When the video of George Floyd’s last moments went viral last May, Ira Toles’ eyes quickly went to the police officer who was pinning Floyd’s neck to the ground with his knee.
“I texted my sister and said to my sister: ‘I think that’s the guy that shot me,’” Toles said in an interview this week on the Law&Crime Network’s Brian Ross Investigates.
Twelve years earlier, Toles had been shot by officer Derek Chauvin as officers responded to a domestic-violence call from the mother of Toles’ child.
And Toles was hardly the only person to recognize Officer Chauvin in the video of Floyd’s death.
“I saw him, I said, I think that’s Derek Chauvin. Oh, no,” said Michelle Gross, founder and president of the Communities United Against Police Brutality, in an interview with the Law&Crime Network.
Gross confirmed it was Chauvin after hearing a bystander call out Chauvin’s badge number on the video, and matching it to her list of Minneapolis police officers who had previously been accused of brutality.
“It wasn’t a surprise because I knew of him because he was a bad actor for a long time,” Gross continued. “He has been a problem officer for a very long time, and so his name was well-known to us.”
Minneapolis police department records reviewed by Law&Crime show Officer Chauvin was the subject of at least 18 complaints involving police brutality over the last decade. Only one of those complaints resulted in discipline.
“It said to me that of all the times that people had complained about his conduct and that he had been given a free pass. This was the culmination of that,” Gross said.
And the list doesn’t include the incident in which Chauvin shot Ira Toles, who says he did not know how to file a formal complaint.
Toles said Chauvin didn’t announce himself as he burst into his apartment, nor, he said, did Chauvin give Toles any commands upon arrival.
“All I know is he kicked down my front door. I ran into the bathroom. He kicked in the bathroom door. I stood up and then he just started hitting me,” Toles said. “After he started hitting me, I got shot and he tried to walk me through the apartment and I couldn’t walk anymore.”
The bullet, Toles said, went through his lower stomach and left a permanent hole on his body.
The police report says Toles began reaching for Chauvin’s gun—an accusation that Toles denied—so Chauvin “discharged the weapon twice.”
He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor domestic assault charge, and later learned that Chauvin was given a medal of valor by the department for his “self-sacrifice.”
“I’m angry at the whole system,” Toles continued. “I’m mad that he’s able to do that and get away with it. And then get a promotion or get an award.”
Chauvin’s murder trial in Floyd’s death began this week with jury selection, which is ongoing. There have also been significant rulings on motions in limine. Prosecutors say they intend to call as witness at least one person who says Chauvin used the same knee-to-neck technique on them in previous years.
“We have a real problem in Minneapolis because we don’t hold police accountable. This was the logical and sad outcome of allowing officers to act with impunity.” Gross said. “Our city has made not one single change to address our policing problem since George Floyd was killed. And the same goes frankly with our state legislature.”
For Ira Toles, justice will mean seeing Chauvin in prison.
“Everything I did in my life I had to be accountable for. So he has to be accountable for it,” Toles said. “If our legal system doesn’t punish him for his crimes. I have to take justice into my own hands.”
[Image via Law&Crime Network screengrab]
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