Three former Minneapolis police officers were charged Wednesday with aiding and abetting murder in connection with the death of George Floyd in their custody, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison announced Wednesday.
Derek Chauvin, a fourth former officer who had already been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, will now also be charged with second-degree murder, Ellison said.
"We are here today because George Floyd is not here," Ellison, a Democrat, said at a news conference in St. Paul, Minnesota, announcing the charges. Ellison predicted that the prosecution of the officers could take months, and urged the public to be patient as his office builds cases.
"George Floyd mattered. He was loved. His family was important. His life had value. And we will seek justice for him and for you," Ellison said. He noted that winning the cases "will not be an easy thing. Winning a conviction will be hard."
"In order to be thorough, this is going to take months, and I do not know how many," Ellison, a former U.S. representative who was deputy chair of the Democratic National Committee from 2017 to 2018, said. "But it is better to make sure we have a solid case, fully investigated, researched, before we go to trial, than to rush it. It will take a while and I can't set a deadline on that."
Chauvin, who is white, was charged Friday with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter after video footage emerged showing him kneeling on Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes as Floyd, a black man, lay handcuffed, crying out that he could not breathe.
At one point during the arrest Floyd also told the officers that "I'm about to die," according to the charging documents filed Wednesday.
The three ex-cops who had not yet been charged, Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane, assisted Chauvin in arresting Floyd on Memorial Day on suspicion that Floyd passed a counterfeit bill. All four officers were fired last week.
Drew Evans, superintendent of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, appeared alongside Ellison and said that one of the officers charged Wednesday was in custody, and the other two were expected to be taken into custody later in the day.
He did not specify which of the three was already in custody. Chauvin has been in custody since last week.
The video shows that Chauvin continued to keep his knee of Floyd's neck even after Floyd became unresponsive.
Floyd's death has sparked widespread protests against police violence in dozens of cities across the country, with demonstrators and Floyd's family calling for charges to be brought against Thao, Kueng and Lane.
The family also has demanded that Chauvin, 44, face a first-degree murder charge.
Ellison said that he did not allow public pressure to influence his decision-making.
"We made these decisions based on the facts that we have gathered," he said.
Ben Crump, an attorney for the family, said in a statement earlier in the day that the family's reaction to the charges was that it was "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," Crump wrote in a post on Twitter.
Quincy Mason Floyd, George Floyd's son, said in an interview on CNN after news of the charges broke: "We demand justice. My father shouldn't have been killed like this. We want justice."
A second-degree murder charge carries a statutory maximum sentence of 40 years upon conviction, compared with 25 years for third-degree murder.
Thao, 34, Kueng, 26, and Lane, 37, are charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The first count has a maximum possible sentence of 40 years in prison, while the manslaughter-related count has a 10-year maximum prison sentence.
Actual sentences are often short of the maximum.
The Hennepin County Attorney's Office was handling prosecutions stemming from George Floyd's death until Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz assigned Ellison the responsibility on Sunday. Minneapolis is located in Hennepin County.
Floyd's memorial is scheduled for Thursday in Minneapolis and he will be buried in Houston next week. He was 46 years old.
Two separate autopsies, one commissioned by Floyd's family and another performed by the Hennepin County Medical Examiner's Office, both found that Floyd's death was a homicide, but differed in their determinations of its causes.
The Hennepin County medical examiner's autopsy found that Floyd died from "cardiopulmonary arrest" that was complicated by police subduing him with restraint and neck compression. The autopsy also cited underlying health conditions as contributing to his death.
But the independent autopsy, conducted by pathologists hired by Floyd's family, found that he died from asphyxiation, and that pressure on both his neck and back contributed. Dr. Michael Baden, one of the pathologists and a former chief medical examiner for New York City, said Monday that Floyd "had no underlying medical problems that caused or contributed to his death."
The original criminal complaint against Chauvin details Kueng's and Lane's actions during Floyd's arrest. According to the complaint, Kueng held Floyd's back and Lane held his legs.
At one point, Kueng checked for a pulse, and said "I couldn't find one," according to the complaint. But he and the other cops stayed in their positions for approximately two more minutes.
Floyd repeatedly told the officers that he could not breathe, cried out for his deceased mother and asked the officers "please," the complaint against Chauvin reads.
In all, Chauvin held his knee on Floyd's neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds, including for nearly three minutes after Floyd became unresponsive, according to the complaint.
Video tape of the encounter shows bystanders calling for the officers to get off of him.
In an emotional speech earlier on Wednesday, Crump, the Floyd family attorney, said Floyd "cried out for anybody who would listen."
"It seemed like the lay people on the street were listening. The people who refused to listen were the people who were supposed to listen," Crump said, speaking from the site where Floyd was killed.