Two Detroit Lakes personal injury attorneys say it was an honor to be involved in a wrongful death civil suit on behalf of family members of George Floyd, a Black man who died May 25, 2020, at the hands of a white police officer in Minneapolis.
The city of Minneapolis settled for $27 million in the civil case against veteran police officer Derek Chauvin, who pressed his knee hard against Floyd’s neck for about nine minutes, causing his death. The officer was convicted in a criminal trial and sentenced to more than 20 years in prison.
“This case resonated with the whole world, it was a phenomenon,” said David Stowman. “We appreciated that we were able to be part of the George Floyd case.”
David and his son, Jeff, own the Stowman Law Firm, P.A., in Detroit Lakes, and represented Angela Harrelson and Selwyn Jones, the aunt and uncle of George Floyd.
“They’re the brother and sister of George Floyd’s mom,” said Jeff Stowman. “It’s a big family, and they had more of a sibling relationship with George than an adult-child relationship,” he added.
David Stowman said the Detroit Lakes law firm played “a small part'' in the civil proceedings, after being contacted by well-known California attorney Gregory Yates. “We’ve been representing wrongful death suits for five decades,” David Stowman said, and the law firm’s name came up when Yates was looking for legal counsel in Minnesota to help with the case. “There was a team,” he said. “Jeff and I and Yates and another attorney in his office, Mike Shubeck.” About eight law firms in all were involved in the civil case, he added.
“We had a small part, but it was important to our clients in the overall scheme of things,” David said.
“For our clients, their participation was the most important thing in the world,” Jeff added.
In the end, the attorneys worked out how the settlement was to be divided among family members, and a judge agreed to the distribution settlement on July 19, Jeff said.
The settlement included $500,000 for the south Minneapolis neighborhood that includes the 38th and Chicago intersection where Floyd died, and where a memorial for him is now maintained.
The Stowmans’ client, Angela Harrelson, has been very involved in the George Floyd Memorial Fund. “She and Selwyn Jones are often present in person at George Floyd Square,” Jeff Stowman said.
“As much as we can, I want to keep the integrity of the memorial,” Angela Harrelson said in an interview. Harrelson is also the co-chair of the George Floyd Global Memorial, and says people come from all over the nation and the world to visit George Floyd Square. People from 30 or 40 different countries -- Argentina, Switzerland, Germany, even India yesterday," she said. Harrelson works as a nurse, but spends a great deal of time at the memorial. "They come from all over," she said. "It truly has been a historical site -- it's now one of the most visited sites in Minnesota."
Something about George Floyd's death resonated across the world. "If it's not a race thing, it's a class thing," she said. "It's a central core with everyone -- equality as a human being."
His death was recorded on video that was widely seen. "The way he was killed impacted so many people," she said. "They could not believe something like that could happen." The COVID-19 pandemic was at its peak and "a lot of people were home to see it, whether they wanted to see it or not," she said.
Harrelson and others on the Memorial Committee have been working with Minneapolis city officials to find a consensus for the memorial at George Floyd Square. Residents there want to beautify and preserve the sanctity of the square, while protecting foot traffic from fast-moving vehicles, while city officials want to improve traffic flow. "We're trying to find a happy medium," she said.
She has also been working with community partners to preserve more than 3,000 pieces of art left at the square. “Everybody is amazed at what’s going on,” she said. “The ultimate goal is to have a museum across the street.”
And she said “the square has created a life of its own” for many organizations, like 612 MASH (Minneapolis All Shall Heal) which started there as an informal medical tent and has grown to become a larger nonprofit. The Agape Movement, which provided security at George Floyd Square, has also blossomed into a larger entity, focusing on helping black children, teens and school districts, she said.
The two Detroit Lakes attorneys spent some time at the memorial themselves.
“You could feel the reverence,” David Stowman said. “We stood down there with our clients. There was reverence as people approached the square, and the outline of the body on the street where he died. I talked to people who came there from Georgia, Los Angeles . . . people come from all over the world come to George Floyd Square. There was a constant flow of people going through that wanted to have a connection.”
The emotional experience is heavy, Jeff said. “It’s moving -- it’s not fun or happy. The reality of what happened sinks in. The reality of that terrible video.”
Race is an integral part of the country, and “you don’t have to look any further than this case to see that,” David Stowman said. Floyd was arrested for allegedly passing a counterfeit $20 bill. “White people aren’t treated that way … the officer could have just issued a citation in this case,” he said.
“His death sparked a worldwide movement, protests, and personal realizations of systematic prejudice,” Jeff added. “This case sparked protests in every country in the world, except those regimes that don’t allow protests. I’m honored to be involved even with our small part.”