RoTwo federal lawsuits have been filed against the City of Minneapolis, Derek Chauvin, and several other officers over incidents in which Chauvin was shown to be kneeling on the necks of civilians years before he killed George Floyd in the same way.
A press conference was held Tuesday announcing the lawsuits filed on behalf of John Pope Jr. and Zoya Code, who allege they were victims of excessive force and racial discrimination at the hands of Chauvin in 2017.
Images and bodycam footage show that in both instances Chauvin used the same technique he used three years later on Floyd, who ultimately died after being pinned to the ground beneath Chauvin's knee for more than nine minutes on Memorial Day 2020.
As well as Chauvin, the City of Minneapolis and seven more Minneapolis Police Department officers – several of whom have subsequently left the department – are also named in the lawsuits, which allege that Chauvin's use of force was approved by MPD supervisors, he was not disciplined as a result, and none of the officers who came to the scenes intervened.
"As a result, [Chauvin] was able to continue his unchecked use of excessive force when he encountered George Floyd in 2020," a statement from civil rights attorneys at Robins Kaplan LLP says.
The incident involving Pope was one of those mentioned in the Minnesota Department of Human Rights audit report of MPD, which details a culture of racism and discrimination among officers that dates back at least a decade.
Lead attorney Bob Bennett said during Tuesday's press conference that based on the allegations of Pope and Code, Chauvin's actions constitute "a pattern" and there are likely others he did this to.
"The other thing we don't know and what needs to be addressed at some point is how many other Derek Chauvins are there on the Minneapolis police force?" he added.
The John Pope complaint
According to the suit, Pope was 14 years old when his mother – who was drunk – called police to their home on Sept. 4, 2017, when she got angry that Pope and his sister didn't remove their cellphone chargers from the outlet, and claimed that Pope had grabbed her.
Pope told responding officers that it was his mother who had assaulted him, and his sister would verify this. He was on the floor in his bedroom, and was starting to get up when one of the responding officers, Alexander Walls, grabbed his wrist
That's when Chauvin rushed into the Pope's bedroom and struck him two times in the head and neck with a heavy flashlight as Pope's mother and sister screamed.
He then put his hands around Pope's neck to hold him against the wall, hit him twice more with the flashlight, put him in rear naked chokehold, and pinned Pope to the floor by the knee, and held him in the prone position for 15 minutes.
The suit calls the knee on the neck and back Chauvin's "signature move" and also alleges the use of the flashlight constituted deadly force.
"No significant force, let alone deadly force, was appropriate to use against John under the Constitution, MPD policy, or plain common sense," the suit says.
The complaint also names wall and other officers who failed to intervene: Joshua Domek, David Nerling, Graham Plys, David Robins and Lucas Peterson.
Chauvin, all the other officers involved, and the City of Minneapolis are being sued for civil rights violations, Chauvin for race discrimination, and the city of violation of Title 6 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The Zoya Code complaint
The lawsuit filed on behalf of Code states that prior to the incident on June 25, 2017, Chauvin had been the subject of 16 civilian complaints, only two of which resulted in any action: letters of reprimand.
Police had been called to Code's home on Oakland Avenue South after her mother reported being assaulted by Code, who had struggled with mental health issues, using an extension cord.
Code wasn't at the scene when Chauvin and fellow officer Ross Blair arrived, but did turn up at the house after they got there. As she tried to walked past Chauvin, he grabbed her and tried to handcuff her.
A brief struggle ensued, with the lawsuit noting that Code was much smaller than the officers and "at no point in time did [Code] pose an immediate threat to the [officers]."
She was taken to the ground and handcuffed "without incident." Code stayed on the floor after being cuffed despite the officers telling her to get up, with Code saying: "No, I'm resisting."
Chauvin then carries Code out of the house by her arms, which were still behind her back, and when outside "gratuitously slammed Zoya’s unprotected head on the ground."
He then placed his knee on Code's neck for several minutes, with Blair not doing anything to stop him.
Code told Chauvin: "That’s how they kill Black people in America." Chauvin and Blair then applied a "hobble" to Code, which limits a person's motion by tying their legs together and securing them to their waist.
The suit states that MPD approved of Chauvin's actions against Code.
The suit alleges civil rights violations against Chauvin, Blair, and the City of Minneapolis, a Title 6 violation against the city, and racial discrimination against Chauvin.
In a statement, Minneapolis says that the incidents detailed in the lawsuits are "disturbing" and that it plans to negotiate on "reasonable settlements" with Pope and Code.
"If a settlement cannot be reached on one or both lawsuits, the disputes will have to be resolved through the normal course of litigation," it added.
The City of Minneapolis has already paid out tens of millions of dollars in recent years to victims of excessive force by MPD, including a $27 million settlement with the family of Floyd, $20 million with the family of Justine Damond, and $1.5 million with Jaleel Stallings.
The city told KSTP that officers Plys, Robins, and Peterson are no longer employed at MPD.