Floyd killing: 2nd-degree murder count for Chauvin; 3 other ex-cops charged

Paintings flowers and balloons at a memorial.
A makeshift memorial of flowers and messages fill the sidewalk at the memorial site for George Floyd outside Cup Foods in Minneapolis on Wednesday.
Judy Griesedieck for MPR News

Updated 7:53 p.m.

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison on Wednesday added a second-degree murder charge to the counts against ex-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in the killing of George Floyd. He also charged the three other officers fired in the incident.

“The investigation is ongoing. We are following the path of all the evidence, wherever it leads,” Ellison told reporters as he announced the charges and pleaded with the public for patience in the probe.

A man speaking in front of two flags at a press conference.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison during his Wednesday press conference.
Judy Griesedieck for MPR News

“Winning a conviction will be hard,” he cautioned.

“We’re confident in what we’re doing, but history does show there are clear challenges” in convicting police officers for murder.

History was also on the mind of Gov. Tim Walz, who spoke later in the day on the charges and what he described as a singular opportunity in the state's history to break the chain of “systemic racism and the lack of accountability up and down our society that led to a daytime murder of a black man on a street in Minneapolis.”

‘The right charges’

Chauvin was initially charged by Hennepin County prosecutors with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in Floyd’s killing while in police custody last week. Chauvin was the officer seen in bystander video pressing his knee against a prone, handcuffed Floyd as the man pleaded for air.

The Hennepin County Medical Examiner ruled Floyd’s death a homicide.

Beyond the upgraded murder charge against Chauvin, the attorney general also filed charges of aiding and abetting murder against the other three ex-Minneapolis officers — Thomas Lane, Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng.

J. Alexander Kueng, from left, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao
J. Alexander Kueng, from left, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao.
Hennepin County Sheriff's Office via AP

All three are in custody this afternoon, according to Hennepin County jail records.

Chauvin was arrested earlier in the week. Bail for all four officers has been set at $1 million. Chauvin’s first hearing is June 8.

Separately, Walz announced the curfew would be extended two more nights, from 10 p.m. Wednesday to 4 a.m. Thursday, with the same curfew hours Thursday overnight into Friday.

Floyd’s death sparked protests in the Twin Cities and around the world after the bystander video surfaced showing Chauvin with his knee on Floyd’s neck in the street at Chicago Avenue and 38th Street.

The sight of a white officer pushing down for nearly nine minutes on the neck of an already subdued black man was one more sign to many of structural racism against people of color.

Two people at a press conference.
George Floyd's attorney son Quincy Mason Floyd looks at attorney Ben Crump during a press conference in Minneapolis.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Floyd family attorney Ben Crump called news of the upgraded and added charges “a bittersweet moment” and said the family was “deeply gratified.”

He had initially pressed for a first-degree murder charge.

Ellison on Wednesday said that first-degree murder in Minnesota requires premeditation. Chauvin’s second-degree murder charge involves unintentional killing while committing a felony. Ellison said in this case the felony was an assault on Floyd.

“We believe these are the right charges,” he said.

‘Our last shot’

The new charges arrived hours after Walz made an unannounced visit to the south Minneapolis intersection where Floyd was killed while in police custody.

Later in the day, at a wide ranging press briefing, Walz and other leaders spoke in broad terms about the way society needs to change.

The governor challenged Minnesotans to fix the systemic racism that’s at the root of longstanding disparities in education, home ownership, health, and other measures that have long plagued Minnesota.

“I think this is probably our last shot as a state and a nation to fix this systemic issue,” he said.

With a legislative special session starting next week, he said there’s a unique opportunity to pass policy changes around such issues as bail reform, or training more teachers of color. 

“Our proposals are going to mirror what’s coming out of the community,” he said, saying the legislature should stay in session for as long as is needed to make real change. “I could see us staying there until we get her done.”

