The fired US police officer who knelt on George Floyd’s neck will face a more serious murder charge, and three other sacked officers will be charged as aiding and abetting in the death of the 46-year-old unarmed Black man that triggered eight days of nationwide protests, court documents and prosecutors said on Wednesday.
Floyd died after Derek Chauvin, a white officer, knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes on May 25 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In a video of the incident, Floyd can be repeatedly yelling “I can’t breathe” before going motionless, with Chauvin’s knee still on his neck.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said he was charging Chauvin, 44, with second-degree murder in addition to the third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter charges levelled against him last week.
The new charge can carry a sentence of up to 40 years, 15 years longer than the maximum sentence for third-degree murder, according to court documents.
The other three former officers who were involved in the incident – Thomas Lane, J Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao – face charges of aiding and abetting murder and arrest warrants have been issued by Ellison, according to the documents. At least one of the three is in custody, law enforcement said in a news conference on Tuesday.
Ellison called the protests unleashed by the death “dramatic and necessary” and said Floyd “should be here and he is not.”
“His life had value, and we will seek justice,” Ellison said. “The very fact we have filed these charges means we believe in them.”
Benjamin Crump, one of the lawyers for Floyd’s family, said in a statement that it is “a bittersweet moment for the family of George Floyd”, calling it a “significant step forward on the road to justice“.
“We are deeply gratified that Attorney General Keith Ellison took decisive action in this case, arresting and charging all the officers involved in George Floyd’s death and upgrading the charge against Derek Chauvin to felony second-degree murder,” Crump said. “[W]e are gratified that this important action was brought before George Floyd’s body was laid to rest.”
FAMILY’S REACTION: This is a bittersweet moment. We are deeply gratified that @AGEllison took decisive action, arresting & charging ALL the officers involved in #GeorgeFloyd's death & upgrading the charge against Derek Chauvin to felony second-degree murder. #JusticeForGeorge pic.twitter.com/jTfXFHpsYl
— Ben Crump (@AttorneyCrump) June 3, 2020
Crump added that the officers knew they could “act with impunity” given the Minneapolis Police Department’s “widespread and prolonged pattern and practice” of violating people’s rights.
The deadly arrest set off mass protests against police brutality across the country, and worldwide,
At the Minneapolis intersection where Floyd was killed, protesters cautiously welcomed the charges, saying “no one is above the law”.
“It took way too long with the evidence they had on camera, but they got them,” said Minneapolis resident Kevin Jong.
“It’s just the beginning,” he told Al Jazeera.
Others were sceptical that the four would be convicted and there would be meaningful reform.
“I’m not psychic, I just been Black all my life, man,” said John Thompson.
“So, don’t think for one minute, that we not gonna see another police-involved murder here in this state,” he added, pointing to the police shooting of his “best friend” Philando Castillo, who was killed in 2016.
The arrests of all four officers was a key demand of protests. It is unclear whether the demonstrations will continue at the level of they have over the last week. But protesters are demanding justice for not just Floyd, but all Black people who have been killed by police, including Breonna Taylor, who was shot dead by police as she laid in her bed in Louisville, Kentucky, in March. Taylor’s mother is calling on the police department to fire the officers involved.
Police and other law enforcement agencies have come under heavy criticism for the way they have responded to the protests, which have largely been peaceful, but have at times turned violent as night falls and curfews imposed to quell unrest have taken effect. Thousands have been arrested and many injured. Law enforcement agencies have defended the crackdown, saying they are responding to violent protesters and pointing to looting, vandalism and fires that have taken place.
US President Donald Trump has threatened to invoke the Insurrection Act to use active-duty military to disperse the protests, drawing criticism from across the political spectrum.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Tuesday that he did not support such a threat.
With additional reporting by Lucien Formichella in Minneapolis, Minnesota.