Texas withdraws posthumous pardon of George Floyd

Floyd served 10 months for selling $10 worth of illegal drugs to an undercover officer

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A Texas board that had unanimously supported a posthumous pardon for George Floyd over a 2004 drug arrest in Houston back-pedalled in an announcement on Thursday, saying “procedural errors” were found in their recommendation months after leaving the decision to Republican Governor Greg Abbott.

The unusual reversal was announced by Mr Abbott’s office two days before Christmas, around the time he typically doles out his annual pardons.

The withdrawn endorsement was met with outrage from a public defender who submitted the pardon application for Floyd, who spent much of his life in Houston before his death in 2020 under the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer.

Allison Mathis, a lawyer in Houston, accused the two-term governor of playing politics before Texas's Republican primary elections in March as he faces challengers from the far right.

Floyd’s name was withdrawn along with two dozen other clemency recommendations that had been submitted by the Texas Board of Pardon and Paroles.

In a letter dated December 16, but not released publicly until now, the board told Mr Abbott that it had identified “unexplained departures” from its process of issuing pardons and needed to reconsider more than a third of the 67 clemency recommendations it sent to Mr Abbott this year, including the one for Floyd.

In October, the board had unanimously recommended that Floyd become the second person in Texas since 2010 to receive a posthumous pardon from the governor.

“As a result of the board’s withdrawal of the recommendation concerning George Floyd, Governor Abbott did not have the opportunity to consider it,” Abbott spokeswoman Renae Eze said in a statement.

Ms Mathis called the last-minute reversal a “ridiculous farce”. She said the board — which is stocked with Mr Abbott's appointees — did not make her aware of any issues before the announcement from the governor’s office.

“It really strains credibility for them to say now that it’s out of compliance, after the board has already voted on it,” she said.

Floyd grew up and was laid to rest in Houston. In June, former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin was sentenced to 22.5 years in prison for Floyd’s murder, which led to a national reckoning in the US over race and policing.

Pardons restore the rights of the convicted and forgive them in the eyes of the law. But in Floyd’s case, his family and supporters said a posthumous pardon in Texas would show a commitment to accountability.

In February 2004, Floyd was arrested in Houston for selling $10 worth of crack in a police sting and later pleaded guilty to a drug charge, serving 10 months in prison.

But the global spotlight on the death of Floyd in police custody 16 years later is not why prosecutors revisited his Houston case. Instead, it was prompted by a deadly Houston drug raid in 2019 that involved the same officer who arrested Floyd.

Mr Abbott attended Floyd’s memorial service last year in Houston, where he met with the family and floated the idea of a George Floyd Act that would take aim at police brutality. But when the Texas legislature convened months later, Mr Abbott was silent over policing reforms pushed by Democrats and made police funding a priority.

Updated: December 23, 2021, 11:18 PM