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Fort Myers attorney weighs in on Chauvin trial and police reform

Joe North expects and a "guilty" verdict but says that's not enough and police reform is needed
Posted at 12:25 AM, Apr 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-20 00:25:20-04

FORT MYERS, Fla. — A well-known civil attorney is weighing in on the Chauvin trial.

Joe North's firm occasionally represents people in civil action involving local law enforcement agencies.

Here's the transcript of WFTX's interview with him. It's been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

WFTX: What's your gut instinct about where you see things (in the Chauvin trial) right now?

JOE NORTH: If I was the prosecuting attorney, I would argue to the jury that all they have to do is believe their eyes. Because the video we have all seen does not have any particular agenda. So just believe what the video shows. And, sure enough, as I was watching some of the closing arguments, the prosecutor, he made that argument. We're probably going to see a guilty verdict because the video in my opinion is damning.

WFX: Do you think (the jury) being exposed to the video so much might actually open the possibility (of a conviction on lesser charges or acquittal) for the defense?

JOE NORTH/ATTORNEY: That's part of the thinking on the part of the defense because during the defense's closing argument today. They showed the video over and over again. So I think that's a part of the strategy. But that video is so overwhelming, I don't think anyone can ever get numb to it.

WFTX: What kinds of things do you hear (in the local community about this case?)

JOE NORTH/ATTORNEY: What I hear is...if we don't have a guilty verdict, it's almost like telling law enforcement that you can do whatever you want to black people - to black men. Because you're not going to be held accountable. And that would be a horrible message to send. And that's what I'm hearing in the community. That if there's not a guilty verdict, that people will be left feeling hopeless. That the country really is not for us.

WFTX: We do know that the Fort Myers Police Department has a tortured history with the Black community. And that's played out in different ways. There's been a new chief in recent years and calls for reform. What do you think a case like this (the Chauvin trial,) that feels like geographically far away in Minnesota, could do with what's happening in our community going forward?

JOE NORTH/ATTORNEY: Well, I think everyone has to admit we need police reform. Not that we're saying we're going to do away with the police because we absolutely need the police. But there are things that can be done in terms of better training, sensitivity to issues, and people that can make it better for our entire community. When there is a bad officer, we need to make sure that the officer is held accountable and civilly. Right now, they enjoyed this qualified immunity where they commit these bad acts and not be held accountable. And that needs to change, because when you know you know you can be held accountable for something, then your actions are different.

WFTX: When you hear people talk about "Blue Lives Matter," and that sort of language, what do you think is going on there?

JOE NORTH/ATTORNEY: Blue lives absolutely matter. But this is how I look at it: if there's somebody's house is on fire, say a black man's house is fire, all the attention needs to be put on putting that fire out. It's not that the white man who lives next door - that his house is of less value. Or that the police officer whose house is on the cul de sac, that his house is of less value. It's just that their homes are not on fire right now. In this country, it's the Black man's house that's on fire. And that's the reason there's such an emphasis on Black Lives Matter. Because that's where we really have to focus, to bring up everybody together. So all lives matter, no doubt about it. But right now, everyone should be focused on making sure we've got equal justice for Black people in the streets and in the courtroom.