Derek Chauvin, Floyd murder suspect and face of US police brutality

© Agence France-Presse

Derek Chauvin, the former police officer accused of murdering George Floyd, had a track record of making violent arrests

Minneapolis (AFP) - Described by colleagues as a rigid, silent man, Derek Chauvin -- the former police officer who goes on trial Monday for the murder of George Floyd -- had a record of using excessive force long before the unarmed Black man died under his knee, sparking the biggest US race protests in decades.

Chauvin knelt on the 46-year-old Floyd's neck for almost nine minutes on a Minneapolis street on May 25 last year, despite the dying man's pleas and those of shocked passers-by who filmed the tragedy.

"Throughout his interaction with Mr Floyd, Mr Chauvin exuded a calm and professional demeanor," argued his lawyer Eric Nelson in court documents. He will tell the jury that the white ex-cop only applied a hold that was authorized and was consistent with his training, because Floyd "resisted arrest."

But the prosecution intends to show that Chauvin, 44, had often used "more force than was necessary" in applying restraining holds during his 19-year career. 

To prove it, they have dug up several examples of his "modus operandi" including the case of of Zoya Code. In 2017, Chauvin arrested this young black woman, who had been accused of using violence by her own mother. 

"Even though the female was not physically resisting in any way, Chauvin kneeled on her body, using his body weight to pin her to the ground," the prosecution will argue.

"He just stayed on my neck," she recently told the Marshall Project. Frustrated and upset, she challenged him to press harder. "Then he did. Just to shut me up," she said.

22 charges

"There's no perceivable way that he could not know what kind of damage he was either doing or capable of doing in that situation," said Andre Balian, a kung fu instructor who trained with Chauvin some 20 years ago.

In an interview with AFP last June he recalled Chauvin as  a "jerk" who would stand with arms folded and glare at those around him.

Since the tragedy, few details have filtered out about Chauvin, but former colleagues have sketched a portrait of a silent, rigid, workaholic who often patrolled the city's more difficult neighborhoods. 

His commitment to the job earned him four medals over the course of his career, but he also racked up 22 internal complaints and investigations, according to a public record scrubbed of all details. 

Only one of these numerous complaints, filed by a white woman whom he had violently pulled from her car in 2007 for speeding, in front of her crying infant, was followed by a letter of reprimand.

Financial fraud

On week nights, Chauvin had long worked security at a nightclub, the Nuevo Rodeo. There too, his heavy handed methods left a bitter aftertaste. 

The club's former owner, Maya Santamaria, described him to reporters as someone man who "had a real short fuse," and who made generous use of tear gas at the slightest provocation. 

By coincidence, George Floyd, a man of imposing stature, also worked as a bouncer at the same establishment, but it does not appear that the two men ever crossed paths there.

A loner at work, Chauvin had a wife, a refugee from Laos whom he married in 2010. At the end of May, Kelly Xing filed for divorce. 

Since then, the courts have opened a tax fraud lawsuit against the couple and, in November, a judge rejected a divorce settlement that called for all their assets to be transferred to Xing. 

That arrangement would have sheltered the funds if Chauvin was ordered to pay significant damages. In addition to the criminal trial, he is also the subject of civil proceedings launched by Floyd's family. 

While awaiting trial, the man who for many has come to embody police violence in the United States has been released on bail of $1 million. Out of fear for his safety, he was allowed to settle outside of Minnesota at an address that has been kept secret.