Reflecting on his morning visit to Chicago Avenue and 38th Street, near the intersection where Floyd was killed, Walz called it a powerful experience. “You need to go down there and feel it, so you understand the sense of urgency of the change that has to happen,” he said. “Then it becomes very personal.”

Civil rights probe

Walz’s visit to the south Minneapolis intersection came a day after his human rights commissioner launched a broad investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department in the wake of Floyd’s killing, which sparked more than a week of protests across the nation calling for the United States to address structural racism and inequality, including violence and discrimination by police. 

The probe of Minneapolis police will scrutinize the last decade of the city’s policing — including policies, procedure, training and practices — looking for patterns of discrimination against people of color. Human Rights Commissioner Rebecca Lucero said she would seek quick changes in the department while examining long-term structural problems. 

Human Rights Commissioner Rebecca Lucero on MPD probe
by Cathy Wurzer

Among the changes needed are an overhaul of the state police licensing board, subpoena power for civilian review boards and a set of “integrity standards” for officers where they can be fired for not telling the truth, said Justin Terrell, executive director of the Council for Minnesotans of African Heritage.

He dismissed the idea that police problems are the result of a few bad apples. “We often hear the rotten apple example. We’re dealing with a cancer. This is what’s going on with law enforcement right now,” Terrell said.

He said he found it frustrating to discover officers tied to the Floyd case had histories of complaints against them.

"It makes no sense that you would continue to give someone with that many complaints a badge and a gun to patrol my neighborhood,” Terrell said. “Send them to your neighborhood if you have that much faith in them.”

The investigation is a way to transform policing in Minnesota so a killing like Floyd’s won’t happen again, said state leaders, including Walz. 

"This window of opportunity opened. … It won't stay open for long,” Walz said, vowing that the effort won’t end in a report tossed on a dusty shelf. 

John Harrington, the public safety commissioner and former St. Paul police chief and officer, said he supported the review and that policing needed to return to its community roots.

“The cops I’ve worked with since 1977 will tell you they want change,” said Harrington, who is black. “They don't want to work in a flawed system. They don't want to have to be wearing gas masks. They don't want to have to be on riot patrol duty."

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said he supported the investigation into his Police Department.

ACLU sues over treatment of reporters during protests

The American Civil Liberties Union is suing the city of Minneapolis and the Minnesota State Patrol over law enforcement's treatment of journalists covering recent protests.

The ACLU is seeking a temporary restraining order in federal court to stop what it calls "an extraordinary escalation of unlawful force deliberately targeting reporters."

"The press are under assault in our city and we've seen numerous documented incidences of deliberate abuse against journalists by law enforcement officers, and that has to stop," said Teresa Nelson, legal director for the Minnesota chapter of the ACLU.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of a freelance journalist who was hit in the face with a projectile. Nelson said other journalists covering the protests have been tear gassed, hit with rubber bullets and arrested, even though they were carrying press credentials and identified themselves as journalists.

Family seeks justice for Floyd; memorial set for Thursday

A woman cries as a man holds a young child.
George Floyd's 6-year-old daughter Gianna Floyd looks at her mother Roxie Washington during a press conference with Floyd's friend Stephen Jackson on Tuesday at Minneapolis City Hall.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Roxie Washington, the mother of Floyd’s daughter, spoke through tears at a news conference on Tuesday, calling for justice in his killing. 

“I want everybody to know that this is what those officers took. … I want justice for him. No matter what anyone thinks, he was good. And this is the proof he was a good man,” she said, motioning toward her 6-year-old daughter.

Floyd was born in North Carolina but spent most of his life in Houston, where Washington is from. She said that Floyd loved his daughter and kept a connection with her after he moved to the Twin Cities several years ago.

“Gianna does not have a father,” Washington said. “He will never see her grow up, graduate. He will never walk her down the aisle. If there’s a problem she has and she needs her dad, she does not have that anymore.”

The memorial services to honor George Floyd will be held in three cities over six days, with a chance for mourners to pay their respects in the communities where he was born, grew up, and died — Houston, Raeford, N.C., and Minneapolis.

