San Francisco Chronicle - (Sunday)
Evidence in Chauvin’s trial refuted 1st police statement
Moments after former officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of murder in George Floyd’s death, copies of the original Minneapolis police statement began recirculating on social media. It attributed Floyd’s death to “medical distress” and made no mention that the Black man had been pinned to the ground at the neck by Chauvin, or that he’d cried out that he couldn’t breathe.
Many were posting the release to highlight the distance between the initial police narrative and the evidence that led to the conviction Tuesday, including excruciating video shot by a teenage bystander of Chauvin with his knee on Floyd’s neck, even after Floyd had stopped moving.
And while Chauvin’s conviction is a highprofile case of video rebutting initial police statements, criminal justice experts and police accountability advocates say the problem of inaccurate initial reports — especially in fatal police encounters — is widespread.
“If it wasn’t for this 17yearold who took the video, Derek Chauvin would in all likelihood still be on the police force training officers,” said Andre Johnson, a University of Memphis professor of communication studies. “Sadly, this has been going on for a while, and it’s just now coming to light for a lot of Americans because of video evidence.”
For their part, police say they give the most accurate information they can during fastmoving and complicated investigations. But the frequency with which misleading information is published cannot be ignored, critics say.
In 2014, the New York Police Department’s narrative of Eric Garner’s death was that he’d gone into cardiac arrest. It made no mention of an officer’s extended choke hold on Garner, shown in a bystander video that captured repeated pleas that he couldn’t breathe. A grand jury declined to indict the sincefired officer Daniel Pantaleo, who said he was using a legal maneuver.
A year later, thenpoliceman Michael Slager said he shot Walter Scott because he’d grabbed for the officer’s stun gun. But bystander video of the North Charleston, S.C., shooting showed Slager chase Scott after he fled a traffic stop and fatally shoot him in the back. Slager was charged with murder in state court, but released after a hung jury. He later pleaded guilty to federal civil rights violations.
As complaints about misinformation on such interactions grow, so do calls for body cameras for police.
Police and prosecutors in several cities have released body camera videos more quickly after recent fatal encounters. Some experts say that’s in part to quell the potential for major protests. Others say it’s a move to regain the trust of the community amid demands for transparency.
Officials in Columbus, Ohio, released initial body camera footage of the fatal police shooting of 16yearold Ma’Khia Bryant just hours after it happened Tuesday. More footage released Wednesday showed a chaotic scene where the teen charged at two people with a knife.