Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis, Minnesota, police officer who was seen in a viral video kneeling on the neck of a black man named George Floyd, sparking unrest throughout the city and outrage throughout the country, has now been charged with second-degree murder by Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison.
Previously, Chauvin was charged by the Hennepin County Attorney with third-degree murder and manslaughter in connection with Floyd’s death. Ellison added the second-degree murder charge. Thomas Lane, Tou Thao and J Alexander Kueng, the other three officers at the scene, are charged by Ellison with unintentional aiding and abetting second-degree murder as well as aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter.
The amended complaint adds new autopsy findings and says that “his condition continued to deteriorate such that force was no longer necessary to control him. The defendant had his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds in total. Two minutes and 53 seconds of this was after Mr. Floyd was non-responsive. Officer Chauvin’s restraint of Mr. Floyd in this manner for a prolonged period was a substantial causal factor in Mr. Floyd losing consciousness, constituting substantial bodily harm, and Mr. Floyd’s death as well.”
The complaint says that Floyd’s autopsy revealed “no physical findings that support a diagnosis of traumatic asphyxia or strangulation. Mr. Floyd had underlying health conditions including coronary artery disease and hypertensive heart disease. The combined effects of Mr. Floyd being restrained by the police, his underlying health conditions and any potential intoxicants in his system likely contributed to his death.” Chauvin “had his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds in total. Two minutes and 53 seconds of this was after Mr. Floyd was non-responsive. Police are trained that this type of restraint with a prone position is inherently dangerous,” the complaint says. It also says that Chauvin disregarded another officer, Thomas Lane, who asked, “should we roll him on his side?” Chauvin allegedly responded, “No, staying put where we got him,” the complaint says. (You can read an extensive interview that Heavy conducted with a use-of-force expert here. In that interview, he said that keeping Floyd in a prone position was the most dangerous aspect he saw in the viral video and said that law enforcement has known about those dangers for decades.)
However, on June 1, the Hennepin County Medical Examiner ruled the cause of death was homicide, writing that Floyd’s cause of death was: “Cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression.”
The ME gave the manner of death as “Homicide,” saying, “Decedent experienced a cardiopulmonary arrest while being restrained by law enforcement officer(s).” They listed other significant conditions as “Arteriosclerotic and hypertensive heart disease; fentanyl intoxication; recent methamphetamine use.” The new charges came after the ME’s final conclusions.
An independent autopsy conducted by a famed pathologist at the request of George Floyd’s family has found that “George Floyd’s death was due to asphyxia from sustained forceful pressure” by Minneapolis police officers, according to a news conference and release by the Floyd family attorneys.
“The knee to the neck and the knees to his back both contributed to him not being able to get breath,” said Floyd family attorney Ben Crump in the news conference. “And what those officers did, that we see on the video, is the cause of his death, not some underlying, unknown health condition. George Floyd was a healthy young man. We see in the video he was walking, breathing; he was alive. His cause of death medically was mechanical asphyxiation. The legal determination is homicide. That is it in a nutshell. The officers killed him based on a knee to his neck for almost nine minutes and two knees to his back compressing his lungs. The ambulance was his hearse.”
Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington announced Chauvin’s arrest to reporters on May 29.
“I am here to announce former Derek Chauvin has been charged by the Hennepin County attorney’s office with murder and with manslaughter,” Freeman said in a news conference later in the day. Watch his statement here.
The first charge was listed as “murder – 3rd degree – Perpetrating Eminently Dangerous Act and Evincing Depraved Mind.” It’s a felony carrying a maximum sentence of 25 years. It alleges that Chauvin “caused the death of George Floyd by perpetrating an act eminently dangerous to others and evincing a depraved mind, without regard for human life.”
The second count was described as “2nd Degree – Culpable Negligence Creating Unreasonable Risk.” The maximum sentence for that felony is 10 years. It reads that Chauvin allegedly “caused the death of George Floyd by his culpable negligence, creating an unreasonable risk and taking a chance of causing death or great bodily harm to George Floyd.”
