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Jury finds ex-officer guilty on all counts

MINNEAPOLIS — Former Minneapolis Officer Derek Chauvin was convicted Tuesday of murder and manslaughter for pinning George Floyd to the pavement with his knee on the Black man’s neck in a case that triggered worldwide protests, violence and a furious reexamination of racism and policing in the U.S.

Chauvin, 45, was immediately led away with his hands cuffed behind his back and could be sent to prison for decades.

The verdict — guilty as charged on all counts, in a relatively swift, across-the-board victory for Floyd’s supporters — set off jubilation mixed with sorrow across the city and around the nation. Hundreds of people poured into the streets of Minneapolis, some running through traffic with banners. Drivers blared their horns in celebration.

“Today, we are able to breathe again,” Floyd’s younger brother Philonise said at a joyous family news conference where tears streamed down his face as he likened Floyd to the 1955 Mississippi lynching victim Emmett Till, except that this time there were cameras around to show the world what happened.

The jury of six whites and six Black or multiracial people came back with its verdict after about 10 hours of deliberations over two days. The now-fired white officer was found guilty of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

Chauvin’s face was obscured by a COVID-19 mask, and little reaction could be seen beyond his eyes darting around the courtroom. His bail was immediately revoked. Sentencing will be in two months; the most serious charge carries up to 40 years in prison.

Defense attorney Eric Nelson followed Chauvin out of the courtroom without comment.

President Joe Biden welcomed the verdict, saying Floyd’s death was “a murder in full light of day, and it ripped the blinders off for the whole world” to see systemic racism.

But he warned: “It’s not enough. We can’t stop here. We’re going to deliver real change and reform. We can and we must do more to reduce the likelihood that tragedies like this will ever happen again.”

The verdict was hailed around the country as justice by other political and civic leaders and celebrities, including former President Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey and California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a white man, who said on Twitter that Floyd “would still be alive if he looked like me. That must change.”

At a park next to the Minneapolis courthouse, a hush fell over a crowd of about 300 as they listened to the verdict on their cellphones. Then a great roar went up, with many people hugging, some shedding tears.

At the intersection where Floyd was pinned down, a crowd chanted, “One down, three to go!” — a reference to the three other fired Minneapolis officers facing trial in August on charges of aiding and abetting murder in Floyd’s death.

Janay Henry, who lives nearby, said she felt grateful and relieved.

“I feel grounded. I can feel my feet on the concrete,” she said, adding that she was looking forward to the “next case with joy and optimism and strength.”

Jamee Haggard, who brought her biracial 4-year-old daughter to the city’s George Floyd Square, said: “There’s some form of justice that’s coming.”

The verdict was read in a courthouse ringed with concrete barriers and razor wire and patrolled by National Guard troops, in a city on edge against another round of unrest — not just because of the Chauvin case but because of the deadly police shooting of a young Black man, Daunte Wright, in a Minneapolis suburb April 11.

The jurors’ identities were kept secret and will not be released until the judge decides it is safe to do so.

It is unusual for police officers to be prosecuted for killing someone on the job. And convictions are extraordinarily rare.

Out of the thousands of deadly police shootings in the U.S. since 2005, fewer than 140 officers have been charged with murder or manslaughter, according to data maintained by Phil Stinson, a criminologist at Bowling Green State University. Before Tuesday, only seven were convicted of murder.

Juries often give police officers the benefit of the doubt when they claim they had to make split-second, life-or-death decisions. But that was not an argument Chauvin could easily make.

Floyd, 46, died May 25 after being arrested on suspicion of passing a counterfeit $20 bill for a pack of cigarettes at a corner market. He panicked, pleaded that he was claustrophobic and struggled with police when they tried to put him in a squad car. They put him on the ground instead.

The centerpiece of the case was the excruciating bystander video of Floyd gasping repeatedly, “I can’t breathe” and onlookers yelling at Chauvin to stop as the officer pressed his knee on or close to Floyd’s neck for what authorities say was 9 1/2 minutes. Floyd slowly went silent and limp.

Prosecutors played the footage at the earliest opportunity, during opening statements, and told the jury: “Believe your eyes.” From there it was shown over and over, analyzed one frame at a time by witnesses on both sides.

In the wake of Floyd’s death, demonstrations and scattered violence broke out in Minneapolis, around the country and beyond. The furor also led to the removal of Confederate statues and other offensive symbols such as Aunt Jemima.

In the months that followed, numerous states and cities restricted the use of force by police, revamped disciplinary systems or subjected police departments to closer oversight.

The “Blue Wall of Silence” that often protects police accused of wrongdoing crumbled after Floyd’s death. The Minneapolis police chief quickly called it “murder” and fired all four officers, and the city reached a staggering $27 million settlement with Floyd’s family as jury selection was underway.

Police-procedure experts and law enforcement veterans inside and outside the Minneapolis department, including the chief, testified for the prosecution that Chauvin used excessive force and went against his training.

Medical experts for the prosecution said Floyd died of asphyxia, or lack of oxygen, because his breathing was constricted by the way he was held down on his stomach, his hands cuffed behind him, a knee on his neck and his face jammed against the ground.

Chauvin’s attorney called a police use-of-force expert and a forensic pathologist to try to make the case that Chauvin acted reasonably against a struggling suspect and that Floyd died because of a heart condition and his illegal drug use. Floyd had high blood pressure and narrowed arteries, and fentanyl and methamphetamine were found in his system.

Under the law, police have certain leeway to use force and are judged according to whether their actions were “reasonable” under the circumstances.

The defense also tried to make the case that Chauvin and the other officers were hindered in their duties by what they perceived as a growing, hostile crowd.

