That was the headline of a Minneapolis Police press release on May 25, 2020, in the hours after an unnamed man in his 40s died. Absent from the nearly 200-word post is any mention of officers restraining him on the ground, a knee on his neck, or any sense of how long this “interaction” lasted.
In light of his conviction, that original press release is worth revisiting to understand the ways that police statements can hide the truth with a mix of passive language, blatant omissions and mangled sense of timing.
The post begins by saying that Minneapolis Police officers responded to a report of a “forgery in progress,” and notes that the suspect “appeared to be under the influence.”
“Two officers arrived and located the suspect, a male believed to be in his 40s, in his car. He was ordered to step from his car. After he got out, he physically resisted officers. Officers were able to get the suspect into handcuffs and noted he appeared to be suffering medical distress. Officers called for an ambulance. He was transported to Hennepin County Medical Center by ambulance where he died a short time later.
“At no time were weapons of any type used by anyone involved in this incident. The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension has been called in to investigate this incident at the request of the Minneapolis Police Department.
“No officers were injured in the incident. Body worn cameras were on and activated during this incident.”
The post was sent by John Elder, the director of the Office of Public Information under Minneapolis Police.
How police language obscured the truth
Everything in the police post is, technically speaking, true.
The officers did notice he appeared to be in medical distress, and they did call for an ambulance. No weapons were “used,” at least in the sense that they did not shoot him or beat him with a weapon.
But taken together, the post is deeply misleading and works to obscure the officers’ role in his death.
It flips the timing of the handcuffing, hiding the fact that Floyd was in handcuffs nearly from the start of their interaction.
It notes that he was put in handcuffs and “suffering medical distress” in the same sentence, even though they occurred about 20 minutes apart. Most importantly, it ignores what police did in between those two events.
It also does not mention that former officer Thomas Lane pointed his gun at Floyd while he was in his vehicle, which can be interpreted as “using” a weapon.
The 17-year-old, Darnella Frazier, posted her video to Facebook, which was seen by people across the world, including the Minneapolis Police chief. Genevieve Hansen, an off-duty firefighter who was rebuffed from rendering aid to Floyd, also filmed parts of the scene from a slightly different angle. Another high school student used her friend’s phone to film the incident, she testified.
What police did after seeing bystander video
Upon first learning a man had been hospitalized while in police custody, Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo alerted the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and called the mayor, he testified in Chauvin’s trial. He then watched video of the arrest from a city camera across the street, but nothing jumped out about it, he testified.
Around midnight, a communications member contacted him to show him Frazier’s bystander video, giving the chief an up-close view of the incident, he testified.
On May 26, as Frazier’s video went viral and sparked widespread outrage, the Minneapolis Police press release was updated with another vague line: “As additional information has been made available, it has been determined that the Federal Bureau of Investigations (sic) will be a part of this investigation.”
On Wednesday, George Floyd’s brother Philonise Floyd said it was the presence of cameras that opened doors for the “historic” verdict in the Chauvin trial.