MINNEAPOLIS – The Minneapolis police officer who used his knee to pin down George Floyd’s neck before his death was the most experienced of the four officers involved in the arrest, with a record that included medals for bravery and 17 complaints against him, including one for pulling a woman out of her car during a speeding stop.
New details about Derek Chauvin and the other now-fired officers emerged Wednesday after prosecutors upgraded Chauvin’s charge to second-degree murder and charged the others with aiding and abetting in a case that has convulsed the nation with protests over race and police brutality.
Heavily redacted personnel files show that Chauvin, a 19-year veteran of the force, was initially trained as a cook and served in the Army as a military police officer. Eleven-year veteran and native Hmong speaker Tou Thao began as a community service officer and was the subject of six complaints. The other two officers were relative newcomers to the department, including Thomas Lane, a former juvenile detention guard who did volunteer work with Somali refugees, and J. Alexander Kueng, who got his start in law enforcement by patrolling his college campus and a department store.
The files were notable for what they didn’t include. Only one of the 17 complaints against Chauvin was detailed, none of the six against Thao were mentioned and there was no further detail about a 2017 excessive force lawsuit against Thao.
Records show that the 44-year-old Chauvin initially studied cooking before taking courses in law enforcement and doing two stints in the Army as a military police officer in the late 1990s, serving at Fort Benning, Georgia, and in Germany.
Chauvin became a Minneapolis police officer in 2001 and the lone reprimand in his file involved a 2007 incident when he was accused of pulling a woman out of her car after stopping her for going 10 mph (16 kph) over the speed limit. Investigators found it was not necessary for Chauvin to remove the woman from the car and noted that his squad car video was turned off during the stop.
But Chauvin was also singled out for bravery. Files show he won two medals of valor, one in 2006 for being part of a group of officers who opened fire on a stabbing suspect who pointed a shotgun at them, and another in 2008 for a domestic violence incident in which Chauvin broke down a bathroom door and shot a suspect in the stomach.
He also won medals of commendation in 2008 after he and his partner tackled a fleeing suspect who had a pistol in his hand, and in 2009 for single-handedly apprehending a group of gang members while working as an off-duty security guard at the El Nuevo Rodeo, a Minneapolis nightclub.