Officer Derek Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer who held down George Floyd for several minutes by pinning his knee on Floyd’s neck while Floyd exclaimed he couldn’t breathe, is now charged with second-degree murder. Three other officers who were involved in the arrest are also charged for their role in Floyd’s death.
After Floyd died in police custody on May 25 in an incident caught on bystander video, all four officers were fired. On May 29, Chauvin was originally charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter, while no charges had been filed against the other officers at the scene, Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane.
Thao, Kueng and Lane are now charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and with aiding and abetting second-degree murder manslaughter with culpable negligence. Both charges are categorized as “unintentional” felonies.
Attorney General Keith Ellison made the announcement Wednesday at a press conference. Ellison took over the case on May 31. Governor Tim Walz tweeted about Ellison taking the case, saying in part, “I can think of nobody better to do this critical work.”
Officials said one of the three newly charged officers was in custody and the other two were in the process of being charged.
Having @AGEllison lead this prosecution keeps faith with our commitment to ensure justice for George Floyd. Thank you, Attorney General. I can think of nobody better to do this critical work.https://t.co/WTN61TTb9X
— Governor Tim Walz (@GovTimWalz) June 1, 2020
Attorney Benjamin Crump also reacted to the news on Twitter, saying on behalf of Floyd’s family that the charges are “bittersweet” and that they are “deeply gratified” that all of the officers will now be charged for their roles in Floyd’s death from asphyxiation.
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
— Benjamin Crump, Esq. (@AttorneyCrump) June 3, 2020
Chauvin Now Faces 40 Years in Prison if Convicted of 2nd-Degree Murder
According to Minnesota law, a second-degree charge differs from a third-degree charge largely in intent. With a third-degree charge, it is accepted that the perpetrator did not have the intent to kill. The charge carries a maximum of 25 years in prison.
With the second-degree murder charge, Chauvin faces up to 40 years in prison if convicted. This level of charge can be filed “when a defendant intentionally kills another human being but the murder is not premeditated. Second-degree murder may result when a person kills out of an intense emotional response or impulse … or killing someone unintentionally,” according to HG Law.
The law says of all murder charges, “Murder is charged when a person is killed and the defendant has an indifference to the sanctity of human life.”
Minnesota does not have a death penalty.
If Convicted of Aiding and Abetting, Former Officers Thao, Kueng & Lane Could Be Sentenced to up to 10 Years in Prison
According to the Research Department of the Minnesota House of Representatives, aiding and abetting charges can be filed when “a person who helps another commit a crime can be held responsible, or liable, for the other person’s actions.”
House Researcher Ben Johnson wrote, “Simply being present at the scene of a crime does not make a person an accomplice. However, an accomplice does not have to actively participate in the crime. A jury can infer that someone at the scene of a crime intended that presence to offer support based on the person’s actions before, during, and after that crime.”
According to the complaints, Kueng, Lane and Thao all face up to 10 years in prison, a $20,000 fine or both.
Ellison said in the press conference Wednesday, “About nine days ago, the world watched Floyd utter his very last words, ‘I can’t breathe,’ as he pled for his life. The world heard Floyd call out for his mama, and cried out, ‘Don’t kill me.’”
Still, he said a conviction would be hard, remarking that only one police officer had ever been convicted of murder in Minnesota, which is why they are going to be thorough and take their time building their case.
Historically, convictions of law enforcement officers who kill African Americans are rare.