The former Minneapolis Police officer who pressed his knee into George Floyd’s neck was charged on Wednesday with a new, more serious count of second-degree murder, and the three other officers on scene during his killing were charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder.
“I strongly believe that these developments are in the interest of justice for Mr Floyd, his family, our community and our state,” Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said in announcing the charges.
The announcement came more than a week after Mr Floyd was killed while in police custody in Minneapolis, sparking nationwide protests that call for the end to police violence against black citizens.
Derek Chauvin, who pressed his knee into Mr Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, had previously been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
The new second-degree murder charge says that he killed Mr Floyd “without intent” in the course of committing assault in the third degree, according to an amended complaint.
Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng, who helped restrain Mr Floyd, and Tou Thao, who stood near the others, were not initially charged. Lane, 37, Kueng, 26, and Thao, 34, are now charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter.
Second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second-degree murder are punishable by up to 40 years in prison. Manslaughter and aiding and abetting manslaughter are punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
Mr Floyd died while in police custody on May 25 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.Two autopsies on Mr Floyd determined that he died by homicide.
Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo fired the four officers and said they were “complicit” in Mr Floyd’s death, and Mr Floyd’s family and protesters nationwide have called for them to be arrested and convicted for the killing.
According to the video and the criminal complaint, officer Chauvin kept his knee on Mr Floyd’s neck as Mr Floyd pleaded that he could not breathe, as witnesses protested that he was dying, and even as Lane twice asked to turn him onto his side. Still, officer Chauvin kept his knee in position for almost three minutes after Mr Floyd became unresponsive, the complaint states.
Family says charges are bittersweet
Benjamin Crump, an attorney for the Floyd family, said on Twitter that the family was gratified with the new charges.
“This is a bittersweet moment. We are deeply gratified that (Ellison) took decisive action, arresting & charging ALL the officers involved in #GeorgeFloyd’s death & upgrading the charge against Derek Chauvin to felony second-degree murder,” he said.
Still, he said that he believes officer Chauvin should be charged with first-degree murder, which requires intent.
“We are relieved it has been upgraded to second-degree murder but the Attorney General has informed the family the investigation is ongoing, and if there is evidence to support first-degree murder conviction, they will charge it,” Mr Crump said.
At the press conference, the Attorney General insisted that the protests did not influence the charges.
“I did not allow public pressure to impact our decision-making process,” he said.
“We made these decisions based on the facts that we gathered since this matter occurred and made these charges based on the law that we think applies,” he added.