AUSTIN (KXAN) — Some Black Lives Matter advocates in Austin are celebrating former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin’s conviction Tuesday.
“Today is just a huge sigh of relief,” said Chas Moore, executive director of the Austin Justice Coalition.
“It’s not a relief, because he’s going to jail,” he added, saying that’s part of the system they’re hoping to reform. “It’s a sigh of relief, because it says that, you know, today, it’s true that Black lives do matter. And when you break that truth, you’ll be held accountable.”
Moore hopes Tuesday’s conviction of Chauvin for murdering George Floyd is a sign for future cases.
He told KXAN he was already thinking about the impending trial of Austin police officer Christopher Taylor. A grand jury indicted him last month for the deadly shooting of Mike Ramos.
“I literally just got a text message from Brenda Ramos, the mother of Mike Ramos. She was, you know, elated to see the verdict. So, I think she’s feeling really reenergized. I think she’s feeling hopeful — as am I,” Moore said.
KXAN turned to an expert on criminal law and justice for perspective.
“It remains rare to see criminal convictions of police officers for the use of force and even rarer to see murder convictions for police officers for the use of force,” said Jennifer Laurin, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law.
Laurin said while the verdict out of Minnesota has no legal bearing on use-of-force cases here, she thinks it’s still a learning moment for many prosecutors.
“Noting what sorts of strategies seem to be persuasive, learning about which experts are potentially more or less persuasive witnesses,” Laurin explained. “I think that prosecutors, even outside the particular jurisdiction in which the case occurs, watch these cases to learn more about how they might make a more persuasive presentation to a particular jury.”
She also notes the unusual nature of Minnesota law that helped prosecutors win their case.
“Second-degree murder in Minnesota can be proved through a theory called ‘felony murder,’ and it can be proved based on the jury believing that an assault occurred and that an individual died in the course of that assault,” said Laurin.
Laurin said that makes murder and felony murder a broader offense in Minnesota than in other places, including, she believes, in Texas.
“I think that has to be seen as part of the story for why the prosecution’s path to conviction in this case was actually — as difficult as it was — easier than it would be in many other jurisdictions where a particular theory on which they prevailed would not have been available,” she said.
That means in other jurisdictions, prosecutors would “have to prove more with respect to the seriousness of the felony and the manner in which it was committed,” she said.
Taylor’s grand jury indictment is the first known indictment of an Austin police officer for first-degree murder resulting from a use-of-force incident, according to the Travis County District Attorney’s Office.
There’s no timeline yet for when that trial will begin.