Frey: Charge cop who restrained Floyd; state leaders vow action

A man speaks at a press conference.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey calls on Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman to charge the officer in the death of George Floyd as he speaks during a press conference Wednesday at the City Hall.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Updated 7:20 p.m.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey took the unusual step Wednesday of calling on county prosecutors to charge the city police officer who kept his knee on the neck of George Floyd as he took the man into custody on Memorial Day. Floyd later died.

“We watched for five whole, excruciating minutes as a white officer firmly pressed his knee into the neck of an unarmed, handcuffed black man,” an emotional Frey said of the video that surfaced and led the city to immediately fire four officers Tuesday.

“I saw no threat. I saw nothing that would signal that this kind of force was necessary,” he told reporters. “If you had done it, or I had done it, we would be behind bars right now.”

Frey would not say what he thought the charge should be, only that he conveyed his belief to Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman.

Hours later, Gov. Tim Walz and other state leaders vowed a thorough investigation into what happened.

“George Floyd didn’t deserve to die,” the governor said. “But George Floyd does deserve justice.”

John Harrington, the state’s public safety commissioner, vowed a prompt and complete investigation by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, which he oversees. He called on anyone in the public who had information on the matter to contact the BCA.

Those state investigators will eventually present their information to Freeman’s office to consider charges.

“We will make sure that this is not an investigation that lags,” Harrington said.

Prosecutors typically wait until investigations are complete before charging anyone with a crime. The Minnesota BCA is leading this investigation. The FBI is probing for possible federal civil rights violations.

The names of the four officers fired were released after Frey spoke. They are Derek Chauvin, Tou Thao, Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng. The police department did not say which officer was the one kneeling on Floyd’s neck.

Chauvin was involved in at least two fatal shootings, in 2006 and 2008. In both cases, the use of force was found to be justified. There are a dozen complaints in his personnel file, although they're not public because he didn't face discipline.

Thao and another officer were sued over a claim of excessive force in 2017. The lawsuit was settled for $25,000. Thao has five complaints against him, and one is still open.

A man speaks at a press conference.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey calls on Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman to charge an officer in the death of George Floyd as he speaks during a press conference.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Freeman’s office said prosecutors were “shocked and saddened” by what they saw in the video. They promised a “thorough, expedited review” for possible charges once the investigation ends.

Speaking to reporters at Cape Canaveral, Fla., President Trump called the arrest in Minneapolis “a very, very sad event" and said his administration was going to “look at it.” Later the day, he tweeted that “at my request, the FBI and the Department of Justice are already well into an investigation,” and that he has asked for the investigation to be expedited.

Frey said he had not seen any footage from police body cameras or any other evidence not yet publicly available. He vowed to seek the public release of the body camera video as quickly as possible without compromising the investigation.

Asked about protests Tuesday night that turned violent, the mayor said most were peaceful but that he supported Police Chief Medaria Arradondo’s decision to use tear gas and other anti-riot measures against protesters.

“Right now, more than ever, I get the need to protest,” Frey said. “People need a way to vent, especially in a time of such sorrow and anger.

Protesters gather for a second day of protesting following death of George Floyd
by Tim Nelson | MPR News

But he said the “rights must stop” when others are put at risk.

Frey said that protesters were attempting to break into police squads that contained weapons and live ammo and that the chief “could not run the risk of one tragedy leading to another. … I trust his judgment.”

Arradondo echoed those sentiments in a press conference later Wednesday afternoon, saying that while most protesters were peaceful, others were not. He said there were about five arrests for burglary near the protests. He didn’t have a cost of the damages to police property.

“I realize that many right now in our city are experiencing trauma and a range of emotions,” he said but some have “disregarded the notion of respect for other people’s personal safety.”

The chief also acknowledged Floyd’s death is a setback in efforts to build trust between the police and citizens. It’s important, he added, “when things go wrong that we own it and we stand up and hold ourselves accountable and we look our community in the eye and say we’re going to do better.”

Separately on Wednesday, the Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training called the restraint technique used in the video “troubling and disturbing” and that it does “not appear to reflect the training that students receive when attending any of the institutions that make up our Minnesota Professional Peace Officer Education System.”

Joan Gabel, president of the University of Minnesota, Wednesday evening announced that the school will no longer contract with the Minneapolis Police Department for law enforcement support for large events and specialized services like K-9 explosive detection units. Joint patrols and investigations will continue, Gabel said.

“I do not have the words to fully express my pain and anger and I know that many in our community share those feelings, but also fear for their safety,” she said in a letter to members of the university community. “This will not stand. … We have a responsibility to uphold our values and a duty to honor them.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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