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Chauvin guilty verdict hailed as victory for justice in Southern Nevada

Updated April 21, 2021 - 12:34 am

Historic Westside residents celebrated in neighborhood streets Tuesday after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted in the murder of George Floyd.

“That’s going to change the world,” Nia Lovelace said, crying after hearing the judge read the verdict.

Floyd, who was Black, died in Minneapolis police custody May 25 after he was accused of trying to use a counterfeit $20 bill at a convenience store. Chauvin, 45, who is white, pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for about 9½ minutes while Floyd stated that he could not breathe.

Chauvin was found guilty of unintentional second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter after the jury, comprising six white people and six Black or multiracial people, deliberated for 10 hours over the course of two days. He faces up to 40 years in prison at his sentencing in about two months.

Lovelace, 29, said she believes Chauvin was arrested only because of a summer of protests nationwide.

“It’s about time we stand up for ourselves,” she said. “This makes me so happy.”

LaVerne Brown, 63, said she thinks there would have been riots had Chauvin not been found guilty. Between her time growing up in Seattle, which she called a politically active city, and spending the ’80s in Los Angeles, Brown said she’s seen officers treat Black men differently for decades.

“I’m really happy the jury did the right thing,” she said, wearing her bedazzled Black Lives Matter Las Vegas shirt in anticipation of the verdict.

China Lewis, 29, expressed joy while skipping through the parking lot of Bells Market, near Owens Avenue and H Street. “I’m so happy he’s convicted,” she said. “He’s a murderer.”

Outside the market, Laron Smith, 54, said he hopes Chauvin is sentenced to life in prison and doesn’t experience special treatment because he is a former officer.

“If he had been anyone but a cop, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation,” he said.

Local police react

In a news conference Tuesday afternoon, Metropolitan Police Department Undersheriff Chris Darcy said that he was relieved to see Chauvin found guilty.

“It’s a victory for justice,” Darcy said. “What we saw was a person, who happened to be a police officer, commit murder and then stand trial for it and was subsequently convicted for it, and that shows that the system works.”

Darcy said Metro works to ensure that officers like Chauvin have no place in the department. Six Black community leaders attended the news conference and said they were proud to be partners with Metro as the department works to evolve.

Rev. Charles Wright, senior pastor at Holy Trinity African Methodist Episcopal Church, said he’s been working with Metro over the past seven years and has always been glad to see the department making an effort to communicate with the community and make changes as needed.

“I think it’s great to see that law enforcement is doing everything they can to try and pull the community into their conversations, open conversations, and then listening,” Wright said.

Wright and Darcy both said they encourage people to take to the streets in demonstrations to make their voices heard but to do so safely. Local activist group More Than a Hashtag LV planned a march and vigil Tuesday starting at 8 p.m. at The Venetian. A handful of people had gathered by about 8:30 p.m.

“Thank you to George Floyd for changing the world, but we still can’t breathe,” organizer Desiree Smith said.

Darcy said the department’s goal is to keep both the community and its officers safe at such demonstrations.

Steve Grammas, president of the Las Vegas Police Protective Association, said he was glad to see that Chauvin’s trial was fair.

“We’ve always wanted to see due process play out,” Grammas said Tuesday, adding that while Floyd’s killing led to calls for police reform, he does not believe reform is needed.

Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo declined to comment Tuesday, citing the afternoon news conference. In March, Lombardo said in a news conference hosted by Metro’s multicultural advisory council that Las Vegas police have made policy changes to prevent tragedies like Floyd’s death.

He said the department removed the lateral vascular neck restraint — a type of chokehold — from its list of approved techniques to subdue people being taken into police custody and highlighted a policy change requiring officers to render aid to anyone in need and intervene if a colleague is acting inappropriately.

Calls for reform

Athar Haseebullah, executive director of the ACLU of Nevada, said Tuesday that the verdicts were a rare form of accountability for police but that more reform is needed.

“We still must radically change policing in Nevada and across the country, increase accountability and transparency, and create policies that combat racism in policing,” Haseebullah said. “The jury’s decision to convict Derek Chauvin does not negate the fact that Mr. Floyd’s tragic murder is part of a horrifying local and national pattern of officers using excessive force against people of color.”

Gov. Steve Sisolak echoed the call for further reform in a statement released Tuesday.

“While today’s verdict should be a turning point for our country, we know there is much work ahead to dismantle the systemic racism and injustices our Black and minority communities face,” Sisolak said.

Lawmakers including State Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro, Sen. Jacky Rosen and Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto also called for reform on Twitter, each emphasizing that Floyd should not have had to die and that no verdict could ever bring him back.

In a statement Tuesday, Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford admitted that the Chauvin trial was “too painful” for him to watch, noting that he did not want to “relive the trauma — trauma that is, unfortunately, a common re-occurrence for me and so many others.”

“As an African-American, I don’t take the mistreatment of members of my community or any minority community lightly,” his statement continued. “As Nevada’s top law enforcement officer, my duty will always lie on the side of accountability and justice. Today, we saw specific accountability. But the fight for perpetual justice continues.”

Contact Alexis Ford at aford@aford@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0335. Follow @alexisdford on Twitter. Contact Sabrina Schnur at sschnur@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0278. Follow @sabrina_schnur on Twitter. Review-Journal staff writer Katelyn Newberg and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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