A Minneapolis police officer who pinned an unarmed black man with a knee to the neck before the man died has been arrested and charged with murder after three nights of violent protests in the Midwestern US city sparked by the death.
- Officer Derek Chauvin was filmed kneeling on George Floyd’s neck, ignoring his pleas for air
- Three other officers involved in the incident are being investigated
- Having said “when the looting starts, the shooting starts”, Donald Trump later says he does not want any shooting
Derek Chauvin, the officer who is seen on a video taken by a bystander kneeling on George Floyd’s neck before he died, has been charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter, Mike Freeman, a Hennepin County attorney, told a news briefing.
“He is in custody and has been charged with murder,” Mr Freeman said of Mr Chauvin.
Mr Freeman said evidence in the case continued to be reviewed and there may be subsequent charges.
The often violent protests in Minneapolis were sparked by outrage over the death of Mr Floyd, a black man who was filmed crying out for help as Mr Chauvin, who is white, pinned him to the ground with a knee to his neck.
A bystander’s phone footage showed Mr Floyd repeatedly moaning and gasping while he pleaded to the officer kneeling on his neck, “Please, I can’t breathe.” After several minutes, Mr Floyd gradually grew quiet and ceased to move.
Mr Floyd had been arrested on suspicion of using a counterfeit bill at a small grocery store.
Mr Chauvin and three fellow officers at the scene were fired from the Minneapolis Police Department just hours after the incident. The city identified the other officers as Thomas Lane, Tou Thao and J Alexander Kueng.
Mr Freeman said the investigation into Mr Chauvin — who, if convicted, faces up to 25 years in prison — was ongoing and that he anticipated charges against the other officers. He said it was appropriate to charge “the most dangerous perpetrator” first.
He said the case had moved with “extraordinary speed” with Mr Chauvin charged less than four days after the alleged murder.
Mr Freeman said his office had “never charged a case in that kind of timeframe”.
‘Staying put is where we got him’
Mr Chauvin allegedly disregarded the concerns of another officer who wanted to roll Mr Floyd onto his side as he was being held down, according to the criminal complaint against him.
The papers also said an autopsy revealed nothing to support strangulation as the cause of death.
The exam concluded that the combined effects of being restrained, potential intoxicants in Mr Floyd’s system and his underlying health issues, including heart disease, likely contributed to his death.
Police were trying to put Floyd in a squad car when he stiffened up and fell to the ground, saying he was claustrophobic, the complaint said.
Mr Chauvin and officer Tou Thoa arrived to help and tried several times to get the struggling Mr Floyd into the car, it said.
At one point, Mr Chauvin pulled Mr Floyd out of the car’s passenger side, and Mr Floyd, who was handcuffed, went to the ground face down.
Officer JK Kueng held Mr Floyd’s back, and officer Thomas Lane held his legs, while Mr Chauvin put his knee on Mr Floyd’s head and neck area, the complaint said.
When Mr Lane asked if Mr Floyd should be rolled onto his side Mr Chauvin said “No, staying put is where we got him”.
Mr Lane said he was “worried about excited delirium or whatever”, and Mr Chauvin replied, “that’s why we have him on his stomach”, according to the complaint.
After Mr Floyd apparently stopped breathing, Mr Lane again said he wanted to roll Mr Chauvin onto his side. Mr Kueng checked for a pulse and said he could not find one, the complaint said.
In all, Mr Chauvin had his knee on Mr Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds, including nearly three minutes after Mr Floyd stopped moving and talking, according to the complaint.
Attorney Benjamin Crump, who is representing Mr Floyd’s family, asked to take custody of Mr Floyd’s body to have an independent autopsy performed.
Mr Crump said that talk of a heart condition or asthma was irrelevant because Mr Floyd was walking and breathing before his contact with police.
The doctor who will do the autopsy is Michael Baden, former chief medical examiner of New York City, who was hired to do an autopsy for Eric Garner, a black man who died in 2014 in New York after he was placed in a chokehold by police and pleaded for his life, saying he could not breathe.
