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A judge wrote that the girls who witnessed George Floyd's murder were free to walk away. Minnesota's AG wants to correct the record.

Insider
Insider
 2021-07-08

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Minnesota AG Keith Ellison asked Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill to change his Chauvin sentencing memo.
  • Minnesota's AG wants the judge who presided over Derek Chauvin's trial to edit his sentencing memo.
  • Keith Ellison said the judge used language suggesting kids at the scene of George Floyd's murder weren't traumatized.
  • The language could be read as "adultification" and discounting Black girls' experience, he said.
  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories .

Minnesota's attorney general sent a letter Wednesday to the judge who presided over the Derek Chauvin trial, asking that he "correct the record" around the responsibility of the children at the scene of George Floyd's murder.

Attorney General Keith Ellison wrote that he wasn't asking to change Chauvin's 22.5 year sentence, but rather that the judge edit a sentencing memo where he suggests that the four juveniles who witnessed Floyd's death were free to leave the scene. Three girls who witnessed the murder were 17 at the time, and another girl was 9.

"Children lack the adult capacity for decision-making, including the ability to maturely 'walk away.' Moreover, the law does not place the burden on a child to choose between staying-whether to stand witness or in an attempt to aid a victim-or leaving the scene of a crime," Ellison wrote in the letter to Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill. "For good reason: The responsibility of shielding a child from witnessing a crime should not fall on the child."

Prosecutors had argued that Chauvin should receive a sentence above and beyond the standard guidelines due to aggravating factors, including that he killed Floyd while children were in the area. Cahill ultimately found there were aggregating factors that warranted an upward departure in the usual 12.5-year sentence for a first-time offender like Chauvin, but he ruled the four girls' presence at the scene wasn't one of them.

Cahill wrote last month in the sentencing memo that the four girls had walked over after officers subdued Floyd and weren't present when they were struggling to get him into a police cruiser.

The judge wrote that there was no evidence the four girls - including Darnella Frazier, the teenager who recorded Floyd's killing - were traumatized by the event.

"Mr. Chauvin is correct in saying that these young women were free to leave the scene as they wished, were never coerced or forced by him or any of the other officers to remain a captive presence at the scene, and did not know any of the officers or Mr. Floyd, and that this weighs against this factor as the basis for an aggregated departure," Cahill wrote.

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Footage from former officer Tou Thao's body camera showed him holding back a crowd of horrified bystanders watching Floyd's fatal arrest.

The memo may send 'the message that the pain these young women have endured is not real'

Ellison disagreed with the court that there was no evidence the girls had been traumatized by what they saw, pointing to Frazier's testimony that she stays up at night apologizing to Floyd for not doing more to save his life.

Ellison added that the state is "deeply worried" the court is sending a message that suggests children shouldn't intervene to stop a crime, but instead "simply walk away and ignore their moral compasses."

He argued the court also shouldn't have pointed out in the sentencing memo that the girls "giggled" at certain points during the incident.

"But that observation is completely immaterial: Children process traumatic experiences in ways that may seem unusual to the untrained eye," Ellison wrote.

The attorney general noted that research suggests "adults view Black girls as less innocent and more adult-like than their white peers," and this practice of "adultification" can lead to observers discounting a young Black girl's trauma. The letter was supplemented with a report from a Triple Board-Certified Child & Adolescent, Adult and Forensic Psychiatrist.

Editing the memo would not affect Chauvin's sentence, Ellison wrote in the letter, "but will avoid the risk of sending the message that the pain these young women have endured is not real or does not matter, or worse, that it is a product of their own decisions and not a consequence of Defendant's."

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