutes and 41 seconds. A second officer didn’t intervene and a responding police sergeant approved the force, the lawsuit stated.
Pope’s lawsuit said his mother was drunk when she called police because she was upset that he and his 16-year-old sister left their cellphone chargers plugged in, leading to a physical confrontation. It alleged Chauvin struck Pope in the head with a large metal flashlight at least four times. It says he then put Pope in a chokehold before pinning him to the floor and putting his knee on Pope’s neck.
“Chauvin would proceed to hold John in this prone position for more than fifteen minutes, all while John was completely subdued and not resisting,” the complaint alleged. “Over those minutes, John repeatedly cried out that he could not breathe.”
The complaint alleged that at least eight other officers did nothing to intervene. It said Chauvin did not mention in his report that he had hit Pope with his flashlight, nor did he mention pinning Pope for so long. Chauvin’s sergeant reviewed and approved his report and use of force “despite having firsthand knowledge that the report was false and misleading,” the lawsuit alleged.
Chauvin admitted to many of Pope’s allegations when he pleaded guilty in December 2021 to federal charges for violating the civil rights of both Floyd and Pope. He was sentenced in July to 21 years on those charges.
Chauvin is serving his sentences in a federal prison in Arizona.