US revives investigation into George Floyd death

Department of Justice takes new action in the probe, which languished under the Trump administration.

Federal officials investigating whether policeman Derek Chauvin violated George Floyd's rights during the deadly arrest [File: Carolyn Kaster/AP]
Federal officials investigating whether policeman Derek Chauvin violated George Floyd's rights during the deadly arrest [File: Carolyn Kaster/AP]

A federal US investigation into the police killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, has shown signs of reinvigoration with the empanelling of a new grand jury and the calling of new witnesses, according to reports from The New York Times and Associated Press.

The actions indicate a renewed emphasis on the investigation by the Justice Department under the administration of President Joe Biden after the federal probe into Floyd’s death languished under the leadership of former President Donald Trump, according to the New York Times, citing two people with direct knowledge of the investigation.

The AP confirmed the report, saying several witnesses have been subpoenaed to appear before a federal grand jury considering charges against former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who is already facing state murder charges in Floyd’s death, a person familiar with the matter said.

Floyd died after Chauvin kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes during a stop in Minneapolis, Minnesota in May 2020. Video footage of the incident, in which Floyd can be heard pleading “I can’t breathe”, helped to prompt national racial justice protests across the country.

The Justice Department’s federal civil rights investigation has been focused on Chauvin and some of the witnesses, including other officers who worked with Chauvin, according to the person, who could not publicly discuss the non-public proceedings and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.

Chauvin was fired by the Minneapolis Police Department a day after Floyd’s death, and currently faces state charges of second-degree unintentional murder and second-degree manslaughter.

Three other officers — Thomas Lane, J Kueng and Tou Thao — are charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and manslaughter and are scheduled to face trial in August.

All four were fired soon after Floyd’s death.

The federal probe focuses on whether Chauvin violated Floyd’s civil rights during the deadly encounter. It was launched just three days after Floyd’s death, but then-Attorney General William Barr later indicated the Department of Justice would hold off until after Chauvin faces criminal charges in state court. Those proceedings are set to begin on March 8.

A federal grand jury empanelled last year that began to hear evidence in the case has since expired.

The lawyer for Floyd’s family, Ben Crump, in a statement to the Times, said it was “appropriate and gratifying that the Department of Justice under President Biden is taking racial justice seriously”.

 

Biden’s presidential run coincided with the high-profile death of Floyd and other unarmed Black people in the US, with racial justice becoming a pillar of his campaign.

During his inaugural address, the president said: “A cry for racial justice, some 400 years in the making, moves us. The dream of justice for all will be deferred no longer.”

The Justice Department under Biden is expected to focus more on civil rights issues, criminal justice overhauls and policing policies in the wake of nationwide protests over the death of Black Americans at the hands of law enforcement.

At his confirmation hearing this week, Judge Merrick Garland, Biden’s nominee for attorney general, emphasised his commitment to combating racial discrimination in policing, telling the Senate Judiciary Committee that America does not “yet have equal justice.”

Still, Biden has promised not to exert control over the Department of Justice, which critics say Trump sought to use for his political gain. Biden has said the department must be able to act independently as it investigates and prosecutes cases.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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