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George Floyd’s family files civil lawsuit against the City of Minneapolis and police officers

Posted on: July 15th, 2020 by Romanucci & Blandin

Lawsuit seeks damages and claims city is responsible for police culture of excessive force, racism and impunity

MINNEAPOLIS (July 15, 2020) – Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, attorney Antonio Romanucci, attorney L. Chris Stewart and other co-counsel on behalf of the family of George Floyd today filed a civil lawsuit against the City of Minneapolis and the four officers involved in Mr. Floyd’s death.

The lawsuit names the city as the responsible party for the Minneapolis Police Department, which the city uses to fulfill its policing functions.  The defendants also include Minneapolis police officers Derek Chauvin (Chauvin), Tou Thao (Thao), Thomas Lane (Lane), and J. Alexander Kueng (Kueng). The lawsuit states they were acting in their individual capacities and/or under color of state law, and within the scope of their employment. 

The federal lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota. The plaintiff is Minnesota attorney Kaarin Nelson Schaffer, who was named trustee for the Floyd family on July 6, 2020.

Mr. Floyd died May 25, 2020, at approximately 8:00 p.m., at the 3700 block of South Chicago Avenue South in Minneapolis.  He died face down in the street, handcuffed and compliant, having committed no violent crime and posing no threat to anyone. He died slowly under the weight of Minneapolis police officers Chauvin, Lane, and Kueng.  While Mr. Floyd was unlawfully maintained in this dangerous prone position with Chauvin kneeling on Mr. Floyd’s neck, Thao not only idly stood by and did nothing to help Mr. Floyd, but actively prevented bystanders from intervening in the unlawful death occurring before their eyes.  Mr. Floyd died begging for help, saying that he could not breathe, pleading for his life, and asking for his mother.

The complaint states Mr. Floyd was deprived, under color of state law, of his clearly established rights as secured by the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. The complaint is seeking compensatory and special damages and costs as defined under federal law in an amount to be determined by a jury.  The complaint also asks for the appointment of a receiver or similar authority to ensure that the City of Minneapolis properly trains and supervises its police officers, and for any other additional relief that the Court believes is just and equitable. 

“This complaint shows what we have said all along, that Mr. Floyd died because the weight of the entire Minneapolis Police Department was on his neck,” said attorney Ben Crump.  “The City of Minneapolis has a history of policies, procedures and deliberate indifference that violates the rights of arrestees, particularly Black men, and highlights the need for officer training and discipline. This is an unprecedented case, and with this lawsuit we seek to set a precedent that makes it financially prohibitive for police to wrongfully kill marginalized people — especially Black people — in the future.”

“W.E.B. DuBois defined liberty, in part, as the “right to breathe.”  For decades, the Minneapolis Police Department’s practices have unlawfully stolen the basic liberties of Black citizens, leaving them afraid and unable to breathe,” said co-counsel Antonio Romanucci. “The most recent example of this is the brutal, public, and unjustifiable killing of Mr. Floyd by police officers under the color of state law, which galvanized a nation to demand real change and achieve real justice.”

“The Floyd family deserves justice for the inhumane way in which officers with the Minneapolis Police Department killed Mr. Floyd,” said attorney L. Chris Stewart. “Furthermore, the City has a responsibility to acknowledge the history and practices of excessive force and impunity with its police force, as well as shortfalls in officer training and discipline.”

Critical Problems with MPD Training

The complaint explains that the MPD knows prone restraint can be deadly, and that its officers were supposed to receive appropriate training.  However, it had inconsistent policies and infrequent training to educate officers. In fact, the complaint states that MPD training to all officers, including the Defendant officers, designated and approved neck restraints as a “non-deadly force” option and encouraged officers to “compress veins, arteries nerves, and muscles of the neck” of arrestees. Training materials offered to officers in 2014, including Defendants Chauvin and Thao, depict an officer placing a knee on the neck of an arrestee who is handcuffed in a prone position.

