What civil rights fees linked to Floyd’s loss of life may imply

A federal grand jury may soon be launching civil rights suits against the four former Minneapolis police officers involved in George Floyd’s death. The civil rights violations would be in addition to the state criminal charges the officers are exposed to.

According to The Star Tribune, prosecutors allegedly not only accuse Derek Chauvin of holding George Floyd by the neck, but also in connection with the arrest of a 14-year-old boy in 2017, in which case Chauvin allegedly beat up the teenager on The Head with his flashlight grabbed his neck and hit him again. The other officers would face civil rights charges only if George Floyd died. The US Attorney’s Office has not commented on this.

The presenter of the MPR-Nachrichten, Cathy Wurzer, spoke with John Marti, former acting US attorney and longtime federal attorney. He’s with Dorsey and Whitney now.

The following is a lightly edited transcript of the discussion. Use the audio player above to hear the entire conversation.

If the grand jury indicts the four officers, what does that mean?

Well, parallel federal civil rights persecutions are not uncommon. And they are led to defend the federal government’s unique interest in protecting the civil rights of its citizens. The case brought by the state centered on the murder and police misconduct. The department has a broader perspective, and I think you saw recently that the department announced its pattern and practice investigations and defended civil rights across the country.

So we might be looking at another trial round?

Yes we are. If there is a second charge against the defendants and they are now on state and now federal charges, it undoubtedly creates an immense impact on the defendants and their attorney in attempting to resolve these matters. But the nature of this case, there is little to lose for Derek Chauvin on trial in federal proceedings, and certainly there would be little to lose in the cases against the other three defendants when they go to trial.

I’m curious to see what penalties these civil rights violations could result in? What are they wearing?

If you have a civil rights violation by a police officer resulting in the death of a citizen, the maximum penalty allowed by law is theoretically the death penalty. So it’s not just about getting the Department of Justice’s approval to start the civil rights indictment.

The Department and these defendants may also have to deal with the Department of Justice’s capital review processes. It is unlikely that the attorney general, who would have to authorize a prosecution to obtain the death penalty, would authorize it in this case. But it is authorized under the law.

Derek Chauvin has apparently already been convicted of the murder and manslaughter in George Floyd’s death. We know that. Is it unusual to face civil charges in this case in 2017?

No. Indeed, I can understand why the department would be interested in these allegations because they are not just looking at the events of George Floyd’s death. I think they have identified Derek Chauvin as a problem officer and want to hold him accountable for his past behavior, so this is not uncommon.

It will be interesting to see if the division will bring charges against all four of the defendants and then add separate charges related to the previous incident – how the court will deal with it. Judge Pete Cahill separated the charges and allowed Cahill to proceed separately. Which federal judge takes up this case will receive similar motions and must decide whether to deal with all of this in one trial or to split the defendants.

The Justice Department has released a lot of news lately. There are federal charges in Ahmaud Arbery’s death, the DOJ is investigating the practices of the Minneapolis Police Department, the Louisville Police Department. What does the increased action tell you?

A change in the presidential administration, a change in the attorney general’s office. There were significant resources diverted from the Civil Rights Department under the Trump administration and there was no focus on pursuing civil rights violations by the Justice Department. Elections are important.

And President Biden, and now Attorney General Garland – I understand that you made this an important part of the attempt to bring the Justice Department back to its long, storied history of defending the civil rights of United States citizens.

Use the audio player above to hear the entire conversation.

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