Before Chauvin: decades of Minneapolis police violence that failed to spark reform | Minneapolis

A day after a jury convicted Derek Chauvin, a white former police officer, of murdering George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, the US justice department announced a sweeping investigation into whether Minneapolis police systematically violate citizens rights, use excessive force and discriminate against people of color.

Minneapolis residents have protested racist and violent treatment by police for decades. Police chiefs and mayors have publicly acknowledged the department’s reputation for excessive force. In the 1980s, one chief reportedly called his officers “damn brutal, a bunch of thumpers”.

Criminal charges and convictions for officers who injure or kill have been rare. The first officer convicted of murder for an on-duty killing in Minnesota was a Black officer who shot a white woman in 2017. Chauvin is the first white officer in the state to be convicted of murder.

Here are a few of the highest-profile incidents that have prompted intervention from local, state, or federal officials – and promises of reform.


An elderly Black couple, Lloyd Smalley and Lillian Weiss, died of smoke inhalation after Minneapolis police flash-bombed their home during a drug raid. The home was targeted based on faulty information and officers did not know elderly people were living there, the police chief said.

Result: no charges brought against any officer involved.


Two unconscious Indigenous men, Charles Lone Eagle and John Boney, were handcuffed and placed in the trunk of a Minneapolis squad car. Police claimed they wanted to get the men to the hospital “quickly”.

Result: the Hennepin county attorney chose not to bring criminal charges and the officers stayed on the force. Each victim was given $100,000 by the city.


Julius Powell, an 11-year-old Black boy, was hit in the arm by a stray bullet fired by police during a drug raid, prompting furious protests in North Minneapolis.

Result: the US justice department brokered a formal agreement to improve police-community relations and use of force. The deal expired in 2008.


Fong Lee, a 19 year-old Hmong American, was shot eight times and killed by Minneapolis police. Officers claimed Lee had a gun – which was later discovered to have been in police possession since 2004.

Result: the officer involved was exonerated and a jury ruled excessive force wasn’t used.


Mike Spann, a Black man, was followed out of a bar by three white off-duty Minneapolis officers, who beat him while using racial slurs.

Result: two officers pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct, which were dropped.


Jamar Clark, a Black man, was fatally shot in North Minneapolis a minute after officers arrived at the scene. Some eyewitnesses said the 24-year-old was handcuffed when he was shot. The killing inspired intense protests and an 18-day occupation of a North Minneapolis police precinct.

Result: Hennepin county did not file criminal charges, saying deadly force was warranted. The US Department of Justice did not file civil rights charges.


Faysal Mohamed, a 17-year-old Somali American, was pulled over by Minneapolis police along with three friends, over suspension their car was stolen. The arresting officer, Rob Webber, was caught on camera threatening to break Mohamed’s legs.

Result: Webber was placed on paid administrative leave then fired almost a year later.


Justine Damond, a white Australian woman, was fatally shot by a Somali American Minneapolis officer, Mohamed Noor, dispatched over a suspected sexual assault.

Result: Noor was found guilty of second-degree and third-degree murder. Damond’s family received a $20m settlement. Legislation passed which requires officers to turn on body cameras as soon as they begin responding to 911 calls.

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