Did The Civil Rights Lawyers In The Floyd Case Leave Money On The Table

Is $27 million enough to set an example for other police departments?

Photo by Luis Morera on Unsplash

Two months after a stunned, pandemic world watched the killing of George Floyd at the corner of 8th Street East and Chicago Avenue, a battery of civil rights attorneys filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city, Minneapolis, Minnesota, and the three cops who participated in Floyd’s death. The lawyers’ chief spokesperson is Benjamin Crump. He has built a cottage industry in police misconduct cases following the Trayvon Martin family’s representation nine years ago.

After filing the lawsuit, Crump told reporters that “the tipping point had arrived.” Crump said the lawsuit on behalf of the Floyd Family was designed to make it “financially prohibitive” for Minneapolis and other cities around the country to engage in overly aggressive policing of Black citizens.

“This is an unprecedented case; with this lawsuit, we seek to create a precedent,” Crump said after filing the wrongful death lawsuit.

Eight months later, and before a trial date, Crump, on behalf of the Floyd Family, settled with Minneapolis for a reported $27 Million. While $27 Million is nothing to sneeze at, it is hardly precedent-setting example material.

A settlement or jury verdict of several hundred million dollars is the kind of stuff that deters cities from practices and procedures that would leave it up to their officers to determine the appropriate amount of force to be used during a confrontation with a member of the public. It is not likely that any amount of money a municipality will agree to pay is sufficient to deter future conduct. Deterrence is achieved when juror’s from the community put a price tag on the punishment.

The settlement on the eve of the Derek Chauvin trial begs the question: Did the civil rights lawyers representing George Floyd’s family in the wrongful death cause of action settle the civil claim too soon?

The evidence presented in the first four days of Chauvin’s trial suggests that the $27 million settlement is insufficient to make the Floyd family whole and set a precedent to deter other municipalities from allowing an over-aggressive policing method when confronting Black people in this country.

First, the family’s attorneys based their case on eight minutes and forty-six seconds of pain and suffering before Floyd’s death. In contrast, the State of Minnesota established its prosecution on nine minutes and twenty-nine seconds. Chauvin tormented Floyd 83 seconds longer than the high-profile civil rights lawyers knew about when they settled the Floyd family’s claim. If they knew about the additional 83 seconds, the civil rights attorneys continued to lead the public to believe that those seconds did not exist.

As the lawyers gathered the family and Rev. Al Sharpton in front of the courthouse just before opening statements, they asked those watching on international television to kneel with them for eight minutes and forty-six seconds. Moments later, when the trial began, we learned from the lead prosecutor, Jerry Blackwell, that Chauvin held, terrorized, and abused Floyd 83 seconds longer than had previously been known.

How much difference does one minute twenty-three seconds make? A heck of a lot. Those precious seconds meant life or death to George Floyd, it meant more excoriating pain for Floyd, and it points out the blatant disregard Chauvin had for the life force loved by the Floyd extended family.

In terms of dollars and cents, the additional 83 seconds means the difference between a $27 million settlement and a civil jury verdict ranging from 100 million dollars or more when you consider the award of punitive damages.

In a civil suit, it is the punitive damage award that deters future conduct on the part of, in this case, the city of Minneapolis. Punitive damages are allowed by law to punish the wrongdoer so severely that they will not consider the same conduct in future situations.

Evidence from the first week of trial testimony coupled with Chauvin’s disciplinary record, which is not part of the criminal trial evidence, cry out for a substantial punitive damage judgment against the city for allowing a person with a depraved heart and alleged history of abusive conduct like Chauvin to remain on their police force. Albeit Chauvin’s personnel file is protected by the fifth amendment right against self-incrimination, but indeed a discoverable item in the civil suit.

How powerful would the testimony of the four eyewitnesses from the 9-year old girl to the sixty-one-year-old man and the off-duty emergency medical technician have been if presented to a civil jury empaneled to determine just compensation for the Floyd Family?

Powerful enough to open wide the purse strings of Minneapolis, anyone can hazard to guess.

Then consider that Chauvin misled his immediate supervisor about what had happened at the corner of 8th Street East and Chicago Avenue on Memorial Day 2020. When Chauvin’s supervisor came on the scene to investigate the incident, Chauvin told him that he had to restrain an unruly suspect while making an arrest. There is zero evidence that Floyd resisted arrest in an unruly manner.

Deceptively, Chauvin did not reveal he had placed his knee on the suspect’s neck for nearly ten minutes. His deception led the Minneapolis police department to issue an untrue assessment of George Floyd’s death in their initial public report.

Chauvin’s conduct in kneeling on Floyd’s neck long after Floyd had submitted to the arrest significant to warrant punitive damages, but when he lied, attempting to cover up his conduct, it compounds the measure of punitive damages that a jury could award to Floyd’s Family.

There have been many discussions about defunding the police; nothing achieves this objective faster than a jury verdict in the hundreds of million dollars range. Municipalities throughout the country would notice that if they do not reform policing in the Black community, they will go bankrupt defending themselves.

Twenty-Seven million dollars hardly sets the precedent that Crump promised on the day he filed suit in George Perry Floyd’s wrongful death. Will it be enough to deter other police departments from similar egregious acts against Black, Brown, Red, and Yellow Americans?

Harold Michael Harvey is the Living Now 2020 Bronze Medal winner for his memoir Freaknik Lawyer: A Memoir on the Craft of Resistance. He is the author of a book on Negro Leagues Baseball, The Duke of 18th & Vine: Bob Kendrick Pitches Negro Leagues Baseball. He writes feature stories for Black College Nines. Com. Harvey is a member of the Collegiate Baseball Writers Association and a member of the Legends Committee for the National College Baseball Hall of Fame. Harvey is an engaging speaker. Contact Harvey at hmharvey@haroldmichaelharvey.com

Harvey is Living Now Book Awards 2020 Bronze Medalist for his memoir Freaknik Lawyer: A Memoir on the Craft of Resistance. Available at haroldmichaelharvey.com

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