18 complaints in 19 years, and a murder charge: What we know about ex-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin

A courtroom sketch of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer charged with murder in the death of George Floyd. Cedric Hohnstadt via AP
  • Both George Floyd and Derek Chauvin lived in Minnesota’s Twin Cities and even worked at the same nightclub before Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck during an arrest on May 25, killing him. But their lives were worlds apart.
  • Chauvin lived in a predominantly white St. Paul suburb and racked up 18 complaints over his 19-year career as a police officer, 16 of which were closed without discipline.
  • Chauvin had a reputation for being overly aggressive and combative, according to the nightclub owner who employed him as a security guard.
  • One woman who filed a complaint against him in 2007 said Chauvin and another officer pulled her out of her car with no explanation.
  • Chauvin made his first court appearance on Monday via videoconference, and a judge set his bail at $US1.25 million. He is expected to enter a plea on June 29.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Derek Chauvin was a 19-year veteran of the Minneapolis Police Department who left behind a trail of misconduct complaints and a reputation for aggression, according to police records and those who knew him.

Most people didn’t know his name until May 25, when he pinned George Floyd to the ground during an arrest, crushing his knee into Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes.

The killing, which bystanders filmed, began with a 911 call to report a counterfeit bill and led to days of civil unrest across the globe.

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George Floyd. Courtesy of Philonise Floyd

Within hours of Floyd’s death, footage of Chauvin’s neck restraint had garnered international attention and reignited a roiling debate over police brutality. Chauvin has since been arrested and charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter, and the three other officers who participated in Floyd’s arrest have been charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder.

On Monday, Chauvin made his first court appearance via videoconference, and a judge set his bail at $US1.25 million with no conditions and $US1 million with conditions such as turning in his guns, refraining from law-enforcement work, and not leaving Minnesota without permission. He has not entered a plea, and his next court date is scheduled for June 29. Chauvin’s attorney didn’t respond to Insider’s request for comment.

The two men at the centre of a nationwide reckoning over racism in America both lived in the Twin Cities and even worked at the same nightclub. But before their lives intertwined in a deadly instance of police brutality, their experiences couldn’t have been further apart.

Chauvin got his GED and lived in overwhelmingly white cities, and his wife filed for divorce after Floyd’s killing

Little is known about Chauvin’s life beyond his work as a cop and a security guard. Public records show that Chauvin, 44, lived in the St. Paul suburb of Oakdale, which is 77% white.

He was among the 92% of Minneapolis police officers who live outside the city limits, according to the Star Tribune. Police-reform advocates have long said that cops who don’t live in the communities they police might not be able to fully understand or connect with residents.

Chauvin started his career as a police officer in 2001 at age 25, after working as a security guard and a McDonald’s cook. He also served as a military police officer from 1996 to 2000, stationed in Rochester, Minnesota, and Hohenfels, Germany, The New York Times and the Star Tribune reported.

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Chauvin was arrested on May 29. Courtesy of Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office via AP

Heavily redacted personnel records obtained by the Star Tribune indicated that Chauvin grew up in the St. Paul area and attended Park High School in Cottage Grove, just 10 miles south of St. Paul. Cottage Grove is 83% white.

He didn’t graduate high school but eventually got his GED and attended several community colleges and Minnesota’s Metropolitan State University. In a statement last week, the school confirmed that Chauvin graduated in 2006 with a bachelor’s degree in law enforcement and condemned his conduct.

His estranged wife, Kellie Chauvin, who has filed for divorce and requested to change her last name, described him as “such a gentleman” in a 2018 St. Paul Pioneer Press profile.

“Under all that uniform, he’s just a softie,” she told the local paper then. “He still opens the door for me, still puts my coat on for me. After my divorce, I had a list of must-haves if I were ever to be in a relationship, and he fit all of them.”

An attorney representing Kellie Chauvin told CNN she was “devastated by Mr. Floyd’s death and her utmost sympathy lies with his family.” Chauvin, who has two children from a previous marriage, asked that people respect their privacy.

According to The Associated Press, Derek Chauvin’s driveway has been vandalised in recent days with red paint and graffiti spelling out “murderer.”

Chauvin worked for nearly 2 decades as both a cop and a security guard, and he racked up a long list of complaints

Chauvin’s record as a police officer in Minneapolis was littered with allegations of misconduct and excessive force. Eighteen complaints were filed against him over his 19-year career, according to CNN and Insider’s Haven Orecchio-Egresitz.

Only two of those complaints were closed with discipline. Though details of one remain unclear, a Minneapolis woman, Melissa Borton, told the Los Angeles Times she filed one of the complaints in August 2007 that ended with a formal letter of reprimand against Chauvin.

Borton said Chauvin and another officer pulled her over as she was returning home from the grocery store with her infant. The officers approached her car, reached inside “without a word,” unlocked her door, pulled her out, and put her in the back of a police cruiser, she said.

She told the newspaper that Chauvin and the other officer released her roughly 15 minutes later without an explanation.

