The charge against the officer who pressed his knee on George Floyd’s neck has been upgraded and three other officers were also charged.
The former Minneapolis police officer who pressed his knee into the neck of George Floyd has had his charge upgraded to second-degree murder.
The three other police officers present at the scene during the killing have been charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder.
Derek Chauvin, the officer at the centre of the investigation, had previously been charged with third-degree murder.
This is the first time police have levelled any charges against the three other officers at the scene. They are now being taken into custody, and will face the same potential maximum sentence as Mr Chauvin.
“We are working together on this case with only one goal — justice for George Floyd,” Minnesota Attorney-General Keith Ellison said at a media conference.
He thanked the Minnesota community for giving prosecutors “the time and space we needed” to investigate Mr Floyd’s death and settle on the correct charges.
“I now ask for continued patience. This case continues to be under investigation. We will not be able to say very much publicly, except that we encourage anyone who believes they have evidence to come forward and be cooperative,” Mr Ellison said.
“Our job is to seek justice and to obtain a conviction, not to make statements to the press.
“I also ask for your trust that we are pursuing justice by every legal and ethical means available to us.
“The investigation is ongoing, we are following the path of all the evidence, wherever it leads.”
He said prosecutors would work as “quickly and thoroughly” as possible, but it would take “months”.
“The reason thoroughness is important is because every single link in the prosecutorial chain must be strong,” he said, pointing out that only once before has a police officer from Minnesota been successfully tried for murder.
“Trying this case will not be an easy thing. Winning a conviction will be hard.
“I say this not because we doubt our resources or our ability. In fact we’re confident in what we’re doing. But history does show that there are clear challenges here.
“It is better to make sure that we have a solid case, fully investigated, before we go to trial, than to rush it.”
Reporters asked why Mr Chauvin had not been charged with the higher offence of first-degree murder. Mr Ellison explained that such a charge would require premeditation to be proven.
The second-degree charge will be easier to prove, given it covers an “unintentional” death caused during an underlying felony offence – in this case, assault.
Mr Ellison also addressed the continuing protests across the United States, which were sparked by Mr Floyd’s death and are focused on discrimination against African-Americans by law enforcement.
He said the protests were important and in the public interest, but the “public pressure” had played no role in prosecutors’ decision-making.
“George Floyd mattered. He was loved. His family was important. His life had value. And we will seek justice for him, and for you,” he said.
“The solution to that pain will be slow and difficult work of constructing justice and fairness in our society. That work is the work of all of us. We don’t need to wait for the resolution of this case to start that work.
“The demonstrations and protests are dramatic and necessary, but building just institutions is more about slow grind – but equally important.
“These charges are based on the facts that we have found, and we’re going to pursue them.”
Chauvin was fired on May 26 and initially charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The three other officers involved were also fired but were not immediately charged.
Before news of the upgraded charges broke, a lawyer for Mr Chauvin said he was not making any statements at this time. Lawyers for the other officers, Mr Thao, Mr Lane and Mr Kueng, did not return messages seeking comment on the charges.
Lawyer Ben Crump tweeted that the Floyd family was “deeply gratified” by Ellison’s action and called it “a source of peace for George’s family in this difficult time”.
He said Mr Ellison had told the family his office would continue to investigate and upgrade charges against Mr Chauvin to first-degree murder if warranted.
Reached by phone, Mr Crump declined to speak beyond the statement or make clear when Mr Ellison had spoken with the family and whether he had been informed directly that additional charges had been filed.
Mr Floyd’s family and protesters have repeatedly called for criminal charges against all four officers as well as more serious charges for Mr Chauvin, who held his knee to Mr Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes.
He did that despite Mr Floyd’s protests that he couldn’t breathe, and stayed there even after Mr Floyd stopped moving.
Mr Floyd was in handcuffs when he died with his face pressed to the street.
Earlier today, Mr Crump demanded that all four officers be charged.
“He died because he was starving for air,” he said.
“He needed a breath. So we are demanding justice. We expect all of the police officers to be arrested before we have the memorial here in Minneapolis, Minnesota, tomorrow.”
Mr Crump said the other officers failed to protect a man who was pleading for help and said he couldn’t breathe.
He pointed to the criminal complaint against Mr Chauvin, which said that while Mr Floyd was complaining he couldn’t breathe, Mr Lane twice asked Mr Chauvin whether they should roll him on his side.
Mr Chauvin said they should keep him on his stomach.
“To us that is intent,” Mr Crump said. And he said the other officers were complicit because they failed to take action.
Personnel records released by the city show Mr Chauvin served as a military policeman in the US Army in the late 1990s.
Since being hired as a police officer in 2001, he has been awarded two medals of valour – one for being part of a group of officers who opened fire on a stabbing suspect after the man pointed a shotgun at them in 2006, and one for apprehending another man in a domestic incident in 2008.
In the latter incident, Mr Chauvin broke down a bathroom door and shot the man in the stomach.
Mr Chauvin was reprimanded in 2008 for pulling a woman out of her car, frisking her and placing her in his own police car after he stopped her for speeding 10 miles per hour over the limit.
His dashboard camera was not activated and a report said he could have interviewed the woman while standing outside her car.
That is one of 17 previous complaints against him throughout his career.
Mr Lane, 37, and Mr Kueng both joined the department in February 2019 and neither have any complaints on their files.
Mr Lane previously worked as a correctional officer at the Hennepin County Juvenile Jail and as a probation officer at a residential treatment facility for adolescent boys.
Mr Kueng was a 2018 graduate of the University of Minnesota where he worked part-time on campus security. He also worked as a theft-prevention officer at Macy’s in downtown Minneapolis while he was in college.
Mr Thao, a native Hmong speaker, joined the police force as a part-time community service officer in 2008 and was promoted to police officer in 2009. He was laid off later that year due to budget cuts and rehired in 2012.
The Minnesota Department of Human Rights has launched a civil rights investigation of the Minneapolis Police Department and its history of racial discrimination, in the hope of forcing widespread change.
— with AP