He said Chauvin was charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter. “We are in the process of continuing to review the evidence. There may be subsequent charges later. A detailed complaint will be made available…this afternoon. He’s in custody, and has been charged with murder. The investigation is ongoing,” said Freeman. The county attorney said that, even the previous afternoon, prosecutors were still waiting for information they needed to go ahead with charges. They now have that evidence, he said.
Here’s the full press conference.
Asked about the other three officers at the scene of Floyd’s death, Freeman said, “We felt it appropriate to focus on the most dangerous perpetrator. This case has moved with extraordinary speed.” He called Chauvin’s action “this criminal action.” As evidence, Freeman said he has had discussions with an expert and has a preliminary report from the medical examiner, body camera video, and witness statements. The other three officers are “under investigation. I anticipate charges,” he said.
Freeman said, “I’m not insensitive to what’s happened in the streets…my job is to do it only when we have sufficient evidence. We have it today…this case is now ready, and we have charged it.” He added, “The complaint has been completed.”
Chauvin was taken into custody by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. He’s not in the Hennepin County Jail, according to to jail records.
Chauvin was a 19-year veteran of the Minneapolis police force. Thomas Lane, Tou Thao, and J. Alexander Kueng were the other three officers present, according to the city. All of the officers were fired after a video went viral of the incident. The disturbing video shows Chauvin with his knee pressed on Floyd’s neck even as bystanders plead with the officers to help Floyd. Floyd repeatedly says he can’t breathe and then goes silent.
Floyd’s death has sparked nights of unrest in the streets of Minneapolis, as businesses were torched and looted. Even the city’s 3rd police precinct was burned and overrun by people angry about Floyd.
Here’s what you need to know:
The Complaint Describes the Last Agonizing Moments of George Floyd & Indicates Officers Tried in Vain to Get Him Into a Car
The criminal complaint says that a person called 911 on May 25, 2020, and reported that a man “bought merchandise from Cup Foods…with a counterfeit $20 bill.”
Officers Thomas Lane and J.A. Kueng arrived at 8:08 p.m. They learned from store personnel that the man “who passed the counterfeit $20 was parked in a car around the corner from the store on 38th Street.”
The officers’ body-worn cameras show that the officers approached the car, with Lake on the driver’s side and Kueng on the passenger side. Three people were in the car. George Floyd was in the driver’s scene and an adult male and female were also in the vehicle, the complaint says.
The complaint further alleges:
As Officer Lane began speaking with Floyd, “he pulled his gun out and pointed it at Mr. Floyd’s open window and directed Mr. Floyd to show his hands.” Floyd put his hands on the steering wheel, so Lane put his gun back in its holster. (The body cam videos have not yet been released publicly.)
When Kueng was speaking with the front seat passenger, Lane ordered Floyd out of the car, put his hands on Floyd, and pulled him out of the car, handcuffing him. “Mr. Floyd actively resisted being handcuffed,” the complaint alleges.
Once handcuffed, Floyd “became compliant” and walked with Lane to the sidewalk, sitting on the ground at Lane’s direction. There was a conversation for under two minutes. Lang asked Floyd for his name and identification and whether he was on anything and explained he was arrested Floyd for passing counterfeit currency, the complaint stated.
Kueng and Lane stood Floyd up and attempted to walk him to their squad car at 8:14 p.m. Floyd “stiffened up, fell to the ground, and told the officers he was claustrophobic.”
That’s when Chauvin and Officer Tou Thao arrived in a separate squad car.
“The officers made several attempts to get Mr. Floyd in the backseat of squad 320 from the driver’s side. Mr. Floyd did not voluntarily get in the car and struggled with the officers by intentionally falling down, saying he was not going in the car, and refusing to stand still,” the complaint alleges. “Mr. Floyd is over six feet tall and weighs more than 200 pounds.”
While standing outside the car, Floyd began “saying and repeatedly that he could not breathe.” Chauvin went to the passenger side and “tried to get Mr. Floyd into the car from that side and Lane and Kueng assisted,” according to the complaint.
Chauvin “pulled Mr. Floyd out of the passenger side of the squad car at 8:19:38 p.m. and Mr. Floyd went to the ground face down and still handcuffed,” said the complaint.
