The death of George Floyd after being pinned to the ground in a neck chokehold by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who was arrested on murder charges today, has sparked unrest across the country and become a political flashpoint — yet another example of a white officer unleashing deadly force on a black man.
But for former employees, DJs, and promoters who spent time at El Nuevo Rodeo, a popular Latin nightclub in southeast Minneapolis, the killing has provoked grief, rage, and also shock. Both Floyd, 46, and Chauvin, 44, worked as part-time security guards at the establishment. How was it possible, many asked, that such violence had exploded between two former coworkers who by many accounts worked peacefully in proximity to each other for about a year?
“It’s very shocking,” said Alexander Vasquez Hagen, who worked security at the club several years ago and interacted with Chauvin in that capacity. He said he knew and liked Floyd from the city’s club scene.
“Crazy,” added AJ Jaurequi, a club promoter in the area. He said he wondered if the two men “had some beef with each other, because it’s odd that you’d treat someone you knew like that.”
Maya Santamaria, the club’s former owner, said Floyd, the father of a six-year-old girl, was “a sweetheart” and that “everyone loved him.” Santamaria said she’d hire Floyd for busy nights, to join the 25 other security guards inside the club.
Chauvin, whom she said worked for her nearly every weekend for 17 years, stayed outside, usually in his squad car or checking IDs. The former club owner paid the officer, as well as three to four others, $55 an hour to keep the peace, something she said “the city made [her] do to stay in operation.”
Santamaria recalled that Chauvin, a 19-year-veteran of the department, “was nice but he would overreact and lash out quickly.”
This was particularly true, she said, on nights when the club hosted special events like Twerk Tuesdays and other dance festivals geared toward the black community.
“His face, attitude, posture would change when we did urban nights,” she said, adding that he had a “propensity to pull out pepper spray” and use it on her patrons, something she said she had spoken to him about.
A former bouncer, who worked there until 2014, and a former DJ both said they had never seen or heard of pepper spray being used. A lawyer for Chauvin could not be reached for comment.
On Friday, as Minneapolis braced for a fourth night of protests, Chauvin was charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter for the death of his former coworker. The killing was captured on cellphone video and showed Chauvin keeping Floyd in a neck chokehold for more than eight minutes.
The fatal encounter took place outside a convenience store after a store manager who suspected Floyd had tried to pay with a counterfeit bill called police.
“Please, please, I can’t breathe,” Floyd says in a viral video of the encounter. “I can’t breathe.”
Floyd died in police custody. The Hennepin County Medical Examiner later determined that Floyd's "underlying health conditions," including coronary artery disease and hypertensive heart disease, as well as the tactics used by police, contributed to his death.
The club, and Spanish-language radio station La Raza, burned down Thursday night during protests over the killing.