Santa Barbara NAACP Leader and Police Chief Speak on Chauvin Jury Verdict

Relief over Guilty Decisions but Say It Never Should Have Happened

A mural painted on Haley Streets commemorates the death of George Floyd in May 2020; nearly one year later, his killer, former police officer Derek Chauvin, is found guilty. | Credit: Courtesy

“It’s sad that people are so excited and so relieved that the verdict came back the way it did,” said Lawanda Lyons-Pruitt, head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in Santa Maria and Lompoc. “It should never have happened.” Lyons-Pruitt was commenting on the three guilty verdicts rendered by the Minneapolis jury in the murder trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin for killing George Floyd last May. “It’s not going to ease that family’s pain, I can tell you that. But they will sleep better at night knowing that the person committed these heinous crimes was convicted. We saw justice served today.”

Lyons-Pruitt, the former chief investigator for the Santa Barbara Public Defender’s office, said the verdict surprised her not at all. “While I’m not an attorney, I’ve sat at the defense counsel’s table when we didn’t have a case and you’re grasping at straws,” she commented. “But we never had to throw up crap the way he [Chauvin’s defense attorney] did. I will give him that.”

The case against Chauvin just got worse and worse, she noted. It would come out that Chauvin had his knee on George Floyd’s neck and back even longer than previously understood. “It was nine minutes and twenty-nine seconds, not eight minutes and forty-six seconds,” Lyons Pruitt noted, separating each syllable from the one before it for dramatic effect.

In the immediate aftermath of the killing, Lyons-Pruitt stated, “Enough is enough; we’re done dying.” A reporter at the time, she said, suggested that the Santa Maria Police Department was immune from that kind of violence. “We don’t have those kind of problems anymore,” she replied. “But there was a time when they were involved in some things that were pretty questionable. And now there was just a police shooting in Lompoc, a young man named Krys Ruiz. A transgender man. A client of Behavioral Wellness. People are saying he didn’t have a gun.”

In Santa Barbara, Interim Police Chief Barney Melekian issued a statement, declaring, “The verdict in Minneapolis was an affirmation that the legal system can deliver justice. Today represents a significant step forward in advancing the ideals this nation was founded on.” He also stated, “The humanity and great work of the officers who protect the Santa Barbara community is something you don’t see everywhere. I think it is unfortunate the actions of thousands and thousands of American police officers are being judged by a few.”

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