The Hennepin County prosecutor had already arrested Derek Chauvin, the former police officer seen kneeling on Floyd’s neck, last week, charging him with third-degree murder and manslaughter. Ellison’s office is also upgrading the charges against Chauvin to include second-degree murder without intent, in addition to the existing charges. Chauvin’s bail, which was previously set at $500,000, is now $1 million.
At a press conference announcing the charges in St Paul on Wednesday, Ellison, who is Black, addressed the pain of Minneapolis residents reeling from Floyd’s death and the overall pattern of racist policing practices.
“George Floyd mattered. He was loved. His family was important. His life mattered,” Ellison said. “And we will seek justice for him and for you.”
“But what I do not believe is that one successful prosecution can rectify the hurt and loss that so many people feel,” he added. “The solution to that pain will be slow and difficult work of constructing justice and fairness in our society.”
As of Wednesday afternoon, the state had arrested one of the three former officers and was in the process of arresting the other two, Drew Evans, Minnesota’s superintendent of the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, said at a the press conference.
Ellison did not discuss the evidence the state had used to determine whether to bring charges and which charges to press.
Asked why the state chose to upgrade Chauvin’s charge to second-degree murder, rather than first-degree murder as Floyd’s family had requested, Ellison said the state felt that the killing did not meet the standard for “pre-meditation and deliberation” required to charge someone with first-degree murder. The state is instead accusing Chauvin of committing felony assault and, in the process, killing Floyd without prior intention to do so.
Ellison, a lawyer who represented needy defendants in criminal cases prior to winning elected office, said that attorneys in his office with prosecutorial experience would be trying the case on behalf of the state of Minnesota.
“The reason thoroughness is important is because 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.”
Ben Crump, an attorney for Floyd’s family, applauded the announcement in a statement.
“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.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz (D) tapped Ellison, a former progressive congressman and civil rights attorney, on Sunday to take over the case from Hennepin County prosecutor Mike Freeman. Walz said he made the decision to put Ellison in charge after consulting with Floyd’s family.
Floyd was killed on May 25 after the officers arrested him for allegedly attempting to make a purchase at a store with a fraudulent $20 bill. As seen in video of Floyd’s arrest, Chauvin used his knee to hold Floyd down by the neck even as Floyd’s pleads, “Please, man, I can’t breathe.”
Chauvin kept his knee on Floyd, who was apparently in handcuffs, even after he stopped speaking and moving. He remained there as onlookers shouted at other officers to attend to Floyd.
In another video, three other officers can be seen crowding around Floyd, who is on the floor, during the arrest.
According to the Minneapolis Police Department, Floyd was pronounced dead shortly after arriving at a hospital.
Chauvin, Thao, Lane and Keung were fired from the police department, but protesters and community leaders demanded that the officers be arrested and charged with murder.
The Minneapolis Police Department initially claimed that Floyd was physically resisting arrest. However, surveillance footage obtained by CNN which captured a portion of the arrest does not support that claim.
Senator Amy Klobuchar, a former Hennepin County prosecutor, hailed the decision on Twitter as “another important step for justice.”
The Fraternal Order of Police denounced Floyd’s arrest and killing in an official statement last week.
“I do not believe this incident should be allowed to define our profession or the Minneapolis Police Department, but there is no doubt that this incident has diminished the trust and respect our communities have for the men and women of law enforcement,” Fraternal Order of Police President Patrick Yoes said in a statement.
“Based on the by-stander’s video from this incident, we witnessed a man in distress pleading for help,” Yoes said. “The fact that he was a suspect in custody is immaterial—police officers should at all times render aid to those who need it. Police officers need to treat all of our citizens with respect and understanding and should be held to the very highest standards for their conduct.”
During an interview with CNN last week, Floyd’s brother, Philonise Floyd, called for the protests to remain peaceful but he also said demonstrators were “torn and hurt because they’re tired of seeing Black men die. Constantly, over and over again.”
“These officers, they need to be arrested right now. They need to be arrested and held accountable about everything because these people want justice right now,” Philonise Floyd told CNN, calling for the death penalty.
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