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The Morning Dispatch: Chauvin Found Guilty
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The Morning Dispatch: Chauvin Found Guilty

Plus: New details about the death of Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick.

Happy Wednesday! First things first: Ted Lasso is coming back on July 23—and we’ve got a trailer!

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • A jury on Tuesday found former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin guilty of all three charges brought against him following the death of George Floyd: Second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter.

  • The European Medicines Agency concluded Tuesday that blood clotting should be listed as a “very rare” side effect of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, but that the “benefits of the vaccine continue to outweigh the risks for people who receive it.”

  • U.S. ambassador to Russia John Sullivan—a holdover from the Trump administration—said Tuesday he will return to Washington for consultations with the Biden administration on U.S.-Russia relations, but plans to head back to Moscow over the next few weeks. U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price emphasized that Sullivan “has not been expelled” but is “returning now at an opportune time to undertake consultations here, to see his family.”

  • Idriss Déby—president of Chad since 1990—died from wounds sustained during a visit to frontline troops battling rebel insurgents outside the capital, Chad’s military announced Tuesday. The country’s parliament has dissolved, and Déby’s son took over as interim president until another election can be held.

  • The Senate voted 98-2 on Tuesday to confirm Lisa Monaco—former President Barack Obama’s homeland security adviser—as deputy attorney general.

  • The United States confirmed 53,827 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday per the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Dashboard, with 3.7 percent of the 1,446,224 tests reported coming back positive. An additional 759 deaths were attributed to the virus on Tuesday, bringing the pandemic’s American death toll to 568,449. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 38,073 Americans are currently hospitalized with COVID-19. Meanwhile, 1,806,929  COVID-19 vaccine doses were administered yesterday, with 133,266,995 Americans having now received at least one dose.

Chauvin Guilty on All Charges

The nation held its collective breath yesterday afternoon when news broke that the jury in the Derek Chauvin trial had—after just 10 hours of deliberation—reached a verdict. About 90 minutes later, just after 5 p.m. ET, Judge Peter Cahill removed a piece of paper from an envelope and read its contents aloud:

“We, the jury, in the above entitled matter as to count one, unintentional second-degree murder while committing a felony, find the defendant guilty.”

“We, the jury, in the above entitled matter as to count two, third-degree murder perpetrating an eminently dangerous act, find the defendant guilty.”

“We, the jury, in the above entitled matter as to count three, second-degree manslaughter, culpable negligence creating an unreasonable risk, find the defendant guilty.”

This outcome was not necessarily unexpected. The whole world saw the 9-minute video last summer in which Chauvin refused to remove his knee from George Floyd’s neck well after Floyd became unresponsive, and prosecutor Steve Schleicher relied heavily on that footage in his closing argument earlier this week. “You can believe your own eyes,” he told the jury. “This case is exactly what you thought when you saw it first, when you saw that video.”

Securing a conviction in police misconduct or abuse of force cases like Chauvin’s, however, has long proven difficult. Police officers in the United States kill approximately 1,000 people per year in the line of duty. According to data collected by Bowling Green State University criminal law professor Philip Stinson, 121 officers have been arrested on charges of murder or manslaughter since 2005, and 44 of those 121 were convicted (some on lesser charges).

But legal experts generally agree the prosecutors here had the facts on their side, and that they made their case well. “Of course, the video itself was incredibly powerful evidence—and in a sense, not much more was needed,” Ted Sampsell-Jones, professor at Mitchell Hamline School of Law in Minnesota, told The Dispatch. “The state’s case was both emotional and methodical. And the prosecutors did a masterful job cross-examining the defense experts. So by the time deliberations started, I don’t think there was much doubt left about the result. Defense counsel Eric Nelson did a good job too, but this was not a winnable case from the defense side.”

“I think what we know is that police can get convicted at least in egregious cases,” Sampsell-Jones said when asked if the trial represented a sea change in how accountability for police is meted out. “But it remains to be seen how that will play out going forward. Even in the Floyd case, the case against the other three officers is much weaker than the case against Chauvin, so that trial this summer could have a different result. The Kim Potter trial will also not be so easy to get a conviction. Nonetheless, I do think that [over time], we will see more legal pressure on police.”

