Derek Chauvin makes first federal court appearance on civil rights charges

Derek Chauvin, the fired Minneapolis police officer convicted in the death of George Floyd, made his first appearance in federal court Tuesday on civil rights charges. Chauvin was charged with the federal counts in May, several weeks after his conviction in state court on murder and manslaughter charges in the killing that prompted worldwide protests calling for racial justice and police reform.

Chauvin appeared via video conference from Minnesota’s maximum-security prison in Oak Park Heights, where he is currently being held as he awaits sentencing on the state charges, before Magistrate Judge Becky Thorson in U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota. Chauvin was represented by attorney Eric Nelson, who also represented Chauvin at his trial in Minneapolis.

The federal indictment accuses Chauvin, along with J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao, the three fired officers who are awaiting trial on state charges of aiding and abetting in Floyd’s death, of depriving Floyd of his civil rights under color of law — meaning while acting in their capacity as police officers. The indictment accuses Chauvin of willfully depriving Floyd of his Constitutional rights by pinning Floyd to the ground with a knee on his neck as he was handcuffed and unresisting, resulting in Floyd’s death. 

A second federal indictment also charges Chauvin with deprivation of civil rights under color of law for a 2017 incident involving a 14-year-old boy, whom Chauvin allegedly struck in the head with a flashlight and pinned to the ground with a knee on his neck and back during an arrest. The other three officers were not involved in that case.

During Tuesday’s procedural hearing, Chauvin acknowledged that he understood his rights and the charges against him, and said he wished to continue to be represented by his attorney.

Nelson said he wouldn’t contest the government’s motion to keep Chauvin detained before his federal trial. Chauvin said he hadn’t spoken with his lawyer about his right to contest the detention, but said, “In light of my current circumstances I believe that would be a moot point.” He spoke briefly in private with Nelson before waiving his right to a detention hearing.

Chauvin already faces decades in prison on his state convictions in Floyd’s death, though he could serve far less time. It’s not immediately clear when Chauvin and the three other ex-officers would face a federal trial. Kueng, Lane and Thao are expected to be tried jointly on the state charges next year.

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