The City Knew Of And Ratified the MPD Culture of Racism and Bad Behavior

In addition, the complaint illustrates the MPD’s history of ratifying unlawful or otherwise improper conduct by its officers, including a list of complaints about and incidents by the Defendant officers. The Minneapolis Police Department is currently being investigated for unlawful race-based policing, which deprives People of Color, particularly Black community members, of their civil rights under the Minnesota Human Rights Act.  Further, The Minneapolis Police Department ratified the culture of systemic racism and disparate treatment of the Black community, by failing to remove or otherwise discipline Lt. Bob Kroll for allegations of publicly wearing a “white power patch” and calling Black Lives Matter a “terrorist organization that puts out false narrative.”  The complaint states that the City of Minneapolis negotiates contracts with and has control over the amount of influence the Minneapolis Police Federation has over the officers, discipline, training, decision-making, and policy decisions of the Minneapolis Police Department. 

Three Counts in the Complaint, a synopsis of each is below:

Count I– 42 U.S.C. §1983 – Fourth Amendment Violations against Defendants Chauvin, Thao, Lane, and Keung 

-Chauvin, Lane, and Keung all acted under color of state law, as agents of Minneapolis, wearing their official uniforms and acting in the course and scope of their duties as Minneapolis police officers at the time they restrained Mr. Floyd in the prone position and knelt on his back and neck.

-Chauvin, Lane and Keung had no reason to believe that Mr. Floyd was armed or dangerous, nor was there reasonable belief that any other person was in imminent bodily danger from Mr. Floyd.

-Chauvin’s conduct keeling on Mr. Floyd’s neck was objectively unreasonable. Lane and Keung’s conduct kneeling on Mr. Floyd’s back was objectively unreasonable.  The excessive use of unjustified, excessive, illegal and deadly force caused Mr. Floyd to experience conscious pain, suffering and death. 

-Each of the Defendant officers had a duty to intercede on behalf of a citizen whose Constitutional rights were being violated by another officer.

Count II – 42 U.S.C. §1983 – Monell Liability against the City of Minneapolis.

  • Minneapolis, with deliberate indifference to the rights of arrestees, detainees, and the like, tolerated, permitted, failed to correct, promoted, or ratified a number of customs, patterns, or practices that failed to provide for the safety of arrestees, detainees, and the like during arrest, including but not limited to the handcuffing and restraint process.   
  • Minneapolis, with deliberate indifference to the rights of arrestees, detainees, and the like, tolerated, permitted, failed to correct, promoted, or ratified a number of customs, patterns, or practices that condoned and required officers to turn a blind eye to and not intervene with the use of excessive force by MPD officers. 
  • Minneapolis, with deliberate indifference to the rights of arrestees, detainees, and the like, tolerated, permitted, failed to correct, promoted, fostered or ratified a number of customs, patterns, or practices that condoned and required officers to treat the members of the Black Community of Minneapolis differently, including but not limited to implementing deadly force at a higher rate against Black men who did not pose a threat to officers. 
  • Minneapolis, with deliberate indifference to the rights of arrestees, detainees, and the like, continued to employ Chauvin and Thao despite knowledge of their repeated unconstitutional, unlawful, or other improper conduct.  By refusing to terminate Chauvin or Thao, Minneapolis caused Chauvin and Thao to act with impunity and without fear of retribution and to engage in unlawful acts toward arrestees, including Mr. Floyd. 
  • Minneapolis, with deliberate indifference to the rights of arrestees, detainees, and the like, tolerated, permitted, failed to correct, promoted, or ratified its agents, including Lt. Bob Kroll, providing improper and harmful training to officers, and caused officers to act with impunity and without fear of retribution. 
  • Minneapolis, with deliberate indifference to the rights of arrestees, detainees, and the like, participated in contract negotiations with the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis that granted officers powers that allowed them to avoid discipline for misconduct, including but not limited to a grievance process that resulted in a nearly 50% rate of overturns of terminations of officers.
  • Mr. Floyd died as a direct and proximate result of the acts and omissions by Minneapolis.  

