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Evidence in Derek Chauvin case contradicted first police statement

Derek Chauvin. File   | Photo Credit: AP

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.

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Many were posting the release to highlight the distance between the initial police narrative and the evidence that led to the conviction on 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 high-profile 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 17-year-old 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 officials say they give the most accurate information they can during fast-moving 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 chokehold on Garner, shown in a bystander video that captured repeated pleas that he couldn’t breathe. A grand jury declined to indict the since-fired officer Daniel Pantaleo, who said he was using a legal maneuver called a seat belt.

A year later, then-policeman Michael Slager said he shot Walter Scott because he’d grabbed for the officer’s stun gun. But bystander video of the North Charleston, South Carolina, 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 the chorus of complaints about misinformation on such interactions grows, so do calls for body cameras for police. Roughly 80% of departments with 500 officers or more are now using cameras, but video storage can be costly.

Official police video is also increasingly showing discrepancies in initial police narratives, though generally the images are withheld for days or sometimes months during internal investigations.

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Printable version | May 11, 2021 7:26:51 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/evidence-in-derek-chauvin-case-contradicted-first-police-statement/article34390944.ece

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