Minneapolis reaches historic $27 million settlement with George Floyd’s family

By: - March 12, 2021 12:53 pm

Candle votives made of ice light the memorial at George Floyd Square Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021. Photo by Nicole Neri/Minnesota Reformer.

The city of Minneapolis will pay $27 million to settle a civil lawsuit by the family of George Floyd, a Black man whose death at the hands of police last May sparked widespread demonstrations and riots across the city, reignited a national reckoning on race and catalyzed a movement to defund police across the country.

The City Council unanimously approved the agreement on Friday, the largest settlement in the city’s history and the largest pre-trial civil rights wrongful death settlement in U.S. history.

“If I could get (my brother) back, I would give all of this back,” said Philonise Floyd during a news conference shortly after the settlement was approved. “I know he’s with us, and he’s standing up right now knowing we have the opportunity to fund low-income, African-American communities.”

The Floyd family pledged to direct $500,000 of the settlement toward businesses and community groups around 38th Street and Chicago Avenue, where Floyd died.

Ben Crump, the civil rights attorney representing Floyd’s family, praised Mayor Jacob Frey and the City Council for agreeing to the historic settlement.

“Our legal team is grateful to Mayor (Jacob) Frey and the City Council for not just saying you care about George Floyd, but showing that you care about George Floyd. Not saying that Black lives matter, but showing to the world that Black lives matter,” Crump said.

Because the city is self-insured, Minneapolis taxpayers will pay for the settlement.

News of the settlement comes as a jury selection continues in the murder trial of former officer Derek Chauvin, who kneeled on Floyd’s neck for around nine minutes as he said he couldn’t breathe and then went motionless.

Chauvin faces charges of second- and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Three other officers involved in Floyd’s death — Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane — face charges of aiding and abetting second-degree murder and manslaughter and are scheduled to stand trial beginning in August.

The previous record settlement for a police killing was set in 2019 when the city agreed to pay out $20 million to the family of Justine Ruszczyk, a white woman who was shot and killed in 2017 by a Minneapolis police officer after calling 911 to report hearing an assault.

Chris Stewart, an attorney representing the Floyd family, says the large settlement sets a new standard for civil rights lawsuits involving police killings.

“The number today changes evaluations in civil rights for a Black person when they die,” Chris Stewart, an attorney representing the Floyd family. “Because African-Americans are not valued high when they are murdered by law enforcement. We are changing that precedent.”

On Friday, the City Council also moved forward a proposal to eliminate the police department and replace it with a new department of public safety under the control of the City Council rather than the mayor. The proposed charter amendment will next be considered by the city’s Charter Commission, an unelected body charged with reviewing changes to the city’s charter.

While Crump underscored the importance of policy reforms to policing, he did not weigh in specifically on the issue of replacing the police department. He thanked both Council President Lisa Bender and Frey — who are at odds over the future of the department — for their work to enact police reforms.

He advocated for the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which has the support of President Biden and passed the U.S. House last week. It would ban chokeholds and make it easier for victims of police brutality to pursue claims.

“After the eyes of the world rested on Minneapolis in its darkest hour, now the city can be a beacon of hope and light and change for cities across America and across the globe,” Crump said.

Another attorney for the Floyd family, Tony Romanucci, said they were working with the city of Minneapolis on implementing a host of reforms, including establishing a use of force panel that would review all instances of use of force.

“So if hands go on somebody, somebody’s got to review whether or not that was reasonable,” Romanucci said.

Crump, Floyd’s family and city leaders once again called for peace no matter the verdict in the the murder trial of Chauvin, fearing a repeat of last spring when arsonists laid waste to swaths of the city, causing an estimated $350 million in damage.

“George Floyd called for peace when Mike Brown was killed,” said City Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins. “I want to ask for calm in our streets, regardless of the outcome of that trial.”

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Max Nesterak
Max Nesterak

Max Nesterak is the deputy editor of the Reformer and reports on labor and housing. Previously, he was an associate producer for Minnesota Public Radio after a stint at NPR. He also co-founded the Behavioral Scientist and was a Fulbright Scholar to Berlin, Germany.