In remarks following the verdict, Philonise Floyd—flanked by Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson—expressed relief at the outcome and compared his older brother to Emmett Till, calling the 14-year-old black boy lynched in Mississippi 65 years ago “the first George Floyd.” 

“But today, you have the cameras all around the world to see and show what happened to my brother,” said Philonise, whose family reached a $27 million settlement with the city of Minneapolis last month in a civil lawsuit over George’s death. “It was a motion picture—the world seeing his life being extinguished.”

And without that motion picture—captured by a then-17-year-old bystander, Darnella Frazier—there may have never been a trial in which Chauvin could be convicted. This is how Minneapolis Police Department first described the officers’ interaction with Floyd, before Frazier’s footage emerged:

Two officers arrived and located the suspect, a male believed to be in his 40s, in his car. He was ordered to step from his car. After he got out, he physically resisted officers. Officers were able to get the suspect into handcuffs and noted he appeared to be suffering medical distress. Officers called for an ambulance. He was transported to Hennepin County Medical Center by ambulance where he died a short time later.

At no time were weapons of any type used by anyone involved in this incident.

Floyd’s murder last May immediately assumed enormous political significance—Joe Biden spoke at Floyd’s funeral, and the protests and riots Floyd’s death spurred last summer played a defining role in November’s elections—and yesterday’s verdict was no different.

“I … just spoke with George Floyd’s family again,” Biden said in remarks delivered from the White House following the verdict. “Nothing can ever bring their brother, their father back.  But this can be a giant step forward in the march toward justice in America.” The president touted his Justice Department’s commitment to confronting “systemic racism” in policing and the criminal justice system “head on,” and urged Congress to pass Democrats’ George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.

Earlier in the day, Biden had told reporters he was “praying the verdict is the right verdict,” saying he felt comfortable weighing in publicly since the jury was sequestered already. Those comments—along with California Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters’ over the weekend telling protesters to “stay on the street” and “get more confrontational” if Chauvin is not convicted—will likely be included in Chauvin’s appeal should he and his legal team seek to overturn the convictions.

Sampsell-Jones classified Biden and Waters’ remarks as “inappropriate,” arguing “it would be better if all public officials avoided public comment [pre-verdict] to avoid potentially tainting the jury’s process.” But he added that an appeal centered on those comments “will have virtually no chances of success.”

Chauvin didn’t have many defenders on Capitol Hill yesterday, even among Republicans who have woven support for police even more firmly into their political identities over the past year. “I said last summer that what happened to George Floyd was as wrong as wrong can be, and the justice system will work and that’s what we saw happened,” Rep. Jim Jordan told reporters

“There is no question in my mind that the jury reached the right verdict,” Sen. Tim Scott said. “While this outcome should give us renewed confidence in the integrity of our justice system, we know there is more work to be done to ensure the bad apples do not define all officers—the vast majority of whom put on the uniform each day with integrity and servant hearts.”

The largest police union in the country accepted the outcome as well. “Our system of justice has worked as it should, with the prosecutors and defense presenting their evidence to the jury, which then deliberated and delivered a verdict,” said Patrick Yoes, president of the National Fraternal Order of Police. “The trial was fair and due process was served.”

Chauvin had his bail revoked yesterday, was transferred to Minnesota Correctional Facility-Oak Park Heights, and will return to court in eight weeks for his sentencing, which Sampsell-Jones predicted will land Chauvin in jail for the next quarter century.

“The statutory maximum for second-degree murder is 40 years, but for someone with no criminal history, the actual maximum is 30 years,” he said. “I would expect the state to ask for 30 years, and the defense to ask for 12.5. My guess is Judge Cahill will impose a sentence somewhere between 20 and 25 years.”

Sicknick Autopsy Released

In the weeks following the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, the death of Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick became a flashpoint in the partisan debates over the severity of what transpired that day. In a January 7 statement following his death, the Capitol Police asserted that Sicknick had “passed away due to injuries sustained while on duty.” That week, the New York Times reported, citing Capitol Police sources, that Sicknick had been clubbed to death with a fire extinguisher—reporting that was noted by Democratic impeachment managers during President Donald Trump’s subsequent impeachment trial.

