The city of Minneapolis has agreed to settle the longstanding lawsuits of two people, including a 14-year-old, who were brutalized by former police officer Derek Chauvin, the convicted murderer of George Floyd.
John Pope and Zoya Code sued Chauvin separately in 2022 for injuries stemming from encounters with the disgraced officer several years prior. In those confrontations, Chauvin exhibited the same behavior as he had on May 25, 2020, when he was filmed pinning his knee into Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes. Video of the incident showed bystanders pleading for Chauvin to stop as Floyd’s pleas grew quiet. His death sparked months of protests worldwide demanding accountability for police brutality against Black people. Chauvin was convicted of murder in state court and pleaded guilty to two federal charges for violating Floyd’s civil rights and was sentenced to decades behind bars.
Now, the city where Chauvin once served as a police officer has agreed to settle Pope’s and Code’s civil cases against him for a total of nearly $9 million. The plaintiffs in both cases, like Floyd, are Black and were unarmed when Chauvin, who is white, pinned them down by pressing his knee on their necks.
On Sept. 4, 2017, MPD officers responded to a domestic assault call at Pope’s home, where he lived with his mother and sister. Chauvin was one of two officers who initially responded to the call; the second officer was a Chauvin trainee at the time.
According to the complaint, the home was “quiet and peaceful” when the officers arrived at around 8:45 p.m. Pope’s mother, described as “clearly and obviously drunk,” answered the door and let the officers in, telling them that she wanted her son and daughter removed from the home after a fight about phone charges. Pope’s mother allegedly told the officers that her son had “grabbed her” and tried to “wrestle her or whatever,” and that Pope’s sister had also had physical contact with her.
More than 30 minutes after arriving, Chauvin and the other officer, Alexander Walls, found Pope, then 14 years old, in his room. According to an official summary of the case, the boy was “laying on the ground inside, quietly using his cell phone.” A confrontation occurred after Walls told Pope to come out of the room and Pope did not comply fast enough. Chauvin entered the room after Walls had grabbed Pope’s wrist, and struck Pope at least twice on the head with a large metal flashlight.
“Chauvin strangled John Pope with his left hand as he gripped John Pope’s throat and shoved John Pope against the wall,” the city said in its summary of the incident. “Chauvin applied a neck restraint to John Pope that rendered John Pope unconscious. After John Pope regained consciousness, for more than fifteen minutes, Chauvin kept John Pope in a prone position, handcuffed, while Chauvin kneeled on John Pope’s neck and upper back.”
Pope could be heard pleading with the officers, telling them that he couldn’t breathe and repeatedly asking that Chauvin take his knee off his neck.
According to the complaint, at least eight officers had responded to the incident and saw Chauvin kneeling on Pope’s neck and back.
“Many significant details in the officers’ reports are not consistent with what happened,” the city’s case summary says. Chauvin pleaded guilty in 2021 to federal criminal charges in connection with the incident.
Months before the incident at Pope’s home, Chauvin and another officer responded to a call from a Minneapolis home on June 25, 2017. Code’s mother had called the police, alleging that Code had “assaulted and strangled her with an extension cord,” according to the city’s summary.
Code had left the home but returned after the police arrived. A struggle ensued as she walked by the officers in the living room; Code was brought to the ground and handcuffed.
“Chauvin proceeded to apply ‘upward force’ to Zoya Code’s handcuffed arms, moving them up towards the back of her head,” the city’s summary said. Chauvin and the other officer carried Code out of the house.
“Once outside, Chauvin slammed Zoya Code’s head into the ground, and then kneeled on the back of her neck,” the city says. “He remained in this position for several minutes.”
Chauvin kept his knee on Code’s neck until other officers retrieved a device — no longer in use by the MPD — called a “hobble,” which limits mobility by “tethering a person’s legs together and securing them to the person’s waist.”
The officers put the hobble on Code “while she remained limp,” the city said.
“Chauvin remained on Zoya Code’s neck for more than a minute after the device was on her,” the city added.
Code was charged with domestic assault in connection with the incident, but that charge was later dropped.
Chauvin was deemed to have “lied in the report and left out critical information about the interaction,” the city said.
On Thursday, Minneapolis officials announced that the two cases will be settled for a total of nearly $9 million: Pope will receive $7.5 million and Code will receive $1.375 million.
Lawyers for the victims warned that while Chauvin is rightfully being held responsible for his actions, he is part of a larger system that has spent years looking the other way.
“Beware the ease of blaming Chauvin alone,” attorney Bob Bennett, of Robins Kaplan, said in a press release Thursday. “While he is a blunt instrument of police brutality and racism, he could never flourish in a police agency that lived up to its mission statement.”
Bennett said that police leaders must also be held responsible.
“Focus instead on the MPD rank and file who supported Chauvin with their unquestioning obedience, failure to intervene to stop his heinous acts, and their failure to report them per policy and human conscience,” he said in the statement. “Focus instead on the command and control of the MPD who, while possessing all the damning evidence, allowed Chauvin to field train and indoctrinate dozens of young MPD officers to his ways without fear of discipline or negative sanction and to continue his predatory ways for years.”
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