‘So many barriers’: Police officers rarely convicted in cases, experts say

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — While some activists are hailing Derek Chauvin’s guilty conviction of manslaughter and murder in the death of George Floyd, some activists are hailing this as a first step in accountability for police while some warn this conviction may not stick.

Channel 9′s Deanna Allbrittin talked to two attorneys who are usually on opposite sides of the courtroom for these type of cases.

One attorney said this latest conviction isn’t proof the scales of justices are becoming more even. The other said he sees this is evidence the system is working as it should.

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“What happened here, statistically, is an outlier,” attorney Jerry Girley said. “Very rarely are police officers charged, period, especially when it’s the shooting of a Black man or a Brown man.”

Girley said he braced for the possibility that a jury would not find Chauvin guilty for killing Floyd after kneeling on his neck for more than nine minutes.

“There are so many barriers to an officer being convicted,” he said.

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The most recent data shows that in a 14-year period ending in mid-2019, 104 law enforcement officers were arrested for murder or manslaughter for an on-duty shooting. Of them, 15 took plea deals and 20 were found guilty by a jury, nearly all for the lesser of the two charges.

In Florida, when Nouman Raja was convicted in 2019, he became the first Florida officer in 30 years to be convicted in a shooting case.

Once juries see the evidence in the majority of David Bigney’s use-of-force cases, he says the officers he’s defending have been found not guilty.

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But he believes juries are now more prejudiced against officers, which he thinks could make convictions more likely.

“This has become more of an anti cop type of atmosphere, it’s absolutely become a guilty-until-proven-innocent climate,” Bigney said.

The fact that the Chauvin trial jury wasn’t sequestered, instead being allowed to go home every day and potentially see analysis of the video and statements from lawmakers, is one of two issues Bigney said could give the defense grounds for appeal.

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But even if he does, Bigney said, “The success rate of appeals is pretty low.”

But the attorneys agree on one thing in this case.

“The video in this particular case did its job,” Bigney said.

“From anyone who’s fair minded, cameras simply bring a dimension of truth that has never been there before,” Girley said.

Adam Poulisse, WFTV.com

Adam Poulisse joined WFTV in November 2019.