Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin will now face second-degree murder charges for the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man who died after pleading for his life as the officer knelt on his neck during an arrest.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said at a press conference Wednesday that arrest warrants were also issued for three other fired officers, Thomas Lane, J. Kueng and Tou Thao, who were present during Floyd’s arrest on May 25.
They will be charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder, Ellison said.
“I believe the evidence available to us now supports the stronger charge of second degree murder,” Ellison said at a press conference on Wednesday.
“George Floyd mattered. He was loved. His family was important. His life had value. And we will seek justice for him and for you.”
Chauvin, who was recorded on video kneeling on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes, has now become the centre of global protests against anti-Black racism and police brutality.
The charges against Chauvin are an upgrade from his original third-degree murder charge, which is typically for acts “eminently dangerous to others and evincing a depraved mind,” but with no intent to kill.
After reviewing the evidence in Floyd’s case, Ellison alleged Floyd had been assaulted and Chauvin’s actions suggested he intended to commit a felony, but not for death to be the outcome.
If convicted, Chauvin could be imprisoned up to 40 years, whereas anyone convicted of third-degree murder would only be subject to a maximum of 25 years in prison.
“This is a bittersweet moment for the family of George Floyd,” Benjamin Crump, an attorney for Floyd’s family wrote in a statement, calling the raised charges a “significant step forward on the road to justice.”
The statement also directly criticized the Minneapolis Police Department.
“These officers knew they could act with impunity, given the Minneapolis Police Department’s widespread and prolonged pattern and practice of violating people’s constitutional rights,” the statement read.
“Therefore, we also demand permanent transparent police accountability at all levels and at all times.”
The charges come just one day after the state of Minnesota filed a human rights complaint against the Minneapolis Police Department.
Gov. Tim Walz and the Minnesota Department of Human Rights announced the filing on Tuesday, which will investigate the police department’s policies, procedures and practices over the past 10 years to determine if its officers engaged in systemic discrimination toward people of colour.
On Monday, an autopsy commissioned by Floyd’s family revealed that asphyxiation was the cause of his death.
“The evidence is consistent with mechanical asphyxia as the cause of death and homicide as the manner of death,” Dr. Allecia Wilson, who conducted the autopsy, told reporters at a press conference on Monday.
Michael Baden, another doctor who conducted the autopsy, determined “compression of the neck” to be the cause of Floyd’s asphyxiation.
The autopsy contradicts the criminal complaint against Chauvin, which highlighted health problems and possible drugs consumed by Floyd and found nothing “to support a diagnosis of traumatic asphyxia or strangulation.”
On Wednesday, the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office released the full autopsy report on Floyd, which noted he had previously tested positive for COVID-19, but was apparently asymptomatic. The report was released with the family’s permission after summary findings Monday that said he had a heart attack while being restrained by officers.
Floyd was arrested under the suspicion that he used a counterfeit bill to buy cigarettes. After video emerged of the arrest, all four officers involved were fired from the Minneapolis police department the next day. Chauvin was arrested on Friday.
Since then, peaceful protests have gone international, as thousands took to the streets in solidarity with Floyd and Black communities. Several demonstrations in the U.S. have resulted in violence and looting that saw many protesters tear-gassed and pepper-sprayed.
Nationwide, more than 9,000 have been arrested in connection with unrest. At least 12 deaths have been reported, though the circumstances in many cases are still being sorted out.
Some of Floyd’s last words were “I can’t breathe,” and “they’re going to kill me,” which have become rallying cries during the protests.
Protests continue despite new charges
Demonstrations continued Wednesday after the new charges were announced, though were largely peaceful compared to the more widespread reports of violence, vandalism and looting seen earlier this week.
“It’s not enough,” protester Jonathan Roldan said of the new charges at a rally in New York City’s Washington Square Park attended by hundreds.
“Right now, we’re still marching because it’s not enough that they got arrested. There needs to be systematic change.”
At one point near the White House, protesters began singing “Amazing Grace” as they knelt in view of law enforcement officers in riot gear. “We are not going anywhere!” they chanted. There were no signs of confrontations.
Protester Jade Jones, 30, said the demonstrations would continue despite the new charges.
“That’s the least they could do,” said Jones, who had been attending Washington protests for days. “It’s not going to wipe away 400 years of pain.”
More than 20,000 National Guard members have been called up in 29 states to deal with the violence. In Washington, D.C., officers from the FBI Hostage Rescue Team, the Secret Service, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Prisons and, according to a senior defense official, at least 2,200 National Guard soldiers have been deployed throughout the capital.
President Donald Trump has pushed the nation’s governors to take a hard line against the violence. He again tweeted Wednesday: “LAW & ORDER!”
Yet local officials began taking steps to ease restrictions on the protests. District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser extended the city’s curfew a few more hours to begin at 11 p.m., while Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said Wednesday evening on Twitter that she was ending a curfew entirely after she and the police chief met with community leaders.
“For those peacefully demonstrating tonight, please know you can continue to demonstrate. We want you to continue making your voice heard,” the mayor wrote.
— With files from The Associated Press