It alleged that Kueng held Floyd’s back and Lane held his legs. Chauvin placed his left knee in the area of Floyd’s head and neck. Floyd said, “I can’t breathe” multiple times and repeatedly said, “Mama.”
“The defendant and the other two officers stayed in their positions,” according to the complaint.
The officers said, “You are talking fine,” to Floyd. Lane asked, “should we roll him on his side?” Chauvin allegedly responded, “No, staying put where we got him.”
Lane said, “I am worried about excited delirium or whatever.” Chauvin said, “That’s why we have him on his stomach,” according to the complaint, which added that “none of the three officers moved from their positions.”
The body cam video shows that Floyd continued to move and breathe but stopped moving at 8:24:24.
At 8:25:31, the video appears to show Floyd ceasing to breathe or speak. Lane said, “I want to roll him on his side.” Kueng checked Floyd’s right wrist for a pulse and said, “I couldn’t find one.” None of the officers moved from their positions.
At 8:27:24, Chauvin removed his knee from Floyd’s neck. An ambulance arrived and Floyd was placed on a gurney. Floyd was pronounced dead at Hennepin County Medical Center.
Floyd was originally from Houston, Texas. He was known by the nickname “Big Floyd,” his Facebook page says. The Star-Tribune reported that the initial call came in for someone using a counterfeit bill at a store, Cup Foods, at 3759 Chicago Avenue. When police arrived, they believed Floyd matched the description and found him sitting on the hood of his car, according to the newspaper. Two videos have emerged showing earlier moments before Floyd was restrained.
According to KTSP-TV, both Floyd and Chauvin worked security at El Nuevo Rodeo club, according to the building’s former owner, Maya Santamaria. “Chauvin was our off-duty police for almost the entirety of the 17 years that we were open,” Santamaria said to the television station. “They were working together at the same time, it’s just that Chauvin worked outside and the security guards were inside.” She told KTSP that they “overlapped working security on popular music nights within the last year” but she can’t say for sure that they knew each other.
A community leader said during a press conference, standing next to the chief and mayor, that the death was a “lynching.”
“We are sick and tired of being sick and tired. Too many lives have been taken,” she said. “Yesterday what we saw was a black man who was lynched. They didn’t use rope. He used his knee. And that black man, Mr. Floyd, said I can not breathe. Minnesota prides itself on being progressive, and being the north, but this is the Jim Crow north and we demand justice.”
She said she was thankful to the chief and the mayor “for standing with us. We are standing together as a community. We are a collective, and we will not be divided. We are done dying.”
Heavy reached out to Tom Kelly, the lawyer for Chauvin, and his office said Kelly is not commenting right now on the case and that reporters should direct their questions to the Minneapolis Police Department. Lt. Bob Kroll of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis told CBS Minneapolis: “Now is not the time rush to judgement and immediately condemn our officers. An in-depth investigation is underway. Our officers are fully cooperating. We must review all video. We must wait for the medical examiner’s report.”
In the Troubling Video, Floyd Says, ‘Please, I Can’t Breathe’ as the Officer Keeps His Knee Pinned on the Man’s Neck
A 10-minute video was posted to Facebook by a bystander. It paints an extremely troubling scene of what happened to Floyd. You can watch it above, but be warned that it’s very disturbing.
“Please, I can’t breathe. Please man. Please,” Floyd says, his voice anguished.
The officer, now identified as Chauvin, has his knee on the man’s neck against a squad car, as Floyd continues saying he can’t breathe. There is a second officer standing nearby at the scene and a third next to Chauvin, and bystanders grow increasingly distressed in the video at what they are watching.
“Why you got him down, man. Let him breathe at least, man,” says one bystander to the officers.
Floyd repeats again, several times, “I can’t breathe.” He added, “I can’t move. … My stomach hurts. My neck hurts. Everything hurts. Please, please.”
“His nose is bleeding, c’mon now,” says a passerby. “You’ve got your knee on his neck,” says another bystander.
“How long you’ll gotta hold him down?” says a woman. “You can put him in a car,” says a man.
“That’s bullsh*t bro. … you’re f*cking stopping his breathing,” says a bystander.