Count III – 42 U.S.C. §1983 – Canton Liability against the City of Minneapolis

-The City failed to properly train and supervise Defendant officers and its other officers, including but not limited to, matters related to the reasonable and appropriate use of force during such arrests, and intervention in the excessive use of force by fellow officers. 

-Minneapolis was aware of a need for more and different training. Minneapolis specifically knew that its officers needed training regarding the use of prone restraint and was required to provide its officers with such training. However, with deliberate indifference to the rights of citizens, Minneapolis failed to provide adequate training to its officers on the use of prone and neck restraint.  

-Minneapolis was aware that deprivation of the Constitutional rights of citizens was likely to result from its lack of training and was deliberately indifferent and exhibited reckless disregard with respect to the potential violation of constitutional rights, and the City’s failure to train constituted official Minneapolis policies, practices, or customs.

-Minneapolis’s failure to train was behind the acts and omissions the Defendant Officers made toward Mr. Floyd, and as a direct result of Minneapolis’s acts and omissions, Mr. Floyd suffered injuries, experienced pain and suffering, and ultimately died.

About Ben Crump Law 

Nationally renowned civil rights and personal injury attorney Ben Crump and his national network of specialized attorneys have spearheaded a legal movement to better protect the rights of marginalized citizens. He has led landscape-changing civil rights cases and represented clients in a wide range of areas including civil rights, personal injury, labor and employment, class actions, and more. Ben Crump Law is dedicated to holding the powerful accountable. For more, visit BenCrump.com or call (800) 935-8111.

About Romanucci & Blandin, LLC 

Romanucci & Blandin is a Chicago-based national trial practice committed to fighting for victims of negligence, abuse and wrongful death arising from police misconduct, corporate negligence, civil rights actions, medical malpractice, mass torts and class actions. Founded in 1998, the firm is widely recognized for representing plaintiffs in numerous practice areas including: workers’ compensation, pharmaceuticals, civil rights, police misconduct, excessive force, aviation, product liability and premises liability. For more information, please visit www.rblaw.net or call (312) 458-1000. 

About Stewart Trial Attorneys

Atlanta-based Stewart Trial Attorneys has handled numerous high-profile wrongful death cases involving law enforcement and represents victims of police violence around the country.  Led by L. Chris Stewart and Justin Miller, the firm specializes in cases involving civil rights, wrongful death, premises liability and sexual assault.  The firm won the first-ever billion dollar jury verdict involving a rape victim.  For more information visit www.stewarttrial.com or call (844) TRIAL-00. 

About Pintas & Mullins

Pintas & Mullins is a national law firm, headquartered in Chicago, which has fought for the rights of the seriously injured for more than 35 years. Its practice areas include representation for the victims of environmental injustice, nursing home abuse of seniors, medical malpractice, dangerous products and drugs, and more. Through its close association with Ben Crump law, Pintas & Mullins is a passionate advocate for those without a voice against powerful interests and bad-acting corporations.  For more information please visit www.pintas.com or call (800) 935-8111.

About Jacob Litigation, Inc. 

Jacob Litigation, Inc. is a national civil rights law firm serving persons who have experienced police brutality, and the estates of persons who have been unlawfully killed by law enforcement personnel. Jacob Litigation is owned and operated by Attorney Devon M. Jacob, who is a former police officer and a former Pennsylvania Deputy Attorney General. For more information please visit www.jacoblitigation.com or call (717) 796-7733.

About Newmark Storms Dworak LLC 

Newmark Storms Dworak LLC is one of Minnesota’s premier boutique law firms. The Minneapolis firm regularly handles high-profile civil rights, medical malpractice, and sexual abuse claims. For more information, visit www.newmarkstorms.com.

About Lewis Brisbois 
Lewis Brisbois provides a wide-range of legal services to clients with a continuity of representation across multiple disciplines. The firm has built longstanding relationships with corporate and institutional clients based on its ability to provide comprehensive service on a national scale. Attorneys Scott Masterson of the Atlanta office along with Michelle Gilboe of the firm’s Minneapolis office are working with Stewart Trial Attorneys.  Information:  www.lewisbrisbois.com.   

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