Derek Chauvin, 44, a former Minneapolis police officer who was previously charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter for the death of George Floyd, had his charge upgraded to second-degree murder on Wednesday, while three other former officers were charged with aiding and abetting Floyd's murder.
The charges come just two days after Minnesota’s Attorney General Keith Ellison took over prosecution of the case from Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman.
"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. “I’m the lead prosecutor on the state’s case and I will be speaking for it — and this is absolutely a team effort. I’ve assembled a strong team. We have one goal and one goal only: justice for George Floyd.”
Chauvin was recorded kneeling into the neck of Floyd, a 46-year-old African American man, who died in police custody on Monday 25 when he stopped breathing.
Ellison said he and Freeman also filed charges against former Minneapolis officers J. Alexander Kueng, 26, Thomas Lane, 37, and Tou Thao, 34, of aiding and abetting second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter for their role in Floyd’s death.
The complaints allege that on the evening of May 25, the officers arrested Floyd at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis. Chauvin used an unauthorized restraint technique in which he pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck to restrict his movement while Floyd was handcuffed and laying on the pavement.
Lane and Kueng held Floyd by the legs and hips to further restrict his movement while Thao stood guard to prevent members of the public, who gathered nearby to witness the police action, from intervening. Chauvin was arrested on May 28 and remains in custody, which Kueng, Lane, and Thao were arrested Wednesday and remain in custody.
The recent charges and arrest of the officers satisfied a demand from protesters nationwide who have been marching for days and calling for justice in the streets.
“To the Floyd family, to our beloved community, and everyone that is watching, I say: George Floyd mattered. He was loved. His life was important. His life had value. We will seek justice for him and for you, and we will find it,” Ellison said.
“The very fact that we have filed these charges means that we believe in them. But what I do not believe is that one successful prosecution can rectify the hurt and loss that so many people feel. The solution to that pain will be in the slow and difficult work of constructing justice and fairness in our society,” he said.
Chauvin is being held at the Minnesota Department of Corrections facility in Oak Park. His bail was increased to $1 million Wednesday, according to court documents. Lane, Kueng and Thao are also being held on $1 million bail.
In a statement on Twitter Wednesday, Benjamin Crump, the attorney for the Floyd family, said his clients were “deeply gratified” by the charges and the arrests.
“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 statement said.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz who appointed Ellison to take over the case called the charges a “meaningful step toward justice.”
"The charges announced by Attorney General Keith Ellison today are a meaningful step toward justice for George Floyd. But we must also recognize that the anguish driving protests around the world is about more than one tragic incident," he said in a statement.
"George Floyd's death is the symptom of a disease. We will not wake up one day and have the disease of systemic racism cured for us. This is on each of us to solve together, and we have hard work ahead. We owe that much to George Floyd, and we owe that much to each other,” he added.