Legal Guide

George Floyd: Understanding the Intersection of Criminal and Civil Laws

George Floyd, Jr., the man and father recently killed in Minneapolis at the hands of the police, was initially approached by police under suspicion of counterfeiting currency, a simple misdemeanor. However, the events that followed, ultimately resulting in his death, implicate other areas of criminal and civil law. The family of George Floyd, as well as families that have experienced similar confrontations with the police, have several avenues to explore when it comes to how their legal protections intersect as they pursue justice and reparation.

The most obvious is personal injury law, specifically, a cause of action for police brutality. The police officers who held George Floyd to the ground via a knee to the back of his neck have been charged with either committing or aiding and abetting second degree manslaughter. This level of prosecution indicates that today's climate has evolved to a place where the family of George Floyd may realistically and favorably pursue remedies through legal means. The apparent recklessness of their methods, rather than another less lethal form of containment, may also justify a cause of action for assault, or even wrongful death.

If the use of force that caused his death are found to be unlawful, it could be argued that the physical actions taken to subdue George Floyd are grounds for battery. In the case of George Floyd's death, the argument might be made that the police officers perceived their own conduct as lawful. While their form of chokehold was a discouraged practice, it wasn't (yet) banned in Minneapolis. Even in cities that do have policies barring police officers from using chokeholds, the lack of policy enforcement may serve to reinforce a suspect's belief that an unreasonable use of force will be carried out by the police.

In the case of George Floyd, utilizing a neck restraint technique if resisting arrest would have been lawful, but the execution was not. Additionally, the policy of moving the suspect from a prone position to a recovery position was not carried out by any of the officers present. All Minneapolis police officers--including those involved in the killing of George Floyd--received training on this policy and technique. The training has been in place since the multimillion dollar settlement of a lawsuit brought by the family of David Smith, also a black man, following his death from a similar encounter with the police in 2010. David Smith's family included this training requirement in the lawsuit settlement so that no one else would die from the same manner of mechanical asphyxiation when restrained by the police. The fulfillment of this training requirement by the police officers in question could play a critical role in the Floyd family's legal proceedings.

However, the subsequent firing of the officers from the police force following the engagement sends the message that the use of force was, indeed, reckless or excessive. This, supported with video evidence, suggests the family of George Floyd has reason to explore the possibility of a civil rights complaint for violations of Mr. Floyd's constitutional rights. Interestingly, while the alleged criminal and civil violations at the hands of the police officers resulted in their termination and eventual arrest, the officers would still be entitled to workers' compensation benefits had they been injured in the process of killing George Floyd. Even though the officers involved in the killing of George Floyd were fired, the most common cause of police injury comes from non-compliant offenders, and officers can collect workers compensation benefits even after termination from the force.

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