Sheriffs, chiefs side with Chauvin jury

Peninsula top law enforcement officers comment on trial, state reforms

North Olympic Peninsula police chiefs and sheriffs were not surprised that a Minnesota jury found former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin guilty of murdering George Floyd, they said Wednesday.

Chauvin, convicted Tuesday, will be sentenced in eight weeks following a trial based largely on a gruesome video showing Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for more than 9 minutes, including nearly 4 minutes during which Floyd, 46, was nonresponsive.

The footage galvanized millions of protesters and prompted nationwide calls for racial justice and police reforms, including across Washington state and in Clallam and Jefferson counties.

“I was heartbroken by the original series of events,” Port Angeles Police Chief Brian Smith said.

“They appropriately charged that case and the jury agreed.

“The judicial system worked.”

He said he was less concerned now than at first about statewide police reform measures.

“Some of my earlier concerns have been lessened,” Smith said, adding he was glad a prohibition against deploying of unleashed police dogs for arrest and apprehension had been stricken.

“The language I saw looked workable,” Smith said.

The measures, which are awaiting Gov. Jay Inslee’s signature, include requiring officers to exercise reasonable care when using force and authorizes the state auditor to review deadly force investigations.

State Rep. Mike Chapman of the 24th District voted against all the measures, he said Wednesday.

“I represent a district where our law enforcement already puts those policies in place,” said the Port Angeles resident, whose district includes Clallam and Jefferson counties and half of Grays Harbor County.

“I don’t believe they needed the state telling them how to do their job.”

Jefferson County Sheriff Joe Nole said actions by Chauvin, a white officer, against Floyd, a Black man being arrested on suspicion of using a counterfeit a $20 bill, were excessive.

“I think the amount of force that was used, the way that situation happened, was beyond reasonable, and that if that hadn’t happened, George Floyd would probably still be alive,” Nole said.

“Once you’ve got the handcuffs on him, normally the fight’s over. I don’t know why that went on so long.

“It was the right verdict.”

Nole recalled county residents calling him, outraged at what they’d seen in the video and asking him what he was going to do as far as his own department — and angry he referred to Floyd’s death and not his murder.

“I learned over the years to hold judgment until after the trial,” Nole said.

“If he was going to be convicted of something, I figured it was going to be murder. To me, that’s what it seemed to be.”

He said he agreed with the state police reforms’ reasonable care, de-escalation and deadly-force investigation provisions, but had issues with pursuit-policy restrictions.

Clallam County Sheriff Bill Benedict said there was no doubt Chauvin used excessive force.

“He was showing some indifference toward the suffering of Mr. Floyd,” Benedict said.

“Certainly he should have been found guilty of something. Whether that’s murder, that can get very complicated. There was intent, and apparently the jury found it.”

Benedict said it’s clear that the public expectation on the use of force is that only the minimum amount of force can be used, but he added Minneapolis is far different than the North Olympic Peninsula.

“Quite frankly, we don’t have the minorities, particularly African American, on the Peninsula. As a result of that, there’s not the racial tension on the Peninsula they have in Minneapolis.

“We don’t have nearly the crime rate on the Peninsula they have in Minneapolis.”

Benedict said reasonable care provisions are already essentially codified in his department’s practices and part of the accreditation earned by his department and the Port Angeles and Sequim police departments.

“The legislative system is who we elect, and generally they get it right,” he said.

“Some of the legislation that got to the governor is a bit hasty,” Benedict added. “We’re certainly going to adapt.”

Port Townsend interim Police Chief Troy Surber said he anticipated Chauvin would be found guilty.

“There was enough information to hold him accountable for what he did,” Surber said, adding that he is more interested in Chauvin’s sentencing, which will occur in about eight weeks.

He, too, said much of what is contained in pending police reform legislation is already in place.

Chapman said he believes Chauvin’s fate was sealed when he refused to testify and instead asserted his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself.

“To me, the compelling testimony was his peers,” the former part-time U.S. Customs inspector added.

“The justice system does work,” he added, recalling wrestling Algerian-born terrorist Ahmed Ressam to the ground in 1999 in Port Angeles and not pinning him down by the neck before Ressam’s arrest.

Sequim Police Chief Sheri Crain said the jury’s ruling seemed just and correct.

“What I would say is that the George Floyd incident certainly speaks to a larger conversation that we need to have and has clearly brought about in stark terms that society wants change in how policing is done,” Crain said.

“The correct question is, are changes gong to accomplish all the goals they are setting out?”

As for statewide police reforms that would not likely be awaiting Inslee’s signature had Floyd not been murdered, “the devil is probably in the details,” Crain said.

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at pgottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

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