Three weeks before he planted his knee on George Floyd's neck, Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin responded to a report of a woman being held hostage by armed men in a South Side apartment.
Along with officers Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Luis Realivasquez, Chauvin marched into the building as a Black man named Adrian Drakeford walked out. Drakeford was carrying an object the officers later said they thought to be a knife. Without a word, they tackled him to the ground outside the apartment building.
His brother Lee Drakeford started recording with his cellphone as he and Adrian's girlfriend, Kamaria Layton, pleaded that the officers were making a mistake.
"He didn't do nothing!" cried Layton.
Chauvin watched calmly and silently, tapping an object against his leg, as Kueng and Lane worked the handcuffs onto Adrian's wrists. Realivasquez eyed the crowd starting to amass and pulled a can of chemical irritant from his utility belt.
"Back up!" he ordered, shaking the can.
The video from May 3, 2020, obtained by the Star Tribune, bears striking similarities to footage showing three of the same officers — Chauvin, Lane and Kueng — aggressively detaining Floyd. As the officers handcuffed Adrian, bystanders begged them to show mercy. As with Floyd, the officers ignored the pleas. A few weeks later, Chauvin, Lane and Kueng would be fired and criminally charged in Floyd's death, bringing an abrupt end to Chauvin's history of rough encounters with civilians.
Adrian Drakeford was no hostage taker. The 27-year-old had no connection to the 911 call, other than living across the hall from where the woman said she was being held.
The policemen never found the 911 caller or determined whether she was still in danger. Instead, they detained Adrian and arrested one of his brothers, Terrance, who arrived on the scene and protested their treatment of Adrian. Lee — the one recording — ran away when they tried to detain him, too.
Adrian was released with no charges. Terrance was charged with obstructing the legal process. After reviewing the case, the Minneapolis City Attorney dropped the misdemeanor "in the interest of justice."
"It's not the style of policing you want to see any law enforcement practice," said Andrew Gordon, deputy director for community legal services at Minneapolis nonprofit Legal Rights Center, who represented Terrance. "Their interest is not necessarily about investigating a crime. … Their interest is to put these kids in their place."
Kueng and Lane were in their first few months on the force. This was part of their field training.
When the video begins, Lane and Kueng have already pinned Adrian to the ground in front of the apartment in the 2400 block of Oakland Avenue.
"Ya'll see this? He literally walked out the door," shouted a bystander.
"Y'all are honestly throwing men to the ground?" another chimed in.
In an interview, Adrian said the officers tackled him from behind. He thought he was being attacked or robbed at first and struggled to breathe when they held him down.
The officers later acknowledged the object in his pants was a knife sharpener, not a knife. Adrian said in an interview his car had been broken into the night before, and he'd called 911 to report it.
"He been calling all day!" said Lee.
Lane and Kueng pulled Adrian to his feet. Chauvin looked on and walked with them to the squad. Lee continued to ask the officers for their badge numbers.
"He came out with a knife, dude," said Realivasquez.
"I didn't come out with no knife!" retorted Adrian as the officers pushed him into the squad.
"He didn't come out with no knife! I was watching," said Lee. "Ya'll just snatched him up."
Lee asked the officers why they had come, and they said they'd been called to "apartment number one." Adrian lived in unit three.
Adrian's other brother, Terrance, pulled up to the apartment with his girlfriend. There is no video to explain why the officers arrested Terrance, but in their reports, the officers say they "assisted [Terrance] down to the ground" after he shouted "foul language" and asked if they were "here to kill more Black people."
"When he said this I observed that there were children in the area and was [sic] listening to his foul language," the report states.
In an interview, Terrance said he was protesting the officers' treatment of his brother but that he was walking away when they arrested him.
A group of neighbors had gathered and were shouting at the officers. Among them, said Terrance, was the man who lived in the apartment the police had come to investigate. "They took me to jail and they didn't even investigate the guy they were there for," Terrance said.
The officers eventually released Adrian, acknowledging in reports he'd committed no crime: "After further investigation it was determined that Adrian Drakeford was not involved in this call. This whole call was unfounded because everyone on scene at this address was uncooperative."
Terrance, the only one charged with a crime, was released from jail on bail a couple of hours later. The Minneapolis City Attorney's Office dropped the charges on May 12.
Twelve days later, Chauvin pinned Floyd down for more than nine minutes while Kueng and Lane held down his legs. Chauvin has been charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter in Floyd's death; Kueng, Lane and officer Tou Thao face charges of aiding and abetting second-degree murder and manslaughter. Realivasquez was not involved. A Minneapolis Police Department spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.
"The timeline here is troubling," said Gordon. "The same officers are involved in the murder of George Floyd, using some of the same techniques and the need and desire to control people."
Gordon wonders why the wrongful detainment of the Drakefords and failure to investigate the 911 report — in addition to the litany of misconduct complaints leveled against Chauvin throughout his career — didn't raise red flags and lead someone in a position of power to intervene on how these officers approached their jobs.
"This is not the first decision point where someone could have done something," said Gordon. "This was maybe the last one."
Andy Mannix • 612-673-4036