Olivia Sullivan/staff photo
A student holds a sign that reads “I can’t breathe” at the protest on June 10, 2020, outside of Thomas Jefferson High School.

Olivia Sullivan/staff photo A student holds a sign that reads “I can’t breathe” at the protest on June 10, 2020, outside of Thomas Jefferson High School.

Federal Way mayor on Chauvin verdict: ‘This was the right decision’

City’s police department has made policy changes in the wake of George Floyd’s death.

Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell reacted Tuesday afternoon to the guilty verdict against former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd.

“I think it’s the right verdict, and I really believe in the collective wisdom of juries. I think this was the right decision,” Ferrell said on an April 20 phone call.

“This case and this horrible murder really shook this nation. I think this country needed this verdict,” he said. “I’m glad to see this individual held fully accountable for the horrendous crime he committed.”

Chauvin, 45, was charged with second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in 2020 for the death of George Floyd. Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, died in police custody after Chauvin knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes as Floyd repeatedly exclaimed “I can’t breathe” in May 2020.

The world has been watching since that moment. Chauvin’s trial began March 29 and included 45 witness testimonies. The 12 jurors, ages ranging from 20s-60s, included three Black men, one Black woman, two multiracial women, four white women and two white men, according to the Star Tribune.

On April 20, Judge Peter Cahill announced the guilty verdicts at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minnesota. Chauvin’s sentencing will take place in eight weeks, according to the New York Times.

Ferrell said this type of tragedy forces officials to be introspective and think, “How are we approaching our policing?” he said.

“There’s been a lot of discussion about the criminal justice system in this nation and I really believe a verdict like this can go a long way in restoring faith in the criminal justice system,” Ferrell said.

The Federal Way Police Department terminated the use of any neck restraint variations with a policy change in June 2020. Prior to the policy change, the department had used one method of a vascular neck restraint (VNR), which involves the compression on the sides of the neck to momentarily impede blood flow to the brain.

Chokeholds were previously prohibited by FWPD’s policy, and the use of restraint with a knee on a person’s neck — as Chauvin used on Floyd — was stopped around 2018, Federal Way Police Cmdr. Kurt Schwan previously told the Mirror.

Ferrell said the department made this policy change because they believed it was the right thing to do as a result of Floyd’s case and Federal Way’s own experiences.

“The use of force is something that should always be a last resort,” Ferrell said. “Law enforcement officers have a sacred responsibility to only use that much force that is necessary … What happened in Minneapolis was such a criminal act that he [Chauvin] was deserving of the criminal convictions he received.”

Ferrell said he believes Federal Way officers have an understanding and a commitment to keeping all members of the Federal Way community safe as well as a culture of accountability.

“If an officer sees something like that occur, they need to be empowered and trained to take action against one of their own officers if necessary to stop a criminal act,” he said.

The best evidence in finding out what happened in any situation is from a camera, said Ferrell, who is also a former King County prosecutor.

“As a former prosecutor, I can tell you I would’ve wanted more body camera footage,” Ferrell said of the past cases he has worked on. “This case is another example of why body cameras are so important.”

The Federal Way Police Department does not yet have body cameras. However, the city made a decision this year to begin seeking funding for equipment and additional staff to implement a body camera program in the future.

“The time has come,” Ferrell said of body cameras for local officers.

Lyn Idahosa, executive director of the Federal Way Black Collective, said she was emotionally prepared to be let down by a not guilty verdict. However,

the outcome means “I have to ensure that FW Black Collective is going to be a part of the solution that makes that a reality,” and not just a narrative at the state or city level.

“I believe this is a moment we can’t take lightly,” she said in demanding accountability from the City of Federal Way and Federal Way Police Department.

For every small victory, we must remember the battle for universal justice is still not over, said Tiara Porter, operations coordinator for the FW Black Collective.

On a local level, the next steps include keeping a focus on the look and details of nationwide police reform, although asking for just police accountability, transparent policy, and police funds reallocation is not enough.

“It’s time to get more detailed on what does all of that look like,” Porter said. “What policies, procedures, and training needs to be removed or updated to reflect less unnecessary physical altercations from the police on its citizens?”

Being a police officer is not an easy job, which is why the vetting process take on the role should be taken seriously — and be thought of as more than only a job, she said.

The men and women of the Federal Way Police Department swore oaths to uphold and defend both the state and the country’s constitutions, Cmdr. Kurt Schwan said.

“We condemn without reservation any behavior that violates our oaths or our code of conduct,” he said.

The department’s commitment to improve policing is not new, and is an ever-evolving process.

“We recognize the hurt and anger caused by Mr. Floyd’s death and pledge to stand with the community to provide fair, respectful, and professional services to all, so all people receive equal treatment under the law,” he said.

However, racial injustice extends beyond law enforcement and requires better access to healthcare, housing, education, and jobs, he said, urging city leaders to “directly fund community-based programs to lift people up in order to better our community as a whole.”

As a department, Schwan said, “we are human and not perfect, but that does not mean we will ever stop trying to be the best we can for you.”

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Olivia Sullivan/staff photo
Protesters laid on the ground for eight minutes to honor the life of George Floyd on June 10, 2020, in Federal Way. Alfonso Saucedo, center with his head in his hands, said afterwards: “You cannot believe how long eight minutes is.”

Olivia Sullivan/staff photo Protesters laid on the ground for eight minutes to honor the life of George Floyd on June 10, 2020, in Federal Way. Alfonso Saucedo, center with his head in his hands, said afterwards: “You cannot believe how long eight minutes is.”

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