MINNEAPOLIS (CN) —Two years after the murder of George Floyd by then-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, the imprisoned former officer and city have been named in a pair of federal excessive force suits alleging that kneeling on Black people’s necks to restrain them was Chauvin’s “signature move” and that his superiors took no action to correct him.
Black Minneapolis residents John Pope and Zoya Code filed their complaints in the District of Minnesota on Tuesday morning, each alleging that Chauvin had restrained them by kneeling on their necks in separate incidents in 2017, and had done so with the endorsement of the Minneapolis Police Department.
“The City knew its officers, including Chauvin, were applying force to the backs and necks of prone… arrestees, despite the known, appreciated, and obvious risk of causing serious injury or death from positional asphyxia,” attorney Robert Bennett of Minneapolis firm Robins Kaplan wrote in both complaints. He characterized Chauvin as having “actively sought to prey on compliant Black arrestees,” enabled by an unabashedly racist culture within MPD.
To back up that contention, Bennett cited the results of a recent Minnesota Department of Human Rights investigation which found that the department had systematically discriminated against people of color and failed to discipline officers for overtly racist conduct. That report cited Chauvin’s beating of Pope as an example, saying that officials stymied efforts to fire Chauvin by quickly placing him back on active duty.
“Instances of misconduct, according to the DHR report, are ‘not properly investigated, not timely addressed, and officers are not consistently held accountable,’ even when BWC [body-worn camera] evidence or other objective evidence contradicts an officer’s use-of-force reporting,” Bennett wrote. “This explains why Defendant Chauvin was so nonchalant when he murdered George Floyd on film and violated the civil rights of John, Zoya Code, and others while being filmed by MPD’s own BWC equipment.”
In Pope’s case, Chauvin and trainee Alexander Walls, also named in the complaint, arrived at Pope’s home in response to a domestic violence call. According to the complaint, Pope’s mother, who was intoxicated, told the officers that she wanted her son and 16-year-old daughter removed from the home, and Walls entered Pope’s room, where the 14-year-old was lying on the floor and using his phone. After the trainee told him to stand up and Pope did not comply, Walls grabbed Pope’s hand and Chauvin ran into the room, allegedly hitting him in the head with a flashlight.
While taking Pope to the ground, the complaint said, Chauvin struck him three more times, then placed him in a chokehold and eventually held him prone, with Chauvin’s knee on his neck, for over 15 minutes, remaining on top of him even after paramedics arrived and told him Pope would need stitches. Pope suffered an ear laceration, contusions and head trauma, and passed out during the incident. He also suffers from PTSD, according to his lawsuit, and may have suffered a traumatic brain injury or cerebral injuries. Doctors at the also-embattled Hennepin County Medical Center did not perform any diagnostic tests for such injuries.
In the second complaint, Code alleges that Chauvin and another officer placed her in handcuffs after her mother called police to report that Code had assaulted her. Placing her in the prone position, the complaint said, Chauvin slammed Code’s head on the ground and “took his signature pose,” placing his knee on her neck. He remained there for over a minute after she was placed in a hobble device, restraining her hands and feet. In total, he stayed on her neck for almost five minutes.