People challenged the officer to just put the man in a car. The bystanders call the officer a “bum” and claim he’s stopping Floyd’s breathing.
Partway through the video, Floyd stops talking, but the officer keeps his knee on Floyd’s neck, the video shows.
“He’s not responsive right now,” challenges a bystander.
“Check his pulse,” demands a man.
The second officer, named as Tou Thao, sometimes interacts with the passerby. “Check his pulse. The man ain’t move yet, bro,” demands a bystander.
“He’s not f*cking moving. Get off of his f*cking neck,” the man yells. “Are you serious? Are you serious?”
“He’s black. They don’t care,” says a woman.
Paramedics eventually show up with a gurney after Floyd has gone silent for some time.
“The fact you guys aren’t checking his pulse and doing compression if he needs help?” says an upset woman.
“You just really killed that man, bro,” says a man to Chauvin, who appears unemotional and impassive throughout the video.
Only three officers can be seen in the video, one briefly and barely. However, a photo on Twitter from a different angle appears to show four officers:
The initial headline on the police press release stated, “Man Dies After Medical Incident During Police Interaction.” However, top Minneapolis officials are becoming increasingly critical of the officer.
According to the Star Tribune, police spokesman John Elder said Floyd died at a nearby hospital a short time later. He “suffered a medical episode while struggling with officers,” Elder said a few hours after the incident occurred and said he appeared to be under the influence of either alcohol or another drug, the newspaper reported. However, Elder now says the chokehold was not a department-authorized technique, according to the newspaper, which quoted him as saying, “In my years as an officer, that would not be what I would ever consider a chokehold.”
According to CBS Minneapolis, in Minneapolis, “kneeling on a suspect’s neck is allowed under the department’s use-of-force policy for officers who have received training in how to compress a neck without applying direct pressure to the airway.” However, some police training experts told the station they believed the officer compressed Floyd’s neck for too long because he was under control and not fighting them.
Seth Stoughton is an associate professor at the University of South Carolina School of law, a former Florida police officer and co-author of a book called Evaluating Police Uses of Force. He studies policing and how it is regulated. He spoke to Heavy at length about the case.
“I honestly don’t see a whole lot that went right,” said Stoughton of what he saw in the citizen video showing officers and Floyd. He spoke to Heavy before the charges were released and focused on the dangers of prone positioning.
He said Floyd appeared to be “unconscious for four minutes before Officer Chauvin got off his neck. It took the bystanders about 20 seconds to start saying he was non-responsive. … Officers are under an obligation to monitor the person they’re arresting. Saying we didn’t notice is not a good excuse. You should have. That’s your job. It’s one of the most tragic aspects of this case. I would be expecting officers to be monitoring his vitals, checking his pulse, making sure he has a heartbeat and is still breathing.”
He stressed: “They should have realized there was something wrong.”
What he saw in the video made Stoughton feel “appalled, absolutely appalled.” He continued:
What the officers did in this case was so far from what well-trained professional officers are supposed to do that it was appalling. It was infuriating. The highest priority in policing is supposed to be preserving the sanctity of human life. These officers gave every indication that they could care less about Mr. Floyd and his well-being. It’s simply not appropriate. Officers are under an obligation to protect individuals, including the individuals they arrest.
In the case of Floyd, he said, “The shin was across the neck the entire time. It was completely inappropriate. At one point, you see the officer shift very visibly to put more weight on the shin against the back of Mr. Floyd’s neck.”
He believes “there were multiple things done wrong; that is one of them.” The bigger problem with the police actions, in his opinion, was “keeping someone in a prone position for so long.” It’s a well-known phenomenon to law enforcement that putting a person “face down handcuffed can cause positional or compression asphyxia,” he said. “I would be shocked and appalled if the officers didn’t know about the risks of positional asphyxia. It’s a standard part of police training. After you handcuff someone, you get them out of the prone position, even if you don’t have a knee in their back.” He stressed, though, that the cause of death has still not been determined by the medical examiner and other evidence, both body camera video and non-video evidence, will also be important in understanding what happened to Floyd. You can read more details from Stoughton’s interview with Heavy here.