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Jury's swift verdict for Chauvin in Floyd death: Guilty

MINNEAPOLIS — After three weeks of testimony, the trial of the former police officer charged with killing George Floyd ended swiftly: barely over a day of jury deliberations, then just minutes for the verdicts to be read — guilty, guilty and guilty — and Derek Chauvin was handcuffed and taken away to prison.

Chauvin, 45, could be sent to prison for decades when he is sentenced in about two months in a case that triggered worldwide protests, violence and a furious reexamination of racism and policing in the U.S.

The verdict set off jubilation mixed with sorrow across the city and around the nation. Hundreds of people poured into the streets of Minneapolis, some running through traffic with banners. Drivers blared their horns in celebration.

“Today, we are able to breathe again,” Floyd’s younger brother Philonise said at a joyous family news conference where tears streamed down his face as he likened Floyd to the 1955 Mississippi lynching victim Emmett Till, except that this time there were cameras around to show the world what happened.

On Wednesday, Philonise Floyd described his thoughts while watching Chauvin being handcuffed. He recalled to ABC’s “Good Morning America” how it appeared “a lot easier” on Chauvin than when his brother was handcuffed before his death, but said it still represented “accountability.”

“It makes us happier knowing that his life, it mattered, and he didn’t die in vain,” he said.

The jury of six whites and six Black or multiracial people came back with its verdict after about 10 hours of deliberations over two days. The now-fired white officer was found guilty of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

Chauvin’s face was obscured by a COVID-19 mask, and little reaction could be seen beyond his eyes darting around the courtroom. His bail was immediately revoked. Sentencing will be in two months; the most serious charge carries up to 40 years in prison.

Defense attorney Eric Nelson followed Chauvin out of the courtroom without comment.

Chauvin was booked soon after the verdicts were read into Minnesota’s only maximum-security prison, Oak Park Heights, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) east of Minneapolis. He is being held in a single cell under administrative segregation for his safety, Department of Corrections spokeswoman Sarah Fitzgerald said.

President Joe Biden welcomed the verdict, saying Floyd’s death was “a murder in full light of day, and it ripped the blinders off for the whole world” to see systemic racism.

But he warned: “It’s not enough. We can’t stop here. We’re going to deliver real change and reform. We can and we must do more to reduce the likelihood that tragedies like this will ever happen again.”

The jury’s decision was hailed around the country as justice by other political and civic leaders and celebrities, including former President Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey and California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a white man, who said on Twitter that Floyd “would still be alive if he looked like me. That must change.”

At a park next to the Minneapolis courthouse, a hush fell over a crowd of about 300 as they listened to the verdict on their cellphones. Then a great roar went up, with many people hugging, some shedding tears.

At the intersection where Floyd was pinned down, a crowd chanted, “One down, three to go!” — a reference to the three other fired Minneapolis officers facing trial in August on charges of aiding and abetting murder in Floyd’s death.

Janay Henry, who lives nearby, said she felt grateful and relieved.

“I feel grounded. I can feel my feet on the concrete,” she said, adding that she was looking forward to the “next case with joy and optimism and strength.”

Jamee Haggard, who brought her biracial 4-year-old daughter to the intersection, said: “There’s some form of justice that’s coming.”

The verdict was read in a courthouse ringed with concrete barriers and razor wire and patrolled by National Guard troops, in a city on edge against another round of unrest — not just because of the Chauvin case but because of the deadly police shooting of a young Black man, Daunte Wright, in a Minneapolis suburb April 11.

The jurors’ identities were kept secret and will not be released until the judge decides it is safe to do so.

It is unusual for police officers to be prosecuted for killing someone on the job. And convictions are extraordinarily rare.

Out of the thousands of deadly police shootings in the U.S. since 2005, fewer than 140 officers have been charged with murder or manslaughter, according to data maintained by Phil Stinson, a criminologist at Bowling Green State University. Before Tuesday, only seven were convicted of murder.

Juries often give police officers the benefit of the doubt when they claim they had to make split-second, life-or-death decisions. But that was not an argument Chauvin could easily make.

Floyd, 46, died May 25 after being arrested on suspicion of passing a counterfeit $20 bill for a pack of cigarettes at a corner market. He panicked, pleaded that he was claustrophobic and struggled with police when they tried to put him in a squad car. They put him on the ground instead.

The centerpiece of the case was the excruciating bystander video of Floyd gasping repeatedly, “I can’t breathe” and onlookers yelling at Chauvin to stop as the officer pressed his knee on or close to Floyd’s neck for what authorities say was 9 1/2 minutes, including several minutes after Floyd’s breathing had stopped and he had no pulse.

Prosecutors played the footage at the earliest opportunity, during opening statements, and told the jury: “Believe your eyes.” From there it was shown over and over, analyzed one frame at a time by witnesses on both sides.

