Fact check: No evidence to back claim that man convicted for Floyd’s murder was not Derek Chauvin

The claim: The man tried for George Floyd’s murder was an impersonator

As the world reacted to Derek Chauvin’s conviction for killing George Floyd, some used the verdict to resurrect old falsehoods online.

Chauvin is a former Minnesota police officer who was filmed kneeling on Floyd’s neck and killing him last year. The high-profile incident inspired international calls for racial justice and changes to policing in America.

Social media users are sharing side-by-side images of Chauvin to claim the man convicted was not the same one who knelt on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes in May.

“The verdict is irrelevant because it’s not real,” claims an image shared to Facebook on April 20. “Not Chauvin.”

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The post includes several images of Chauvin from the day he killed Floyd, his mugshot and his trial. A close-up image highlights perceived differences in Chauvin’s ear shape between his mugshot and images taken during Floyd’s murder.

“Two different people. Period,” claims the post.

In the mugshot image, the top of his left ear appears to round. In the image from the video of Floyd’s death, Chauvin’s ear appears pointed.

Assault or reasonable policing? Derek Chauvin murder trial closing statements (Photo: COURT TV / AP)

Another post highlights differences in Chauvin’s hairline. In a photo taken of Chauvin as he knelt on Floyd’s neck, his hairline appears in a window’s peak, while his hairline in mugshots appears straight.

Similar posts have used the same images to promote the baseless conspiracy theory that Chauvin is a paid crisis actor.

Baseless allegations about body doubles and crisis actors have spread many times over the past several years to rationalize “false flag” conspiracy theories in which inaccurate sources have claimed high-profile tragedies were staged for political gain. USA TODAY has investigated several of these conspiracies and not found any to be true. 

This claim is similarly baseless. The purported discrepancies are just a product of camera angles and lighting.

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USA TODAY reached out to several accounts that posted the claim for comment. None responded.

Minnesota Department of Corrections
Intake mugshot of Derek Chauvin (Photo: Minnesota Department of Corrections)

Camera angles, time account for photo differences

Several factors account for the difference in Chauvin’s appearance between the photos, including camera angle, image quality and time.

USA TODAY experimented with a camera and found that hairline and ear shape can vary depending on the angle from which an image is taken. Light sources and camera quality can also affect the way facial features appear in an image. 

PolitiFact did a similar experiment in June, when similar photos and claims surfaced, and came to the same conclusion. It rated the conspiracy claims false.

The length of Chauvin’s hair at any given time also would change the appearance of his hairline.

The pictures used in these widely-shared comparisons were taken on three different occasions over the course of nearly a year: on May 25 when Floyd was killed, after Chauvin was arrested on May 29 and during Chauvin’s trial on April 19.

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Low resolution in some of the images presented as proof also obscures some detail.

Other photos show features are consistent

Other images of Chauvin show his ear shape and hairline change based on camera angles.

In this mugshot image, Chauvin’s ears appear pointed and his hairline shows his widow’s peak, unlike the mugshot in the post. Those details are consistent with video stills from the scene the day Floyd was killed.

George Floyd could be heard pleading for his life saying, "I can't breathe" in four police body-camera videos prosecutors played for jurors.

USA TODAY

But this image of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck, captured from a video by the New York Post, shows his ear from another angle. There his ear more closely resembles the round shape that skeptics referenced in the later mugshot.

Since both images come from the same day, it is clear the camera angle can distort identifying features.

Fact check: Missing context in claim questioning whether Derek Chauvin received fair trial

During Chauvin’s highly televised trial, Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo and several eyewitnesses identified Chauvin as the same man who killed Floyd.

USA TODAY could find no evidence another man impersonated Chauvin at his trial.

Our rating: False

We rate the claim that the man convicted for killing Floyd was not Chauvin FALSE because it is not supported by our research. Perceived discrepancies in Chauvin’s appearance at the scene of his crime, arrest and trial can be explained by varied camera angles, lighting and time. Similar images from those times as well as testimony at his trial confirm the man convicted for killing Floyd is Chauvin. 

Our fact-check sources:

  • USA TODAY, April 20, “Derek Chauvin found guilty on all counts in the murder of George Floyd: Updates”
  • PolitiFact, June 5, 2020, “No, these two photos of Derek Chauvin don’t show two different men”
  • PolitiFact, Aug. 8, 2019, “Why do some people think mass shootings are staged every time?”
  • USA TODAY, March 23, “Fact check: Colorado mass shooting is not a ‘false flag’ as conspiracy theory claims”
  • USA TODAY, May 28, 2020, “George Floyd.”
  • USA TODAY, May 29, 2020, “Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin arrested, charged with murder in George Floyd’s death: Updates”
  • Associated Press, April 19, “Murder case against ex-cop in Floyd’s death goes to the jury”
  • AP Images, June 4, 2020, “GEORGE FLOYD COURTROOM CAMERAS”
  • New York Post, Aug. 3, 2020, “New bodycam video shows George Floyd begging cops not to shoot him”
  • YouTube, NBC News, April 5, “Watch: Day 6 Of Derek Chauvin’s Trial | NBC News”
  • YouTube, NBC News, March 30, “Watch: Day 2 Of Derek Chauvin’s Trial | NBC News”

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