Chauvin did not testify, and all that the jury or the public ever heard by way of an explanation from him came from a police body-camera video after an ambulance had taken the 6-foot-4, 223-pound Floyd away. Chauvin told a bystander: “We gotta control this guy ’cause he’s a sizable guy ... and it looks like he’s probably on something.”

The prosecution’s case also included tearful testimony from onlookers who said the police kept them back when they protested what was happening.

Eighteen-year-old Darnella Frazier, who shot the crucial video, said Chauvin gave the bystanders a “cold” and “heartless” stare. She and others said they felt a sense of helplessness and lingering guilt from witnessing Floyd’s slow-motion death.

“It’s been nights I stayed up, apologizing and apologizing to George Floyd for not doing more, and not physically interacting and not saving his life,” she testified.

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Johnson City will form new visitors bureau board in July

Now officially separate from the Chamber of Commerce, an organization dedicated to the development of tourism in Johnson City is getting all its ducks in a row before its new board takes shape in July.

In October, the Johnson City Commission voted to separate the Johnson City Convention and Visitors Bureau from the Johnson City Area Chamber of Commerce. The two have been linked for decades.

The CVB oversees the use of hundreds of thousands of hotel occupancy tax dollars, which it uses to promote local tourism. Since October, city leaders have been going through the process of establishing a foundation for the organization as it prepares for a new chapter of its existence.

Commissioners approved the organization’s bylaws in December, which set up a new board with nine members who serve three-year staggered terms. Meetings of the board will now also be public, which wasn’t the case when the CVB was folded under the Chamber.

The city is currently advertising six openings on the CVB board, which will be made along with a slew of appointments to other volunteer boards in July.

A six-member advisory board is shepherding the CVB through the transition, which has involved steps like getting an employer identification number and approving the organization’s personnel manual. The CVB is now waiting for its 501©6 designation to become official.

“We’re accomplishing a lot in that regard as far as all the administrative and legal stuff that we have to do,” said CVB Executive Director Brenda Whitson.

Last Thursday, the commission approved an agreement with the CVB that explicitly lays out how the city will split hotel tax dollars with the organization. For the past few decades, the city and the CVB have had an unwritten funding agreement.

The deal commissioners approved last week formalizes that arrangement and states that the CVB can’t loan money to another organization.

Whitson said the Chamber and the CVB have agreed on a promissory note that outlines how the Chamber will pay back a $60,000 inter-company loan that it borrowed from the organization. The Chamber has five years to pay back the $60,000 loan, and payments will be made once per quarter with no interest.

The CVB is also working with the city to identify locations for a new visitors center. Officials have been narrowing down the list of possible locations, but Whitson said the organization isn’t ready to specify any finalists.

Ideally, Whitson said, the visitors center would be easily accessible from the interstate and would be situated so that tourists could easily travel to local restaurants or retailers.

“We will have a first-class visitor center that is going to be visible and accessible both to locals to come in and utilize this as a source of information but also for visitors,” she said.

Part of the city’s marketing team will be located with the CVB offices, which Whitson said will help Johnson City strengthen its brand. The organization will also be able to work closely with City Hall on facilitating special events.

“I think this is going to truly give us the opportunity to solely focus on our mission and to get more people coming into Johnson City,” Whitson said about the transition.

CVB Chair Andy Marquart, who is reapplying for a position on the new CVB board, said the organization started putting together a strategic plan in late 2019, which helped officials identify pieces needed to fulfill tourism development in the region.

He added that staff have been able to retain a number of local events that would have otherwise been canceled because of COVID-19.

“Johnson City is prime for tourism growth,” Marquart said. “There’s a lot of surrounding natural beauty. There’s a lot of opportunity to promote what we have and people take for granted.”

Tourism ticking back up

Although they haven’t returned to normal, Johnson City’s tourism numbers are starting to improve, Whitson said. She expects events coming to town in June and July will help move the needle on local tax revenues.

Year to date, Whitson said, local hotel occupancy is 48.3% compared to 43.7% in 2020. Additionally, the average daily rate is $86 compared to $71 in 2020.

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ETSU announces 2021 esports captains

East Tennessee State University announced its 2021-22 esports team captains during a signing ceremony Tuesday afternoon, returning two from last season and signing the captain for the university’s inaugural Rocket League season.

“Looking back at the past year, it’s certainly been a year of firsts,” said ETSU esports Coach Jeff Shell, “our first varsity esports team, it was our first recruitment event, our first practice, the unveiling of first-ever esports arena ... our first competition, our first jerseys and the first of, hopefully many, national championship playoff appearances.

“Today is also a significant day in the history of our program, as we introduce the captain and first signee for our new Rocket League team that begins competition in the fall,” Shell continued.

Shell introduced Tyler Gregory, known as “Bloo” online, as the Rocket League team captain. Gregory, from Greenville, South Carolina, has attained the highest rank in Rocket League as a Supersonic Legend and will be one of the team’s six players. Rocket League, a free game in which players play soccer with rocket-propelled cars, is the third video game added to the university’s competitive gaming lineup, joining Overwatch and League of Legends teams that began competition last year.

ETSU adds Rocket League esports team

Rocket League, a video game best described as soccer played with rocket-propelled cars, will soon have an established presence at East Tennessee State University.

“I’m mainly excited about leading the team, especially ETSU for their first year of Rocket League in general for esports,” Gregory said Tuesday. “I’m very excited to be in the head role and helping the team advance as a whole for future seasons and years.”

Ashe Greenberg re-signed as ETSU’s Overwatch team captain after leading the team to an 8-1 finish during the regular season and to the final 16 in the National Association of Collegiate Esports playoffs.

Lucca Weber will return as the League of Legends team captain. The League of Legends team began their official season in January.