A private memorial service for Floyd is set for Thursday at North Central University in Minneapolis. The Rev. Al Sharpton will deliver the eulogy, and other family members plan to speak.

A university representative reiterated Wednesday that the service is invitation-only and not open to the public.

Another night of curfew, calmer protests

The Twin Cities saw its fourth night of calm Tuesday following last week’s unrest. A curfew was in effect overnight Tuesday until 4 a.m. Wednesday. 

Earlier this week, Walz announced a pullback in National Guard operations. Maj. Gen. Jon Jensen, head of the Minnesota National Guard, confirmed the Guard will begin pulling back some of the 7,000 members currently mobilized but cautioned “this is not an order to return the entire organization back home” and that it could be reversed if situations warrant.

Late Wednesday afternoon, Jensen said the number of troops has been reduced from about 7,000 to around 5,000. He said morale is high.

"Things are getting better. Things are improving,” he told reporters. “We are proud to be part of that.”

With the increased peace, Metro Transit resumed its bus and Northstar Commuter Rail services Wednesday and is restarting the Blue and Green light rail lines Thursday morning. All had been temporarily suspended amid the metro area’s unrest. 

Minneapolis Public Schools sever ties with city police

The district’s board voted Tuesday night to end its relationship with the Minneapolis Police Department, which had been scrutinized for years.

The district's recent budget put over $1 million toward funding 11 school resource officers. 

Community members, some school leaders and the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers had called for the district to cut ties with the police. 

“The officers of the Minneapolis Police Department have demonstrated they do not share that value with the educators, families, or students of Minneapolis. We call on the district to sever all financial ties with the department, including school resource officers. Instead, our district should spend its money on people who can meet the needs of our students, including providers of mental health supports and education support professionals,” two union leaders said ahead of the vote. 

In a statement, Deputy Chief Erick Fors said police “appreciated the opportunity” to work with Minneapolis schools over the years.

“We will continue to work in cooperation with the Minneapolis Public Schools regarding safety and security issues,” he said.

The University of Minnesota took a similar action last week

Former chief calls cop union head a ‘disgrace’ 

The head of the Minneapolis police union is saying the four officers involved in Floyd’s killing last week were fired without due process, suggesting the officers may try to get their jobs back. Much of the blame for Minneapolis police culture has fallen on Lt. Bob Kroll, the controversial head of the union.

Former Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau called Kroll a “disgrace to the badge" as she shared publicly a letter he wrote to union members. In the letter, Kroll said officers were being made scapegoats for violence in the wake of Floyd's death.

Harteau said the union needs to recognize officer wrongdoing and work toward changing the culture to prevent future tragedies.

On Wednesday afternoon, Walz said he was disappointed with Kroll’s statement saying the union chief was fighting for the jobs of the officers fired around Floyd’s killing.

“The labor unions that I know [should be] there to protect George Floyd, not those charged with the murder of George Floyd,” Walz said.

Extremists used Floyd’s death to start violence, feds say

There is new evidence that extremists may have targeted the state during demonstrations over Floyd’s killing.

Politico obtained a memo issued to law enforcement by the Department of Homeland Security that said white supremacists urged others to shoot into crowds of demonstrators and provoke more violence in Minneapolis. 

Corrections Commissioner Paul Schnell, who’s part of the state leadership responding to the crisis, declined to discuss details, but acknowledged the state had responded to the report.

“There has been talk of various different groups so we are mindful of this, and therefore we take the actions to protect these core and critical infrastructure sites,” he said.

In recent days, Minneapolis and St. Paul residents have found incendiary items and other objects of violence, including a salad dressing jar filled with gasoline, around their homes.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Before you go...

MPR News is dedicated to bringing you clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives when we need it most. We rely on your help to do this. Your donation has the power to keep MPR News strong and accessible to all during this crisis and beyond.