MINNEAPOLIS — Charges against former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin were elevated Wednesday. Three other former officers were charged for their involvement in the death of George Floyd.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison and Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman filed criminal complaints against former officers Tou Thao, J Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane charging them with aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter.
Chauvin was previously charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Chauvin, who was caught on video restraining Floyd by kneeling on his neck despite pleas from Floyd that he couldn’t breathe, is charged with second-degree murder.
"I say George Floyd mattered, he was loved, his family was important, his life had value, and we will seek justice for him and for you and we will find it," Ellison said at a news conference Wednesday as he announced the new charges.
The revised criminal complaint against Chauvin filed Wednesday says Chauvin, Lange and Kueng restrained Floyd prone to the ground with a knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
"During this time, Mr. Floyd repeatedly stated he could not breathe and his physical condition continued to deteriorate such that force was no longer necessary to control him," the complaint said. "The defendant had his knee on Mr. Floyd's neck for eight 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 subject in a prone position is inherently dangerous. 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."
Criminal complaints issued against Thao, Lang and Kueng charge each of them with one count of aiding and abetting second-degree murder, and one of aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter. Both charges are felony level. The complaint details how none of the three officers took action to assist Floyd, change his position or reduce the force Chauvin was using. In fact, the complaint alleges that none of the three officers moved from their positions as Floyd pleaded for help.
Minnesota BCA Superintendent Drew Evans said that one of those officers is in custody, and two are expected to be in custody Wednesday afternoon.
Gov. Tim Walz asked Ellison to take over leading the investigation on Sunday, in partnership with Freeman's office. On Wednesday, Ellison said that Freeman's team did an "excellent job" gathering facts, and that Freeman has been a "true partner" every step of the way.
Ellison asked the public for patience as he said building the case will take months, and they will not be able to say much publicly while they do it.
"Every single link in the prosecutorial chain must be strong," he said. "It needs to be strong because trying this case will not be an easy thing. Winning a conviction will be hard."
Ellison pointed out that Freeman is the only Minnesota prosecutor who has won a murder conviction for a police officer - that of Mohamed Noor in the death of Justine Ruszczyk Damond.
"History does show that there are clear challenges here, and we are going to be working very hard," Ellison said.
While Floyd family attorney Benjamin Crump and many protesters have called for a first-degree murder charge, Ellison said Wednesday that a first-degree charge requires premeditation and deliberation. Second-degree intentional murder means the person had to intend for death to be the result. He explained the charge he filed against Chauvin - second-degree unintentional murder while committing a felony - by saying that his team will contend that "George Floyd was assaulted, and so that would be the underlying felony."
Crump Esq. took to Twitter after the decision to upgrade the charges and thanked Ellison.
"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" the tweet said.
"This is a significant step forward on the road to justice, and we are gratified that this important action was brought before George Floyd’s body was laid to rest," Crump said later in a statement. "That is a source of peace for George’s family in this painful time. Attorney General Ellison has informed the family that his office will continue to investigate and will upgrade the charges to first-degree murder if the evidence supports it."
Demonstrators across the country and the globe have demanded charges against the three other officers who responded to the call that ended in Floyd’s death.
Crump called the three men complicit while speaking with reporters Wednesday morning. He said the criminal complaint revealed that one of the officers told Chauvin that Floyd did not have a pulse, and asked if they should roll the man on his side. Crump said awareness that Floyd was in serious trouble, combined with the failure to act, made the three culpable in the death.
Ellison said in the news conference Wednesday that public pressure, and the scheduled memorial service for George Floyd on Thursday, did not influence his charging decision.
"I was prepared to withstand whatever calls came," he said. "We made these decisions on the facts that we have gathered since this matter occurred and made the charges based on the law that we think applies."
To the protesters around the world watching the Floyd case, Ellison offered a message of encouragement to continue working for justice and systemic change in their own communities.
"There’s a lot more to do than just this case, and we ask people to do that," he said.
Ellison asked for the public's trust that his team and Freeman's team are pursuing justice, but he said that the "origin of the trust problem" is historical under prosecution of public guardians.
"I feel a tremendous sense of weight," he said. "I feel this is a very serious moment. I can honestly tell you I take no joy in this but I do feel a tremendous sense of duty and responsibility."
All four officers were fired by Mayor Jacob Frey and Police Chief Medaria Arradondo the day after the video of the deadly encounter surfaced on social media.
Chauvin is being held at the maximum-security Oak Park Heights Correctional Facility, after being transferred there due to concerns about his safety, and potential exposure to COVID-19.