This is a curated selection of highlights from Crime Story Daily this week.
On the criminal justice policy front: On Tuesday, a Hennepin County, Minnesota jury found former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin guilty on charges of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter in the death of George Floyd last May. In an interview with editor David Remnick, New Yorker staff writer Jelani Cobb discusses the trial’s outcome, the significance of the verdict against Derek Chauvin, and the work still to be done. A piece from the Washington Post takes a deeper dive into the Chauvin trial, outlining how prosecutors overcame long odds to secure the extremely rare conviction of a police officer who killed while on duty. In the wake of the Chauvin verdict, and nearly a year since the killing of George Floyd, a piece from the New York Times surveys the state of police reform. In recent months, lawmakers across the country have seized on a push for reform prompted by outrage over Floyd’s death, passing legislation that has stripped the police of some hard-fought protections won over the past half-century. Since May, over 30 states have passed more than 140 new police oversight and reform laws. But activists say the changes do not go far enough: “The focus has been so heavily on what do we do after harm has already been committed — after the police have already engaged in misconduct — and far less focused on how do we stop this from the beginning.” The Baltimore Sun reports from Maryland, where, last week, lawmakers voted to override the governor’s veto of a landmark accountability bill that would make it easier to discipline police officers accused of misconduct. The bill, which goes into effect later this year, will open police complaints and internal reviews to the public, impose criminal penalties for officers who use excessive force, and limit the use of “no-knock” warrants. Now, the challenge lies in figuring out how to implement those hard-won changes. And a piece from the New Republic asks, “Can Merrick Garland save the Minneapolis Police Department?”. On Wednesday, less than 24 hours after the verdict against Derek Chauvin was read, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced that the Justice Department would open a sweeping investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department itself. The investigation, “the most substantive move yet by federal officials to hold the police department to account for Floyd’s death,” marks “the return of a potent federal tool for reforming local law enforcement agencies that fell out of use during the Trump years. And it poses an early test for whether Garland can reenergize his department’s efforts to rein in local police abuses across the country.”
In muckraker/watchdog reporting: A piece from the Atlantic centers on the Derek Chauvin conviction, “the exception that proves the rule.” The former Minneapolis police officer was found guilty on all three counts he faced – “a victory for justice and a relief to people, politicians, and police in Minnesota and beyond.” But the trial also demonstrates “why the courts will remain a challenging venue to reform law enforcement in the United States.” A piece from the New York Times drives home the urgency of continued efforts at police reform. On March 29, just seven hours before prosecutors in Minneapolis opened their case against Derek Chauvin, a Chicago police officer chased down 13-year-old Adam Toledo in a West Side alley and fatally shot him as he turned with his hands up. On April 11, 20-year-old Daunte Wright was shot and killed by a Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, police officer during a routine traffic stop. The shooting occurred less than ten miles from the courthouse where Chauvin’s trial was taking place. Then, on the afternoon of April 20, minutes after the verdicts against Chauvin were read, police in Columbus, Ohio, shot and killed a 16-year-old Black girl named Ma’Khia Bryant. In fact, since testimony began in Chauvin’s trial less than a month ago, at least 64 people have died at the hands of law enforcement nationwide, with Black and Latino people representing more than half of the victims. As of this week, the average was more than three killings a day. The deaths testify to the very real and present danger people of color continue to face at the hands of law enforcement – and underscore, nearly a year since the death of George Floyd, the extent to which police culture across much of the country has remained resistant to change. And a piece from the New Republic by Melissa Gira Grant explores points of connection between Republicans’ criminalization of protest and the crackdown on journalists by police.
In complex crime storytelling: A piece from the Atlantic, from 2018, takes a deep dive into the story of con man Derek Alldred, “the perfect man who wasn’t.” In the spring of 2016, Missi Brandt, a newly divorced flight attendant and mother of preteen girls, made a profile on OurTime.com, a dating site for “people in middle age.” Among all the duds, a 45-year-old man named Richie Peterson stood out. He was a career naval officer, an Afghanistan veteran with a political science PhD. The two soon met in person and immediately hit it off: Richie was tall and charming, a “good talker and a good listener who seemed eager for a relationship.” The longer they kept dating, though, the more problems cropped up; Richie liked to say he didn’t “do drama,” but drama seemed to follow him nonetheless. One day, Missi, fed up with the excuses and missed dates, took a peek at her boyfriend’s wallet and discovered the awful truth: the man she knew as “Richie” was really Derek Alldred, a “career con man” with a “long history of deception.” For years, Derek had trolled OurTime.com, using fake identities to charm women out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Then his victims, led by Missi, banded together to take Derek down. And a piece from Capital Daily recounts the story of Timothy Durkin, “the man who stole a hotel.” Sooke Harbour House stands on the southwestern tip of Vancouver Island, looking out over the Juan de Fuca Strait. For more than three decades, Frederique and Sinclair Philip had presided over the hotel, growing the business from a small waterfront bed-and-breakfast to an international destination spot. But business took a hit during the 2008 recession, and running the hotel was hard work; by 2014, the couple, then in their mid-60s and almost three million dollars in debt, had decided to sell. Timothy Durkin appeared to offer a lifeline. Arriving on the heels of two previous offers falling through, he presented himself as a wealthy entrepreneur with diverse experience, impressive connections, and a solid business plan. But the Philips were “wholly unprepared for what they were wading into”: what a judge would later call a “six-year odyssey of lies, excuses, threats, intimidation and bullying” – an odyssey that would destroy their beloved business, damage their reputations, and rob them of their life savings. It swept up and spit out others too — including “a Chinese immigrant, an Oak Bay widow, and a Kamloops octogenarian” – all reeled in by the magic of Sooke Harbour House, its possibilities, and the vision that Tim Durkin had sold.
In culture/true crime: New York Magazine highlights Philly DA, a new PBS docuseries about Philadelphia district attorney Larry Krasner. A long shot elected in a landslide, Krasner came to the job in 2018 after three decades as a defense attorney. His agenda includes minimizing cash bail, declining to prosecute low-level offenses, and reducing the length of sentences and probation. The series follows this project across a citywide web of interlocking problems and attempted solutions, drawing both a portrait of Krasner himself and a map of the system he’s up against; “the tension between those two things is the series’ primary fuel.” Ultimately, Philly DA is a “beautiful, sprawling story that does justice to both the giant organizations and the many individuals caught inside.” In an interview with Esquire, filmmaker Garrett Bradley discusses her Oscar-nominated documentary, Time, about one woman’s fight to free her husband from a decades-long prison sentence. Shown through a mix of home videos and contemporary footage, the film offers a “radical look at the personal experience of the prison-industrial complex from a Black feminist, abolitionist, and family point of view.” Time is nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature; if the film wins, Bradley will become the first Black female director ever to win an Academy Award. Speaking with Esquire, Bradley discusses the Oscars, building trust with her subjects, forgiveness, and “capturing love through film.” And the Independent reviews Confronting a Serial Killer, a new documentary from Starz about the crimes of Samuel Little, the “most prolific” known serial killer in US history, and the “criminal justice system that failed to stop him.” The film is told through the experiences of Jillian Lauren, a journalist and writer who built a rapport with Little starting in 2018, and who wound up on the receiving end of his many convoluted admissions. Their back-and-forth “exemplifies the difference between empathy and sympathy: it is possible, and necessary even, to try to understand why and how someone did what they did, without liking or forgiving them in return.” This is the project of Confronting a Serial Killer: “Only by publicizing [Little’s] crimes can we now hope to put names to the people he killed. Only by telling his story can we hope for answers.”