Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis police officer who was arrested and charged with third-degree murder Friday after he was caught on video using a knee chokehold on George Floyd, had 17 complaints against him over nearly 20 years of his service, all but one of which ended without disciplinary action, according to police records released Thursday.
Kristofer Bergh, a 24-year-old white man from Minneapolis, was one of the people who filed a complaint against Chauvin and another officer, accusing them of pulling a gun on him and his teenage friends in 2013 after one of the teens shot a Nerf gun that may have struck a passerby.
Around two months after Bergh filed the complaint against both officers, the Minneapolis Police Department sent him an email saying it had investigated his complaint of “inappropriate language and attitude,” but that it could not publicly release details of any disciplinary action against the officers.
“I apologize that you had a negative interaction with our Officers,” Sgt. James Carroll said in the email that was provided to BuzzFeed News.
Chauvin and the other officer did not face any discipline in Bergh’s case, according to a database of police conduct complaints obtained by the advocacy group Communities United Against Police Brutality that was provided to BuzzFeed News for review.
The database showed that Bergh filed the complaint on May 3, 2013, and his case number in the database matches one of the case numbers in Chauvin’s complaint profile released by the Minneapolis Police Department. The department does not release details of allegations in complaints when officers do not face discipline, Dave Bicking, CUAPB’s vice president, told BuzzFeed News. Bergh’s complaint was first reported by USA Today.
In an email to BuzzFeed News on Thursday, Bergh said that had he and his friends not been white, they would have “likely been shot” by the officers.
“They would have seen me as a bigger threat, they’d have said they feared for their lives and that they thought I was armed,” Bergh said. “I think Derek Chauvin intentionally escalated incidents because he enjoyed having that power over people.”
Chauvin was a 19-year veteran of the department who began his career at the Minneapolis Police Academy in 2001. He has also been involved in three shootings during his career, one of which turned deadly. Only one of the 17 complaints against him resulted in disciplinary action constituting two letters of reprimand, according to police records.
Chauvin was arrested by state authorities on Friday and was taken into custody by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington announced. He was charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter. The other three officers have not been arrested. Floyd’s death has sparked heated protests and demands for justice in Minneapolis and across the country. The US attorney’s office of Minnesota, the Department of Justice, and the FBI are investigating Floyd’s death to determine whether the officers violated federal law. The DOJ said Thursday that the investigation is a “top priority.”
Bergh and two of his friends involved in the incident provided the following account of Bergh’s complaint to BuzzFeed News. The Minneapolis Police Department did not release information on the complaint, including details of Bergh's allegations or whether the accusations were substantiated. Tom Kelly, Chauvin’s lawyer, could not be reached for comment.
On May 1, 2013, Bergh was a 17-year-old senior at South High School in Minneapolis. He and three of his friends were playing a game of Assassins — an annual event organized by the students where teams of 10 were given a “hit list” of 10 targets that they had to eliminate by hitting them with Nerf darts.
Bergh said three of his teammates had been dropping him off at home in a car when one of his friends shot a Nerf dart outside the car window that may have struck a passerby.
Minutes after the car pulled up to Bergh’s house and he got out of the car, Chauvin and his partner pulled up in a police car behind them without any sirens or lights and with “their guns drawn on me,” Bergh said.
“I didn’t know that they were behind us until I turned around and saw them already aiming guns at me,” Bergh said. “It was terrifying.”
The officers shouted at Bergh to “get back in the fucking car” and “put your hands in the fucking air,” he recalled.
Bergh said he immediately dropped his backpack and trumpet on the ground and complied with their orders.
According to Bergh, the officers then approached their car with their “guns drawn” and continued to command them to keep their hands up.
Noah Hanson, who was one of the teens inside the car at the time, told BuzzFeed News that the other officer had aimed his gun at them, but did not recall if Chauvin also had his gun out.
Hanson, 23, said the other officer had his gun “pointed directly at my face from two feet away.”
Tesla Petersen, 24, who was driving the car at the time, told BuzzFeed News that she did not remember if either of the officers had their guns out.
All three of them recalled that the officers had pulled up behind the car without any lights or sirens on and had shouted at the teens to put their hands up in the air.
Hanson said he thought it would've been clear to the officers what had happened after he and his friends told them that they were just Nerf guns.
“They saw the Nerf guns on our laps,” Hanson said, but added that the officers continued to be “very suspicious.”
Bergh said the officers confiscated the Nerf guns in their laps and in the trunk of the car.
When one of the teens admitted to the officers that he was the one who had shot the Nerf gun that may have hit a passerby, Hanson, Bergh, and Petersen said the officers took their friend to their squad car and “detained him” for a while.
“That friend later told us that in the squad car he was verbally berated further, being told that he was a worthless piece of shit who is soon going to have a rap sheet a mile long,” Bergh said.
One of the officers told the teens that “we’d all be 18 by the end of the year, meaning we can all go to ‘big boy jail,’” Bergh recalled.
He said the officers finally released their friend “after what seemed like an eternity” and returned their Nerf guns.
BuzzFeed News is awaiting a comment from the friend who was questioned by the two officers.
Bergh said his mother had witnessed the entire incident from inside the house and when she deemed it safe to come out, she asked the officers why they had acted so aggressively.
“They told her it was because we had been trying to elude them,” Bergh said. “How could we be trying to elude them if we didn’t know they were following us, since they didn’t use their siren?”
Hanson said he was “terrified” when the other officer had pointed a gun to his face.
He said that the officers “just wouldn’t listen to reason” and made it seem like that was “just the way it has to be” when the teens questioned him about why the officers were grilling their friend.
Bergh said the officers included the word “fuck” with every command they gave the teens during the encounter.
“‘Put your fucking hands in the air,’ ‘get back in the fucking car,’ ‘don’t fucking move,’” Bergh said.
The three friends told BuzzFeed News that the officers did not physically harm them or threaten them, “aside from the inherent threat implied by aiming guns at us,” Bergh added.
A few days after the incident, Bergh said he filed an online complaint against both officers with the Minneapolis Police Department, describing the way they had been treated.
He said a few days after filing the complaint, someone from the department called him to ask for a few more details about the incident.
On July 24, 2013, he received an email response from a police sergeant that did not include details about whether either officer had been disciplined.
Bergh said he didn’t realize that Chauvin was the same officer seen using a knee chokehold on Floyd in the viral video until another reporter contacted him to inquire about his 2013 complaint. Hanson and Petersen said they also did not make the connection until Hanson saw Bergh’s Facebook status about the incident on Wednesday and contacted Petersen.
“Based on how he treated us, it is no shock to me that this happened,” Bergh said. “Numerous people have made complaints against him over the years, and we were ignored.”
In interviews before Chauvin’s arrest, the three friends called for him to be charged for Floyd’s death and agreed that the encounter with the officers would have likely escalated had they not all been white.
Hanson said his mother told him immediately after the incident how much worse it could have been that had one of their black friends been in the car with them.
“If I were black, I would probably be dead,” Bergh wrote in a Facebook post Wednesday. “Our white privilege saved our lives.”