Report: DOJ to Seek Civil Rights Violations Indictment for Chauvin, 3 Others In this May 25, 2020 file image from surveillance video, Minneapolis police Officers from left, Tou Thao, Derek Chauvin, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane are seen attempting to take George Floyd into custody in Minneapolis, Minn. (Court TV via AP)
By Charlie McCarthy | Thursday, 29 April 2021 08:51 AM
Justice Department officials reportedly will ask a grand jury to indict former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin and three other ex-officers on charges of civil rights violations in the death of George Floyd.
A source told the Star Tribune of prosecutors' plans. If the grand jury votes to indict, the former officers would face new civil rights charges on top of the state's cases, meaning all four men could be headed toward a criminal trial in federal court.
The Star Tribune's report on Thursday also detailed a backup plan that was devised in case Chauvin had been found not guilty on all counts or his murder case had ended in a mistrial. (He was convicted on all counts.)
DOJ officials spent months before the murder trial gathering evidence to indict Chauvin on federal police brutality charges. However, they feared the publicity hysteria could disrupt the state's case.
So, they devised a contingency plan: If the trial failed to convict Chauvin on all counts, federal officials would have arrested him at the courthouse, according to Star Tribune sources.
The Minnesota U.S. Attorney's Office would have charged Chauvin by criminal complaint — a quicker alternative for a federal charge that doesn't require a grand jury. Federal officials would have arrested him immediately, and then asked a grand jury for an indictment.
That didn't happen, as Chauvin was found guilty on all three murder and manslaughter counts on April 20. He was transported to the state's most secure lockdown facility to await sentencing.
The verdicts also helped prevent riots and violence in Minneapolis that had been feared.
Now, federal prosecutors are moving forward with their case. They plan to ask a grand jury to indict Chauvin, J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane, and Tou Thao on charges of civil rights violations.
It's difficult to predict timing with the grand jury process, though a Star Tribune source said indictments likely will come down soon. The state trial for Kueng, Lane, and Thao, for aiding and abetting Floyd's murder, is scheduled to begin in August.
The DOJ's planning and strategy illustrates the complicated simultaneous development of two parallel investigations into one of the most high-profile cases of police brutality in the country's history.
While special prosecutor Keith Ellison's team pursued murder and manslaughter charges for the state of Minnesota, DOJ officials pursued their own case in private before a grand jury.
The grand jury consists of 23 citizens who meet in secret to hear evidence and ultimately decide if there is probable cause to charge.
The Star Tribune said federal prosecutors want to indict Chauvin in connection to two cases: for the pinning down of Floyd by his neck for more than 9 ½ minutes on May 25, 2020, and for the violent arrest of a 14-year-old boy in 2017.
Court documents concerning the second case say Chauvin struck the teen on the head with his flashlight, then grabbed the boy by the throat and hit him again.
The other three ex-officers would be charged only in connection with Floyd's death.
DOJ attorneys in Minnesota and Washington, D.C., will prosecute the federal case.
The Justice Department also is conducting a civil investigation into whether Minneapolis police engaged in a pattern and practice of unlawful behavior. The probe was announced the day after Chauvin's guilty verdict.
A Minnesota U.S. Attorney's Office spokesperson declined comment on the potential charges or the contingency arrest plan.