In the wake of Floyd’s death, demonstrations and scattered violence broke out in Minneapolis, around the country and beyond. The furor also led to the removal of Confederate statues and other offensive symbols such as Aunt Jemima.

In the months that followed, numerous states and cities restricted the use of force by police, revamped disciplinary systems or subjected police departments to closer oversight. On Wednesday morning, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced that the Justice Department is opening a sweeping investigation into policing practices in Minneapolis.

The narrative of Floyd’s death began with a late-night Minneapolis police news release that said Floyd “appeared to be suffering medical distress” after he resisted arrest and was handcuffed. Once teenager Darnella Frazier’s bystander video surfaced, a department spokesman said it became clear the statement was inaccurate, and the “Blue Wall of Silence” that often protects police accused of wrongdoing rapidly crumbled.

The Minneapolis police chief quickly called it “murder” and fired all four officers, and the city reached a staggering $27 million settlement with Floyd’s family as jury selection was underway.

Police-procedure experts and law enforcement veterans inside and outside the Minneapolis department, including the chief, testified for the prosecution that Chauvin used excessive force and went against his training.

Medical experts for the prosecution said Floyd died of asphyxia, or lack of oxygen, because his breathing was constricted by the way he was held down on his stomach, his hands cuffed behind him, a knee on his neck and his face jammed against the ground.

Chauvin’s attorney called a police use-of-force expert and a forensic pathologist to try to make the case that Chauvin acted reasonably against a struggling suspect and that Floyd died because of a heart condition and his illegal drug use. Floyd had high blood pressure and narrowed arteries, and fentanyl and methamphetamine were found in his system.

Under the law, police have certain leeway to use force and are judged according to whether their actions were “reasonable” under the circumstances.

The defense also tried to make the case that Chauvin and the other officers were hindered in their duties by what they perceived as a growing, hostile crowd.

Chauvin did not testify, and all that the jury or the public ever heard by way of an explanation from him came from a police body-camera video after an ambulance had taken the 6-foot-4, 223-pound Floyd away. Chauvin told a bystander: “We gotta control this guy ’cause he’s a sizable guy ... and it looks like he’s probably on something.”

The prosecution’s case also included tearful testimony from onlookers who said the police kept them back when they protested what was happening.

Frazier, who shot the crucial video, said Chauvin gave the bystanders a “cold” and “heartless” stare. She and others said they felt a sense of helplessness and lingering guilt from witnessing Floyd’s slow-motion death.

“It’s been nights I stayed up, apologizing and apologizing to George Floyd for not doing more, and not physically interacting and not saving his life,” she testified.

Late snow
Tuesday snowfall not the first time Manhattan has seen wintry conditions in April

A climate expert at Kansas State University said Tuesday morning’s snowfall across the Manhattan area was not the first time the Flint Hills had seen snow on April 20.

K-State climatologist Mary Knapp said the biggest snow event on record for Manhattan for the month of April occurred on April 20, 1918, with 8 inches.

“That would be an impressive snowfall event, even today,” Knapp said. “The average snowfall for April is one-tenth of an inch.”

Much of the Manhattan area was blanketed by up to three inches of wet, heavy snow early Tuesday. Knapp said it was a “particularly pretty snow event,” with one advantage being a lack of wind blowing and drifting snow into taller piles. Knapp said she can recall a major blizzard from May 1, 2017, where winds exceeding 40-50 miles per hour caused problems in western Kansas. Snow accumulated up to 26 inches deep in some places during that storm.

Manhattan has received snow as late as May. Knapp said the latest snow day recorded for the area was May 20, 1896. Nine-tenths of an inch of snow fell on that date. Several years later, on May 3, 1907, an inch and a half of snow was observed.

Knapp said the latest snowfall date for the state is May 22, 1931, when two-tenths of an inch of snow was measured in the western Kansas community of Tribune.

She said in many of those recorded spring snow events, any melted precipitation refroze overnight and caused issues for commuters the next morning. By early Tuesday afternoon, Manhattan’s snow mostly melted away, leaving little to refreeze.

“We measured three inches at the north campus weather station (Tuesday morning),” Knapp said. “Then it all disappeared, so we didn’t have to shovel it. That’s about perfect I think.”

Knapp said there have been about 30 recorded snow events in April or May for the Manhattan area. She said Tuesday’s snowstorm did not have warm winds rushing in afterward to help evaporate any snow, but the soil and pavement temperatures were warm enough to begin melting the snow as soon as it accumulated. She said by the time she left K-State Tuesday afternoon, there were still a few shaded spots on campus with “a snowball’s worth” of snow remaining.

No signs of wintry precipitation remained Wednesday morning.

The forecast for the rest of the week shows below-average temperatures and chances for rain Thursday and Friday.

Knapp said the 8-14-day outlook, which spans April 28 through May 4, shows a below normal temperature bullseye over northeast Kansas.

“We may not be done with our cool weather yet,” Knapp said.

