Chauvin Makes First Appearance in Federal Court on Civil Rights Charges

The former Minneapolis police officer, still awaiting sentencing for the murder of George Floyd, waived his right to a detention hearing. 

Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, center, is taken into custody on April 20, 2021, as his attorney, Eric Nelson, left, looks on after the verdicts were read at Chauvin’s trial for the death of George Floyd. (Court TV via AP, Pool, File)

ST. PAUL, Minn. (CN) — Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer convicted of murder in April for the killing of George Floyd, made his first appearance in federal court Tuesday. 

Already convicted of second- and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in state court, Chauvin now faces federal civil rights charges for his treatment of Floyd in the Black man’s deadly May 2020 arrest and for a 2017 incident in which prosecutors say he knelt on the neck of a handcuffed teenager and struck him several times in the head with a flashlight.

His Zoom court appearance late Tuesday afternoon was brief and procedural, with Chauvin speaking primarily to answer “yes” or “no” to U.S. Magistrate Judge Becky Thorson’s questions. 

Thorson appointed Eric Nelson, who defended Chauvin against his state-court charges, to continue representing him for the federal proceedings. The hearing’s largest hiccup came when Thorson asked Chauvin if he’d discussed the decision to skip a detention hearing with Nelson. 

“In light of my current circumstances, I believed that would be a moot point,” Chauvin said.

The former officer is currently awaiting sentencing for his murder conviction at Minnesota’s correctional facility in Oak Park Heights. Thorson asked Nelson to discuss the issue briefly with Chauvin to ensure that he was clear on the matter. After a brief recess, she waived the hearing. 

Chauvin, a white man, was filmed on May 25, 2020, kneeling on Floyd’s neck as the Black man wheezed and begged for mercy. Medics’ efforts to resuscitate Floyd after removing Chauvin from his neck failed. Floyd’s death sent a shockwave across Minneapolis and the world, spurring protests and riots all over the United States for much of early June. 

Chauvin’s indictment on civil rights charges shortly after his state-court conviction was something of a worst-case scenario for the former officer. The New York Times reported in February that Chauvin agreed to plead guilty to third-degree murder shortly after Floyd’s death in exchange for immunity from federal charges. That deal fell through, and the Times story has become a hot-button issue in the state-court case against former Minneapolis police officers Tou Thao, Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng, who were also involved in Floyd’s arrest. Defense attorneys have accused prosecutors of leaking to the Times, while prosecutors have pointed to William Barr’s Justice Department as the most likely source of leaks. 

Leaks have also become an issue in the federal cases against Chauvin, Thao, Kueng and Lane. U.S. District Judge Patrick Schiltz launched an inquiry late last month into the sources for stories that heralded the civil rights indictments against the former officers before they were unsealed. 

Chauvin faces up to 30 years in prison for Floyd’s murder and is scheduled to be sentenced June 25. Citing leaks, publicity and alleged juror and prosecutorial misconduct, Nelson moved for a new trial in early May in what local legal scholars said was an effort to tee up for appeals. 

Lane, Kueng and Thao, meanwhile, have had their state-court trial pushed back to March after their federal trial supplanted the trio’s original planned court date in August.

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