The death of a handcuffed, restrained black man at the hands of Minneapolis police last week continues to ripple across the country — with local law enforcement officials taking the unusual …
The death of a handcuffed, restrained black man at the hands of Minneapolis police last week continues to ripple across the country — with local law enforcement officials denouncing the officers’ actions and local residents organizing a Sunday rally in Cody.
On Memorial Day, Minneapolis police detained 46-year-old George Floyd after a caller reported he had attempted to pass a bogus $20 bill at a store and appeared intoxicated. Police say Floyd resisted arrest, ultimately being handcuffed and placed facedown on the street. Then, Officer Derek Chauvin proceeded to press his knee against Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes.
In video footage that made its way around the world, Floyd repeatedly said he couldn’t breathe and became unresponsive, but Chauvin kept his knee on Floyd's neck. The other three officers on scenee did not intervene, though attorneys for two of the cops say the rookies expressed concerns to Chauvin. Floyd was pronounced dead when he later arrived at a hospital.
All four of the officers have been fired from the Minneapolis Police Department and are now facing criminal charges; Chauvin has been charged with second-degree murder.
Outrage over Floyd’s death has swelled in the days since his death, with the officers’ actions being almost universally criticized. Protests have also broken out in major cities across the country, with protesters calling Floyd’s death an example of systemic racism. Some of those events have turned violent and lawless, with businesses looted, multiple officers and protesters injured and killed and a Minneapolis police precinct set ablaze.
On Tuesday, Powell Police Chief Roy Eckerdt, Cody Police Chief Chuck Baker and Park County Sheriff Scott Steward added their voices to the national conversation.
In a joint statement, the three law enforcement leaders described themselves as “appalled by the indefensible use of force and lack of intervention by other officers on the scene that led to George Floyd’s death.”
“These officers must be held legally accountable for their actions and inactions that were inconsistent with any legitimate training and procedures of our profession,” Baker, Eckerdt and Steward said.
In an interview, Eckerdt said that Chauvin applied force improperly and for too long. As part of control and custody training, the chief said police are taught to constantly re-evaluate what’s happening — and to de-escalate things when a person is compliant and the force is no longer required.
“I generally am always cautious to say I wasn’t there to see what the officer saw, or hear what the officer [heard] or felt what the officer felt,” Eckerdt said. But in the case of Floyd’s death, “there’s no way to justify the amount of time spent in that position,” the chief said.
In Tuesday’s joint statement, Eckerdt, Baker and Steward said incidents like the one in Minneapolis undermine their efforts to build community trust in Park County — and are not consistent with the values they instill in their agencies.
“With that said, there is clearly more work ahead both nationally and locally here in Park County,” the chiefs and sheriff said. “We need to embrace the concerns and criticism that are being given voice during these protests and continually evaluate our policies, procedures and our overall policing philosophies to enhance an organizational culture that ensures fairness, respect, dignity, security and justice for all.”
Local residents are organizing a Peaceful Rally Against Racism at Cody’s City Park at noon on Sunday.
One organizer, Melissa Maier of Cody, said in a Facebook post that the intent is “to stand in solidarity with people of color in the fight to educate, build community, and end racism in America.” A sign for the event says that “all lives won’t matter until black lives matter.”
Maier said the local event is not associated with any other organization or group.
She added that, “We DO NOT condone or encourage destructive, violent, or illegal behavior of any kind before, after, or during this event. This is a PEACEFUL rally.”
The group will march around the perimeter of Cody’s City Park with signs before regrouping at the park’s bandshell for “speakers and conversations.”
Both Maier and Cody Police Chief Baker said there may be other, unaffiliated groups planning additional events. Although rumors have swirled on Facebook about a flood of out-of-area protesters coming to Cody, Baker said Thursday evening that his agency “has found nothing to confirm this social media rumor.”
Similar rumors about people being brought in by the busload for protests in Sioux Falls and Rapid City, South Dakota, and in Gillette and Casper also made the rounds on social media, but police have not found evidence to confirm those claims.
“We have been in contact with other Wyoming [law enforcement] agencies, most recently Casper PD, [and] they too were unable to confirm outside protesters being bussed into the area,” Baker said.
Meanwhile, a “large contingent” of concerned local citizens and current and former military, law enforcement and first responders are planning to be present at the rally to support constitutional rights, South Fork resident Boone Tidwell said in a Wednesday Facebook post.
“Our [sole] objective is to support both the protesters and, most importantly, our local citizens and ALL property,” Tidwell wrote. “Our role is in complete support of our local enforcement and we will protect this community.”
He added that the protesters “have the right and we will protect that right. More importantly, we will protect Cody.”
Chief Baker said he and Cody Police Chaplain Warren Murphy will attend Sunday's rally at City Park, though, as of Thursday, he wasn't planning to make a statement or address the crowd as a speaker.
“Mostly I will be there as the face of the Cody PD and to listen to the concerns of individuals and the voice of this group,” Baker said.