The reason for the traffic stop? Borton had been driving 10 miles over the speed limit. Records obtained by the Times said that Chauvin was later told that he “did not have to remove complainant from car.”

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Protesters march on Hiawatha Avenue in Minneapolis on May 26. Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

The other 16 complaints against Chauvin were closed without discipline. The Minneapolis Police Department hasn’t released any details about the complaints or why they were closed.

Chauvin had a reputation for combative exchanges, but he also had a few accolades over his 19-year career

Chauvin was also praised at various points in his career, according to the Star Tribune – two women commended him in 2008 and 2013 after he handled domestic-violence calls, and he was awarded a Medal of Commendation in 2008 after he disarmed a man during one of his nightclub security shifts.

He was even recommended for a Medal of Valor in 2006 in connection with the fatal police shooting of Wayne Reyes, according to the Star Tribune. Six officers shot at Reyes while responding to a report that he had stabbed two people; the police said they opened fire after Reyes pulled out a shotgun.

Reyes’ daughter Leanne told The Washington Post that she was horrified to see Chauvin’s name surface again in the news.

“I already knew what kind of monster that man is,” she said. “And all I could feel was heartbreak that this had happened again.”

The Post said it was unclear which officers fired at Reyes and what Chauvin’s involvement was.

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Minnesota state troopers provide protection as firefighters battle a fire on May 29. Associated Press/Jim Mone

Chauvin’s combative reputation wasn’t limited to his policing career. Maya Santamaria, the former owner of El Nuevo Rodeo, the Latin nightclub where Chauvin worked, told BuzzFeed News that Chauvin “was nice, but he would overreact and lash out quickly.”

Santamaria said she noticed that Chauvin’s demeanour would change during special events for Black communities. She added that she had reprimanded him before when he used pepper spray on patrons.

“His face, attitude, posture would change when we did urban nights,” she said.

Benjamin Crump, an attorney for Floyd’s family, has suggested that Floyd and Chauvin crossed paths at the nightclub, but Santamaria told KSTP, an ABC affiliate in St. Paul, that she wasn’t sure they ever met.

Just 17 minutes elapsed between the police arriving at Floyd’s car and Floyd losing consciousness under Chauvin’s knee

When Chauvin and Floyd met on May 25, it was outside a deli after an employee called 911 to report that Floyd had used a counterfeit $US20 bill.

Seventeen minutes after the first police cruiser pulled up, Floyd lost consciousness as Chauvin pinned his neck to the ground, a New York Times analysis of security footage and witness videos found.

The first officers to arrive were Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng, who approached Floyd’s car, ordered him out, and handcuffed him. In video footage, Floyd appeared calm. But when the officers tried to bring him to their cruiser, he fell to the ground.

An arrest affidavit said Floyd had told them he wasn’t resisting arrest but was fearful of getting in the back of the cruiser because he was claustrophobic.

Not long after, Chauvin arrived with another officer, Tou Thao.

This combination of photos provided by the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office in Minnesota on Wednesday, June 3, 2020, shows J. Alexander Kueng, from left, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao. They have been charged with aiding and abetting Derek Chauvin, who is charged with second-degree murder of George Floyd, a black man who died after being restrained by the Minneapolis police officers on May 25. (Hennepin County Sheriff's Office via AP)
J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane, and Tou Thao, the three officers who have been charged with aiding and abetting Chauvin. Associated Press

Videos taken by bystanders showed that Floyd was not resisting arrest when Chauvin first put his knee on Floyd’s neck and that Chauvin refused to move his knee even after Floyd passed out, despite numerous people urging him to stop.

Throughout the nearly nine minutes Floyd was trapped under Chauvin’s knee, he called out for his mother and said he thought he was going to die.

“I can’t breathe,” Floyd said.

The phrase has become an anthem for the thousands of protesters who have taken to the streets across the US in recent days.

What could happen to Chauvin next

One day after Floyd’s death, the Minneapolis Police Department announced that all four officers involved had been fired.

A little more than a week later, prosecutors announced that all officers had been criminally charged.

Demonstrators kneel before police Saturday, May 30, 2020, in Minneapolis. Protests continued following the death of George Floyd, who died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers on Memorial Day. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Demonstrators kneel before police officers in Minneapolis on May 30. Associated Press

Meanwhile, Chauvin and the other three officers involved in Floyd’s death remain in jail. Experts have said that prosecutors likely have a long road ahead in securing an airtight case that would take all four men to trial.

Former prosecutors told Insider that even though the videos showing Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck appeared clear-cut, there was still a mountain of evidence prosecutors were likely going through to establish their case against him.

Body-camera footage, surveillance videos from nearby businesses, interviews with witnesses and bystanders, and the full autopsy will all be necessary to bring the four officers to trial, assuming they plead not guilty to the charges.

“George Floyd mattered. He was loved. His life was important. His life had value. We will seek justice for him and for you, and we will find it,” Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said on Wednesday after all four officers were booked into the Hennepin County Jail.