A black man has died in Minneapolis police custody after video shared online from a bystander showed a white officer kneeling on his neck during his arrest as he pleaded that he couldn’t breathe.
His death Monday night after a struggle with officers was under investigation by the FBI and state agents. It drew comparisons to the case of Eric Garner, an unarmed black New York man who died in 2014 after he was placed in a chokehold by police and pleaded for his life saying he couldn’t breathe.
On Tuesday morning, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey apologized to the black community in a post on his Facebook page.
“Being Black in America should not be a death sentence. For five minutes, we watched a white officer press his knee into a Black man’s neck. Five minutes. When you hear someone calling for help, you’re supposed to help. This officer failed in the most basic, human sense,” Frey posted.
Minneapolis police said the man matched the description of a suspect in a forgery case and resisted arrest. The video shows an unidentified officer kneeling on his neck and ignoring his pleas. “Please, please, please I can’t breathe. Please, man,” the man is heard telling the officer.
After several minutes, one of the officers is heard telling the man to “relax.” “Man, I can’t breathe,” the man responds. Several more minutes pass and the man becomes motionless under the officer’s restraint.
Several witnesses had gathered on a sidewalk near where the man was lying, with some recording on their phones. Bystanders became increasingly agitated as the man pleads with police, with one bystander telling officers that they need to let him breathe.
Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, speaking to reporters Tuesday morning, was asked about the use of the knee on the man’s neck during the arrest.
“We clearly have policies in place regarding placing someone under control,” Arradondo said, stating that taking a look at what happened and how those policies apply “will be part of the full investigation we’ll do internally.”
Nekima Levy-Armstrong, a prominent local activist, said watching the footage that was shared on social media made her “sick to her stomach” and said it reminded her of the Garner case, she told the Star Tribune. A grand jury later decided against indicting the officers involved in Garner’s death, sparking protests around the country.
The man’s death in Minneapolis also came amid outrage over the death of Ahmaud Arbery, who was fatally shot Feb. 23 when a white father and son pursued the 25-year-old black man after spotting him running in their subdivision. More than two months passed before charges were brought.
Officers in Minneapolis were called about 8 p.m. Monday to investigate a report of a forgery at a business, according to police spokesman John Elder. Police found the man, believed to be in his 40s, matching the suspect’s description in his car.
“He was ordered to step from his car. After he got out, he physically resisted officers,” Elder said in a statement. “Officers were able to get the suspect into handcuffs and noted he appeared to be suffering medical distress.”
The man, who was not identified, was taken by ambulance to Hennepin County Medical Center where he died a short time later, police said.
The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension has joined the FBI in its investigation. All body camera footage has been turned over to the BCA, which investigates most police shootings and in-custody deaths. The officers involved have been put on paid administrative leave, per department protocol.
Police in Minneapolis have come under scrutiny in recent years for deadly run-ins with citizens. A 24-year-old black man, Jamar Clark, was shot in the head and died in 2015 after a confrontation with two white officers responding to a reported assault. A county prosecutor declined to prosecute the officers, saying Clark was struggling for one of the officers’ gun when he was shot.
A white woman, Justine Rusczcyk Damond, died in 2017 when she was shot in the stomach by a Minneapolis officer responding to her 911 call. That officer, who is black, was convicted of manslaughter and murder and is serving a 12-year prison sentence.