is in solitary confinement tonight awaiting sentencing for the murder of George Floyd. The former Minneapolis police officer was convicted this past Tuesday. After the verdict, the prosecution team sat down with us — including lead prosecutor, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison.
Scott Pelley: When you first heard the word “guilty,” you thought what?
Keith Ellison: Gratitude– humility– followed by a certain sense of, I’ll say satisfaction. It’s what we were aiming for the whole time. I spent 16 years as a criminal defense lawyer. So, I will admit, I felt a little bad for the defendant. I think he deserved to be convicted. But he’s a human being.
Scott Pelley: Somehow, I did not expect to hear from you a note of compassion for Derek Chauvin.
Keith Ellison: I’m not in any way wavering from my responsibility. But I hope we never forget that people who are defendants in our criminal justice system, that they’re human beings. They’re people. I mean, George Floyd was a human being. And so I’m not going to ever forget that everybody in this process is a person.
Scott Pelley: Was there ever a time that you thought you could lose this case?
Keith Ellison: I was never convinced we were going to win this case until we heard the verdict of guilty. I remember what happened in the Rodney King case when I was a pretty young man, young lawyer.
Keith Ellison: And I remember how devastated I felt when I heard that the jury acquitted those officers. Whenever — an officer is charged with an offense, particularly when the victim is a person of color, it’s just rare that there’s any accountability. And so, there was every moment of this case, I thought, “What are we missing? What haven’t we done?
57-year-old Keith Ellison represented Minneapolis in Congress. He became attorney general in 2019. In the Chauvin case, the governor passed over the local county attorney in favor of Ellison, to give the prosecution independence. Ellison’s team of 14 attorneys worked 11 months to explain nine minutes and 29 seconds.
Keith Ellison: We never thought we could play the video and sit down. We always knew we had to put on a full case and act as if we didn’t have a video. We made sure that the witnesses could carry it.
There were 45 witnesses over three weeks. Including the Minneapolis chief of police.
Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo during trial: it is not part of our training, and it is certainly not part of our ethics or our values.
And a leading authority on the complexities of a simple breath.
Dr. Martin Tobin during trial: That’s the moment the life goes out of his body.
Scott Pelley: Which witness sealed this case for you?
Keith Ellison: I think it was Mr. McMillian.
Keith Ellison: 61-year-old guy. Didn’t know George Floyd. And he came in there and he cried on the witness stand.
Charles McMillian was among those witnesses who could plainly see the humanity that never seemed to register in the eyes of Derek Chauvin.
Scott Pelley: As you looked on the faces of the 12 jurors during the more difficult eyewitness testimony, what did you see in their faces?
Jerry Blackwell and Steve Schleicher presented the case.
Jerry Blackwell: I saw a kind of empathy in their faces that they could feel what the witnesses felt. They could feel the anguish, they could feel the pain, they saw the tears.
The dozen jurors remain anonymous. Socially distanced, from one another, they were never seen on camera.
Steve Schleicher: They were bright and they were taking their responsibilities very seriously. And you could see that throughout the entire trial. They would lean forward, engaged.
Jerry Blackwell: Taking notes, lots of notes.
Steve Schleicher: Furious, yeah, furiously taking notes.
Several jurors had advanced degrees; one was a registered nurse.
Jerry Blackwell: They were overwhelmingly under the age of 40 which was unique.
Half were White, half people of color.
Keith Ellison: Two, what I would call traditional African Americans. You know, people like me. There were two African immigrants. There were two folks who were mixed race, who had, I think, an African descendant parent and a White parent. And then the White jurors were very diverse too. You know, some of them were working class. Others were very highly educated folks.
The identity of the jurors is one of two mysteries of the trial– the other is the motive for the murder.
Scott Pelley: Was this a hate crime?
Keith Ellison: I wouldn’t call it that because hate crimes are crimes where there’s an explicit motive and of bias. We don’t have any evidence that Derek Chauvin factored in George Floyd’s race as he did what he did.
Scott Pelley: You could’ve charged him with a hate crime under Minnesota law, and you chose not to.
Keith Ellison: Could have. But we only charge those crimes that we had evidence that we could put in front of a jury to prove. If we’d had a witness that told us that Derek Chauvin made a racial reference, we might have charged him with a hate crime. But I would have needed a witness to say that on the stand. We didn’t have it. So we didn’t do it.
Scott Pelley: The whole world sees this as a white officer killing a Black man because he is Black. And you’re telling me that there’s no evidence to support that?
