By Steve Karnowski, Associated Press
Two Minnesotans filed federal civil rights lawsuits Tuesday against the city of Minneapolis and Derek Chauvin, alleging they were traumatized when the former police officer used his “signature move” of kneeling on their necks — the same way that he George Floyd.
John Pope Jr. was just 14 in September 2017 when he says Chauvin subjected him to gratuitous force while responding to a domestic assault report. The other case alleges Chauvin used excessive force against Zoya Code in June 2017 after she allegedly tried to strangle her mother with an extension cord.
Both lawsuits claim racism; Pope and Code are Black and Chauvin is white. They allege the city knew he had a record of misconduct but didn’t stop him and let him stay on the job long enough to kill Floyd on May 25, 2020, a case that led to a national reckoning on racial injustice. Both lawsuits seek unspecified damages and name other officers involved.
The Minneapolis City Attorney’s Office indicated it is considering settlements. Criminal charges against Pope and Code were eventually dropped.
“The incidents involving John Pope and Zoya Code are disturbing,” Interim City Attorney Peter Ginder said in a statement. “We intend to move forward in negotiations with the Plaintiffs on these two matters and hope we can reach a reasonable settlement. If a settlement cannot be reached on one or both lawsuits, the disputes will have to be resolved through the normal course of litigation.”
Chauvin’s attorneys have not responded to requests for comment.
Pope and Code are represented by Minneapolis civil rights attorney Robert Bennett, who negotiated a $20 million settlement for the family of Justine Ruszczyk Damond, an Australian woman who was fatally shot by a Minneapolis police officer in 2017. Bennett also negotiated a nearly $3 million settlement for the family of Philando Castile, a Black motorist killed by a suburban officer in 2016.
The city paid out $27 million to the family of George Floyd. Bennett was not involved in that settlement.
Chauvin admitted to many of Pope’s allegations when he pleaded guilty in December to federal civil rights charges in Floyd’s death, a deal that also included a guilty plea for his actions against Pope. Chauvin is awaiting sentencing on the federal charges. He was sentenced to 22 1/2 years in state court last year for murdering Floyd by pressing his knee to the Black man’s neck for 9 1/2 minutes as he pleaded that he couldn’t breathe.
According to Pope’s complaint, his mother was drunk when she called police because she was upset with him and his 16-year-old sister for leaving their cellphone chargers plugged in when not in use, leading to a physical confrontation. It alleges Chauvin struck Pope in the head with a large metal flashlight at least four times as a scuffle ensued, then put Pope in a chokehold.
“Defendant Chauvin then executed his signature move: he pinned John to the floor with his body weight, pressing his left knee into John’s upper back and 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 alleges. “Over those minutes, John repeatedly cried out that he could not breathe.”
The complaint alleges that at least eight other officers did nothing to intervene. It says 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,” it alleges.
The lawsuit alleges that in addition to physical injuries, Pope suffered significant emotional distress and continues to attend counseling and therapy.
Code’s lawsuit alleges Chauvin and another officer were investigating her mother’s assault report when they handcuffed her on the ground after a brief struggle. When she refused to stand up, the officers carried her outside.
“Outside the residence, Defendant Chauvin gratuitously slammed Zoya’s unprotected head on the ground. Then he immediately took his signature pose, kneeing on the back of Zoya’s neck,” the complaint alleges. It says, his knee was on her neck for 4 minutes and 41 seconds.
Code’s complaint alleges that Chauvin’s partner that day did nothing to intervene, and that his sergeant that shift later reviewed and approved the use of force.
Code acknowledges having a history of mental illness and homelessness, and alleges Chauvin’s actions made her condition worse.
Both lawsuits claim if the department had disciplined Chauvin back then, “history could have been stopped from repeating itself with George Floyd.”