But the story of what had actually happened to Sicknick quickly grew murkier. On January 8, ProPublica reported that the officer had texted his family the evening of the insurrection, saying that he had been pepper-sprayed by rioters but was “in good shape.” A month later, the Times updated their story, saying that police sources “were at odds over whether he was hit,” but that Sicknick had not died of blunt force trauma.

This week, the D.C. medical examiner finally announced the results of Sicknick’s autopsy report. Sicknick died of natural causes, examiner Francisco Diaz said—specifically, two strokes at the base of the brain stem. The Washington Post, which spoke to Diaz, reported that the examiner “could not comment on whether Sicknick had a preexisting medical condition, citing privacy laws.” Diaz also said, according to the Post, that there was “no evidence the 42-year-old officer suffered an allergic reaction to chemical irritants”—in fact, “there was no evidence of internal or external injuries” at all.

What is to be made of this? Did Sicknick spend the day sparring with rioters, then, in an incredible coincidence, simply drop dead of an unrelated stroke? Diaz, still speaking with the Post, offered the cryptic line that “all that transpired played a role in his condition.” But barring additional details, it’s impossible to say whether that’s a significant assertion or a simple fig leaf. Evidence suggests that chronic stress can be a risk factor for stroke, but it’s less clear whether a single high-stress event like the Capitol attack could trigger such an event.

Despite the complicating evidence, the Capitol Police have stuck to their former line: “The USCP accepts the findings from the District of Columbia’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner that Officer Brian Sicknick died of natural causes,” read a statement from the department. “This does not change the fact that Officer Sicknick died in the line of duty, courageously defending Congress and the Capitol.”

The ruling comes as a significant relief to the two men charged with assaulting Sicknick, Pierre Tanios of West Virginia and Julian Khater of Pennsylvania, who faced the possibility of additional murder charges had Sicknick’s autopsy directly implicated them in his death.

Worth Your Time

  • You have the right to remain silent when you’re under arrest, but you also have the right to remain politically silent whenever you want. In an essay for Arc Digital, Spencer Case argues that accompanying the freedom of speech outlined in the Bill of Rights should be the freedom from speech—and we’re missing that in our hyper-polarized society. “If most major corporations, scientific organizations, universities, and other prominent entities are committed to political goals—especially the same political goals—then personal neutrality will be difficult or impossible to maintain. Many people will be conscripted into political speech when they’d rather remain silent,” he writes. “Politics has its place, but that place shouldn’t be everywhere, all the time. When politics is pervasive, it is worse. There must be space for political neutrality, and this means that we must be able to remain silent on political matters in most contexts without (too many) adverse social consequences.”

Presented Without Comment

Also Presented Without Comment

Also Also Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • Uphill is infrastructure. Check out Haley’s latest for a rundown on the status of Biden’s sweeping American Jobs Plan: Will Senate Democrats pass the package in one fell swoop, or opt instead to divide and conquer in lip service to bipartisanship? The newsletter also takes a look into the GOP debate over efforts to restore earmarks.

  • In Tuesday’s Sweep, Sarah takes a look at some recent research showing that parties running strong down ballot candidates even in unwinnable races may boost turnout further up the ticket. Plus: Chris Stirewalt dissects the Cook Political Report’s latest Partisan Voter Index score, and Andrew takes an early look into the Missouri Senate race to replace GOP Sen. Roy Blunt.

  • David’s latest French Press (🔒) delves into the contradictions surrounding “bipartisan” efforts to expand government oversight on Big Tech. Both sides “agree on the need for more federal power,” he writes, but “they disagree about how that power should be used.” While progressives push for intervention to combat “misinformation” and “hate,” Republicans contend that the government is needed to prevent outsize scrutiny of conservative speech.

  • Senior Manhattan Institute fellow Brian Riedl joined Jonah on The Remnant yesterday to talk debt, inflation, and testifying before Congress sans-pants. They also hone in on Riedl’s assessment of Biden’s American Jobs Plan, legislation which is much broader in scope than its branding would lead you to believe.

Let Us Know

What do you make of the jury’s verdict yesterday? Was justice served? (Please, as always, keep it civil and respectful in the comments.)

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Haley Byrd Wilt (@byrdinator), Audrey Fahlberg (@FahlOutBerg), Charlotte Lawson (@charlotteUVA), Ryan Brown (@RyanP_Brown), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).