Governor apologises amid violence
Minnesota Governor Tim Walz has apologised for the death of Mr Floyd and called for an end to the violent protests that have rocked Minneapolis.
“None of us can live in a society where roving bands go unchecked and do what they want to, ruin property,” Mr Walz said.
“We have to get back to that point of what caused this all to happen and start working on that.”
Mr Walz also said he expected “swift” justice for the officers involved and promised a reckoning with the racial inequities behind the unrest triggered by Mr Floyd’s death.
Chauvin faces same charges as Damond Ruzczyk’s killer
Mr Chauvin has been charged with the same counts that led to a 12-and-a-half year prison sentence for another former officer from his department who killed Australian woman Justine Damond Ruszczyk.
Minnesota’s third-degree murder charge means causing the death of another through a dangerous act “without regard for human life but without intent to cause” death.
The state’s sentencing guidelines recommend 12-and-a-half years imprisonment for a conviction on the murder count and four years on the manslaughter charge.
Former officer Mohamed Noor received that prison sentence after he was convicted in 2019 of killing Ms Damond Ruszczyk, an unarmed woman living in Minneapolis who was fatally shot after calling the police to report a possible sexual assault.
Judges have some discretion. The guidelines allow a range of nearly 11 years to 15 years for third-degree murder and less than three-and-a-half years to nearly five years for manslaughter, but the system is designed to result in close to the recommended sentence most of the time.
Hennepin County attorney Mike Freeman said more charges were possible. He also charged Noor with second-degree murder, but the jury acquitted him on that count. The guidelines recommend 12-and-a-half years for unintentional second-degree murder but go up to 25-and-a-half for intentional second-degree murder.
Trump offers condolences to Floyd’s family
US President Donald Trump offered his condolences to Mr Floyd’s family and said he had asked the Department of Justice to expedite the investigation into his death.
Mr Trump said Mr Floyd’s death was “a terrible thing” and it “should never be allowed to happen”.
“We are determined that justice be served,” Mr Trump said.
“I spoke to members of the family, terrific people and will be reporting as time goes by.
“We think that we also have to make the statement, and it’s very important that we have peaceful protesters and support the rights for peaceful protesters.
“We can’t allow a situation like happened in Minneapolis to descend further into lawless anarchy and chaos. And we understand that very well. It’s very important, I believe, to the family, to everybody, that the memory of George Floyd be a perfect memory. Let it be a perfect memory.”
President clarifies tweet, says he doesn’t want any ‘shooting’
President Donald Trump added fuel to racial fires as he threatened to take action to bring the city of Minneapolis “under control”, calling violent protesters outraged by the death of a black man in police custody “thugs” and reviving a civil-rights era phrase fraught with racist overtones.
“When the looting starts, the shooting starts,” Mr Trump wrote in a tweet that was flagged by Twitter as violating rules against “glorifying violence”.
The White House said the President “did not glorify violence. He clearly condemned it”.
The President’s reaction — a day after he had decried Mr Floyd’s treatment and vowed justice for his family — highlighted his refusal to avoid controversy or cede the spotlight even as the battered nation tries to make sense of another killing and reels over the mounting COVID-19 death toll.
In his tweets Mr Trump borrowed a phrase once used by former Miami police chief Walter Headley in a 1967 speech outlining his department’s efforts to “combat young hoodlums who have taken advantage of the civil rights campaign”.
Mr Headley said his department had been successful “because I’ve let the word filter down that when the looting starts, the shooting starts”.
“We don’t mind being accused of police brutality,” he said in the same speech, according to news reports from the time.
The White House did not respond to questions about where Mr Trump had heard the phrase and what he meant by it.
But Mr Trump said on Friday afternoon, after many hours of backlash, that he had meant that, “Looting leads to shooting.”
“It was spoken as a fact, not as a statement. It’s very simple, nobody should have any problem with this other than the haters, and those looking to cause trouble on social media. Honor the memory of George Floyd!”