The average high temperature for this time of year is 69 degrees, while the average low temperature is 44 degrees.

K-State receives $10M from Wingstop CEO for new student wellness center, initiatives

Kansas State University is receiving a multimillion-dollar donation to create a student wellness center and fund other student initiatives.

University officials announced Wednesday Charlie and Debbie Morrison of Southlake, Texas, are donating $10.2 million for a number of projects including the creation of the Morrison Center for Student Wellbeing.

In a statement, KSU dean of students Thomas Lane said the new center will oversee all aspects of student wellbeing, including physical and mental aspects. Although it’s called a center, officials said it will not result in a new physical building, but it does involve campus programming.

“The center will gather data to identify current issues impacting student wellbeing and be a centralized hub for promoting, coordinating, and scaling up Student Life wellbeing programs,” Lane said.

The new Morrison Center for Student Wellbeing will serve as a home for “gatekeeper” training for faculty, staff, and students. This training helps individuals recognize overall wellness issues and refer students with concerns to information and resources to help them.

The Morrisons also gave an unlisted monetary gift to the university food pantry, Cats’ Cupboard. The position of director of the food pantry will be called the Morrison Family Director of Cats’ Cupboard. The campus food pantry served more than 9,400 people in 2020.

The Morrisons are also donating to K-State Athletics, with an unlisted donation intended for hiring staff and funding programs for suicide prevention training and mental health treatment. The Morrisons also are establishing a scholarship fund for first-generation students who are enrolled in the College of Business Administration.

Charlie Morrison, a 1990 K-State graduate, is the CEO of Wingstop Restaurants. His wife, Debbie, also attended K-State, and they both serve on the KSU Foundation Board of Trustees, as well as on the dean’s advisory council for the College of Business Administration and the advisory board for Cats’ Cupboard.

“Our gifts are to help students who are struggling, which is all students at some point,” Morrison said. “These investments will provide students access to the assistance they need, while maintaining their dignity without scrutiny.”

Junction City High School hires Jackson as principal

The Junction City school board has given Merrier Jackson the principal’s job at Junction City High School, removing the “interim” tag on her title.

Jackson had been serving as a fill-in principal since November, when the school district suspended previous Principal Melissa Sharp. Sharp allegedly told a student to remove a hijab, which is a garment worn by some Muslim women.

The school board voted unanimously Tuesday night to give the job to Jackson on a more permanent basis.

Sharp, who had been suspended with pay, resigned “a few months back,” Superintendent Reginald Eggleston said Tuesday, without providing an exact date.

Jackson’s official role as JCHS’s permanent principal began Wednesday.

“When I look at Ms. Jackson, she’s been a principal I believe 14 years already, has a strong background in school improvement and a great understanding of the role that the master schedule, student achievement, the backgrounds of the teachers — how all that fits in to build a strong program,” Eggleston said. “So (I’m) really excited about her being on the team.”

Jackson is originally from Alabama.

“She had been a principal several years there, worked her way up the district, worked at the state department, and ended up we were able to recruit her to come out here,” Eggleston said.

She came in to assist at JCHS as “additional staff” for about a week before being chosen as interim principal, Eggleston said.

Sharp made $127,699 in 2020, according to pay records. Jackson made $17,718 in two months of work in 2020.

Grow Green Match Day fundraiser to launch Thursday

The ninth-annual Grow Green Match Day fundraiser hosted by the Greater Manhattan Community Foundation will once again be totally virtual when it officially kicks off on Thursday.

Last year, with matches, donors raised more than $1.2 million, a new record, for more than 60 nonprofit organizations in the community.

“What we learned was that we have a very charitable community, and everybody understands the need to step up and help these organizations during COVID times,” said Vern Henricks, president and CEO of GMCF. “We were excited about our growth last year and (we’re) excited about what this year might be for 70 organizations again.”

Because many organizations lost opportunities to host their own fundraising events last year, GMCF swapped its distribution of donations by having 100% of community donations go directly toward the organizations and the 50% GMCF match go toward organizations’ endowed fund (long term savings) at the foundation. That change will remain in effect for the 2021 fundraiser.

Combined donations up to $20,000 will be matched at 50% for any one nonprofit, meaning it can receive a maximum of $10,000 in matched funds.

Henricks said increased need is still an issue for organizations this year as the pandemic is ongoing. He said some may be particularly worried if they can safely hold summer programs. If they can’t, he said, it will impact organizations who need those funds not only to maintain those programs but also generally keep it running and pay its staff.

“We’re excited about being able to offer this opportunity virtually to the community and the nonprofits, so it becomes a very efficient fundraising day for all,” Henricks said.

Though the 24-hour online portion of the fundraiser will not be open until midnight Thursday, Henricks said people can now mail checks to P.O. Box 1127, Manhattan, KS 66505-1127, or drop off checks to its office, 555 Poyntz Ave. Suite 269.

More information and the donation page can be found at growgreenmanhattan.com.