Nearly three years before Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on George Floyd as he cried out that he couldn’t breathe last May, Zoya Code found herself in a similar position: handcuffed facedown on the ground, with Chauvin’s knee on her.
The officer had answered a call of a domestic dispute at her home, and Code said he forced her down when she tried to pull away.
“He just stayed on my neck,” Code said, ignoring her desperate pleas to get off. Frustrated and upset, she challenged him to press harder. “Then he did. Just to shut me up,” she said.
Last week, a judge in Minnesota ruled that prosecutors could present the details of her 2017 arrest in their case against the former officer, who was charged with second-degree unintentional murder in Floyd’s death.
Code’s case was one of six arrests as far back as 2015 that the Minnesota attorney general’s office sought to introduce, arguing that they showed how Chauvin was using excessive force when he restrained people — by their necks or by kneeling on top of them — just as he did in arresting Floyd. Police records show that Chauvin was never formally reprimanded for any of these incidents, even though at least two of those arrested said they had filed formal complaints.
Of the six people arrested, two were Black, one was Latino and one was Native American. The race of two others was not included in the arrest reports that reporters examined.
Discussing the encounters publicly for the first time in interviews with The Marshall Project, three people who were arrested by Chauvin and a witness in a fourth incident described him as an unusually rough officer who was quick to use force and callous about their pain.
The interviews provide new insight into the history of a police officer whose handling of Floyd’s arrest, captured on video, was seen around the world and sparked months of protests in dozens of cities.
Chauvin, who was fired, has said through his attorney that his handling of Floyd’s arrest was a reasonable use of authorized force. But he was the subject of at least 22 complaints or internal investigations during his more than 19 years at the department, only one of which resulted in discipline.