MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – Prosecutors filed a tougher charge Wednesday against the police officer at the center of the George Floyd case and charged three other officers, delivering a victory to protesters galvanized by a death that roused racial tensions and unleashed coast-to-coast unrest.
The most serious charge was filed against Derek Chauvin, who was caught on video pressing his knee to Floyd’s neck and now must defend himself against an accusation of second-degree murder. The three other officers at the scene – Thomas Lane, J. Kueng and Tou Thao – were charged for the first time with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. All four were fired last week.
The new charges were sought by Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, who called the protests unleashed by the death “dramatic and necessary” and said Floyd “should be here and he is not.”
“His life had value, and we will seek justice,” said Ellison, who cautioned that winning convictions would be hard and said that public pressure had no bearing on his decisions.
Hundreds of protesters were in New York City’s Washington Square Park when the charges were announced.
“It’s not enough,” protester Jonathan Roldan said, insisting all four officers should have been charged from the start. “Right now, we’re still marching because it’s not enough that they got arrested. There needs to be systematic change.”
Benjamin Crump, an attorney for Floyd’s family, called it “a bittersweet moment” and “a significant step forward on the road to justice.” Crump said Elison had told the family he would continue his investigation into Floyd’s death and upgrade the charge to first-degree murder if warranted.
Amy Klobuchar, US senator from Minnesota, announced via Twitter that Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison increased the charges against Chauvin and will be charging the other three officers.
Widely seen bystander video showing Floyd’s death has sparked sometimes violent protests around the world against police brutality and discrimination.
The family’s attorney, Ben Crump, repeated his call for all four officers to be charged.
“He died because he was starving for air,” Crump 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.”
Crump said the other officers — two who helped to restrain Floyd and one who didn’t intervene — failed to protect a man who pleaded for help and said he couldn’t breathe. The Minneapolis Police Department has identified them as Thomas Lane, J.A. Kueng and Tou Thao.
According to the criminal complaint against Chauvin, while Floyd was complaining he couldn’t breathe, Lane asked Chauvin twice if they should roll him on his side. Chauvin said they should keep him on his stomach. Crump said Chauvin’s actions showed intent to kill. And he said the other officers were complicit because they failed to take action.
“We are expecting these officers to be charged as accomplices,” Crump said.
Lane, 37, and Kueng both joined the department in February 2019 and neither had any complaints on their files.
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.
Kueng was a 2018 graduate of the University of Minnesota where he worked part-time as part of the campus security force. He also worked nearly three years as a theft-prevention officer at Macy’s in downtown Minneapolis while he was in college.
Tou 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.
Gov. Tim Walz and the Minnesota Department of Human Rights on Tuesday launched a civil rights investigation of the Minneapolis Police Department and its history of racial discrimination, in hopes of forcing widespread change. Walz made an unannounced visit to the memorial earlier Wednesday.
The official autopsy by the county medical examiner concluded that Floyd’s death was caused by cardiac arrest as police restrained him and compressed his neck. The medical examiner also listed fentanyl intoxication and recent methamphetamine use, but not as the cause of death.
Crump and the Floyd family commissioned a separate autopsy that concluded he died of asphyxiation due to neck and back compression due to Chauvin’s knee on his neck and other responding officers’ knees in his back, which made it impossible for him to breathe.
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