Four officers were dismissed a day after the death of George Floyd, a staggering and swift decision by the chief of Minneapolis with the full support of the mayor. But despite their dismissal, the question of whether the incident will be considered a criminal act, or even excessive force, is a more complicated question that will likely take months to investigate.
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A few hours after the announcement of the dismissal of the officers, thousands of demonstrators took to the streets around the scene of the murderous incident on Monday evening during a noisy but peaceful rally. Many in the crowd wore face coverings to protect themselves from the spread of the coronavirus.
But the rally took an unruly turn at dusk as riot police fired tear gas and non-lethal bean bags into the crowd as protesters threw bottles of water and other projectiles, reported the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.
Local news footage showed demonstrators vandalizing the outside of a police station and a police car. The unrest seemed to have subsided after dark when the rain fell.
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Police were fired shortly after Monday night video of a bystander in a grocery store in South Minneapolis shows a policeman kneeling on the neck of the handcuffed man, even after arguing that he could not breathe and stopped moving.
Mayor Jacob Frey announced the layoffs on Twitter, saying, “This is the right call. “
The FBI and law enforcement investigated the death of Floyd, who immediately made comparisons to the case of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man who died in 2014 in New York City after being strangled by the police and pleaded for his life, claiming that he could not breathe.
But in the Garner case, local prosecutors, the NYPD internal affairs unit and the Department of Justice all completed investigations into the case before the officer was finally dismissed. Garner’s family and activists have spent years imploring the dismissal of the officer.
The Minneapolis incident officers have not even been publicly identified, although a defense attorney has confirmed that he represents Derek Chauvin, the officer seen with his knee on Floyd’s neck. Lawyer Tom Kelly declined to comment further.
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The police union has asked the public to wait until the investigation is over and not to “rush to try and convict our officers immediately.” Messages left to the union after the layoff were not returned.
Police chief Medaria Arradondo said the department would conduct a full internal investigation and that prosecutors would decide whether or not to file criminal charges against the officers involved. The Hennepin County prosecutor’s office said it was “shocked and saddened” by the video and committed to treating the case fairly. Part of this investigation is likely to focus on the intent of the police, whether they wanted to harm Floyd or if it was a death which occurred during police work. The FBI was investigating whether the police had deliberately deprived Floyd of his civil rights.
According to reports, Chauvin was one of six officers who fired their weapons in the death of Wayne Reyes in 2006, who police said pointed a truncated rifle at the police after stabbing two people. Chauvin also shot and injured a man in 2008 in a fight after Chauvin and his partner responded to a reported domestic assault. Police did not immediately respond to a request for Chauvin’s service record.
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In Minneapolis, kneeling on a suspect’s neck is permitted under the Department’s policy on the use of force for officers who have received training on how to compress the neck without applying pressure direct on the respiratory tract. It is considered a “non-lethal force option,” according to the ministry’s policy manual.
A strangulation is considered a lethal force option and involves a person obstructing the airways. In accordance with the Department’s policy on the use of force, officers should use only the force that is objectively reasonable.
But two use of force experts told the Associated Press that the officer had clearly detained the man for too long. They noted that the man was under control and was no longer fighting. Andrew Scott, a former police chief from Boca Raton, Florida, who is now testifying as an expert witness in use of force cases, described Floyd’s death as “a combination of not having been trained properly or to ignore their training. “
“He couldn’t move. He told them he couldn’t breathe and they ignored him, “said Scott. “I can’t even describe it. It was hard to watch. “
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In a post on his Facebook page, the mayor, who is white, apologized to the black community on Tuesday for the treatment inflicted by Floyd, 46, who worked at security in a restaurant.
“Being black in America should not be a death sentence. For five minutes, we saw a white officer bury his knee in the neck of a black man. Five minutes. When you hear someone call for help, you are supposed to help. This officer failed in the most basic and human sense, “said Frey.
Police said the man matched the description of a suspect in a grocery store forgery case and resisted the arrest.
The video begins with the man shirtless on the ground and does not show what happened in the previous moments. The unidentified officer is kneeling on his neck, ignoring his calls. “Please, please, please, I can’t breathe. Please, man, “said Floyd, whose face is against the sidewalk.
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Even in the coronavirus pandemic that killed nearly 100,000 people in the United States and prompted police in the country to change the way they work, video agents do not wear masks. In some cities, low-level arrests such as attempted forgery are being ignored at this time.
Floyd also groans. One of the officers told him to “relax.” Floyd calls his mother and says, “My stomach hurts, my neck hurts, everything hurts … I can’t breathe. As passersby shout their concern, an officer says, “He’s talking, so he’s breathing.” “
But Floyd slowly becomes motionless under the officer’s restraint. The officer did not remove his knee until the man was loaded onto a cart by paramedics.
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Several witnesses gathered on a nearby sidewalk, some recording the scene on their phones. Passersby become more and more agitated. A man repeatedly shouts. “He’s not responding right now!” Two witnesses, including a woman who said she was a Minneapolis firefighter, shouted to the officers to check the man’s pulse. “Check her pulse right now and tell me what it is! ” she said.
At one point, an officer said, “Don’t take drugs, guys. And a man yells, “Don’t do drugs, man? What is that? What do you think it is? “
The Hennepin County medical examiner identified Floyd but said the cause of death was pending.
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Floyd had worked security for five years in a restaurant called Conga Latin Bistro and rented a house from the restaurant owner, Jovanni Thunstrom.
He was “a good friend, a good person and a good tenant,” the restaurateur told the Star Tribune. “He was family. His colleagues and friends loved him. “
Protesters filled the intersection Tuesday night in the street where Floyd died, chanting and carrying banners that said “I can’t breathe” and “KKKops jail killer”. They eventually walked about 2.5 miles to a city police station, with protesters damaging windows, a police car, and spraying graffiti on the building.
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A line of police in riot gear ended up confronting the demonstrators, firing tear gas and projectiles. Some protesters returned cartridges to the police. Some protesters stacked caddies to make a barricade in a Target store across from the station, and although the regular rain reduced the crowd, tense skirmishes spread late into the evening.
Ben Crump, a prominent civil and personal injury lawyer, said he was hired by Floyd’s family.
The death occurred amid outrage over the death of Ahmaud Arbery, who was shot dead on February 23 in Georgia after a white father and son pursued the 25-year-old black man who they had spotted running in their subdivision. More than two months passed before charges were laid. Crump also represents Arbery’s father.
Associated Press editors Gretchen Ehlke in Milwaukee and Todd Richmond in Madison, Wisconsin contributed to this report.
—With Reuters files
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