Keith Ellison: In our society, there is a social norm that killing certain kinds of people is more tolerable than other kinds of people. In order for us to stop and pay serious attention to this case and be outraged by it, it’s not necessary that Derek Chauvin had a specific racial intent to harm George Floyd. The fact is we know that, through housing patterns, through employment, through wealth, through a whole range of other things– so often, people of color, Black people, end up with harsh treatment from law enforcement. And other folks doing the exact same thing just don’t. If an officer doesn’t throw a white neurologist in Eden Prairie, Minnesota to the ground and doesn’t sit on top of his neck, is he doing it because this is a fellow white brother? No. He’s doing it because he thinks, “This is an important person and if I treat them badly somebody’s going to ask me about this. “This person probably has lawyers. He probably knows the governor. He probably knows– he has connections. I can look at the way he’s dressed and the way he talks, that he’s probably, quote, unquote, ‘somebody.'” And so that’s really what it’s about.
Scott Pelley: Why would this officer assault George Floyd?
Keith Ellison: Well, that’s a question we spent a lotta time asking ourselves. And all we could come up with is what we could divine from his body language and his demeanor. And what we saw is that the crowd was demanding that he get up. And then he was staring right back at them defiantly. “You don’t tell me what to do. I do what I wanna do. You people have no control over me. I’m going to show you.”
And what he showed them, he showed to 13 video cameras.
Scott Pelley: Could you have won conviction without the bystander video?
Keith Ellison: I don’t know. If it was just the witnesses’ statements, I have to say to you that it was– I think it was an indispensable piece of this case.
Scott Pelley: The first public statement that the Minneapolis Police Department made hours after Mr. Floyd was killed was that the police had been involved and someone had died of a medical emergency. Do you think we ever would’ve known the truth without the video?
Keith Ellison: You know, I have real doubts of — that we ever would.
Scott Pelley: Why would Derek Chauvin commit murder or even assault if he knew he was being recorded.
Keith Ellison: I think that if he looks at history, he has every reason to believe that he would never be held accountable. There’s never been anyone in Minnesota convicted– any police officer convicted of second-degree murder in the history of our state. So this was precedent setting in that way. So history was on his side.
Scott Pelley: Does George Floyd bear any responsibility in your view for what happened that day?
Keith Ellison: No, he doesn’t.
Scott Pelley: If he’d gotten in the car, he’d be alive today.
Keith Ellison: The fact is that police officers are paid and trained to deal with people who are having problems. And if they’re allowed to use deadly force on people who are just having a bad day, then we’re going to be in a very, very lethal situation. We need officers who have the judgment and the ability to discern what somebody is going through so that people survive these encounters. George Floyd was not armed. He never threatened a soul, he never struck out on– against anybody. He did everything the officers said, except he had claustrophobia and anxiety and couldn’t bring himself to get in that car. How could Chauvin justify being on him three minutes after he had no pulse? How could he justify not rendering CPR? How can he justify not heeding George Floyd’s 27 requests to be able to breathe? “I can’t breathe” he said 27 times. How can he just ignore that? So I’m hard-pressed to find how George Floyd bears responsibility for what happened here.
Jerry Blackwell and Steve Schleicher presented the closing arguments, but they’re not career prosecutors. They were recruited by the attorney general from big law firms—because of their talent. Both volunteered to work this case for free.
Jerry Blackwell: It meant a lot to me personally. I mean, I have– had my own experiences of being stopped by the police for no reason, being harassed for no reason. And I wanted to do my part, just as a citizen, to say that the rule of law matters.
Scott Pelley: What does this verdict change? Does it change anything?
Steve Schleicher: Well, we won’t know. Right? We’re in the middle of history right now. And so that’s yet to be seen. But the rest of it is really– up to the world whether it changes, what it changes, to what extent. We’re in the middle of this story.
Jerry Blackwell: I don’t think that there are any inevitabilities in it because we don’t make progress on the wheels of inevitability. In fact, I think progress rolls like a brick. And so each one has to be flipped each time. So when people talk about inflection points and so on– I’m not really a subscriber to inflection points. There’s no reason to believe that things are easier going forward than they were to get here. And I think we have to make a consistent effort every day to protect the vulnerable and then to work to reform ourselves which, if we don’t do, there won’t be any lasting change anyway. If each person doesn’t work to make the change.
Three other former officers will go on trial, together, in August. 45-year-old Derek Chauvin will be sentenced by the judge in mid-June. George Floyd’s family can make a statement at that hearing and so could Chauvin, if he chooses. He faces a maximum of 40 years.
Scott Pelley: A maximum sentence would send what kind of message?
Keith Ellison: I think it is important for the Court to not go light or heavy. I don’t know if it’s right for a judge to send a message through a sentence because the sentence should be tailored to the offense, tailored to the circumstances of the case. Look, the State never wanted revenge against Derek Chauvin. We just wanted accountability.
Produced by Maria Gavrilovic. Associate producers, Alex Ortiz and Ian Flickinger. Edited by Michael Mongulla.