The fired Minneapolis police officer who held his knee on George Floyd’s neck while he repeatedly said he couldn’t breathe made his first court appearance on Monday, where a judge slapped him with a bail of up to $1.25 million.
Derek Chauvin, 44, has been hit with second-degree murder charges for the May 25 death of Floyd, along with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter charges that allege he caused Floyd’s death through “culpable negligence,” including using a restraint that police are taught is “inherently dangerous.”
During the 11-minute hearing in Hennepin County District Court on Monday, Judge Jeannice Reding set bail at $1.25 million, or $1 million with conditions. If he accepts the conditions, the 44-year-old former officer can not make contact with Floyd’s family, can no longer work in law enforcement or security in the future, and must turn in all personal guns and permits.
“Obviously the death has had a strong reaction in the community, to put it mildly,” Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank said Monday.
The former officer, who appeared in court via video from Oak Park Heights prison wearing an orange jumpsuit and blue mask, did not enter a plea in the procedural hearing. Chauvin was expected to appear again in court on June 29.
Three other former officers—Thomas Lane, Tou Thao, and J. Alexander Kueng—have been charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder while committing a felony and with aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter with culpable negligence.
All four cops were fired May 26, as explosive footage of the botched arrest led to an international outcry and calls for a federal investigation into an incident some called a “legalized lynching.”
According to Minnesota state law, second-degree murder is not premeditated and prosecutors much prove that while the suspect did not intend to cause death, they committed a felony offense during the incident. The charge typically carries a maximum penalty of 40 years behind bars. The other three officers face a maximum prison sentence of six years.
Monday’s court hearing comes two weeks after Floyd was killed, prompting residents in all 50 states and dozens of countries overseas to take to the streets, engaging in both peaceful and destructive protests to speak out against racial injustice and police brutality. The National Guard was deployed in a slew of states, plus Washington, D.C., after officials decided local cops alone were insufficient to contain the outrage.
On Sunday, nine Minneapolis City Council members announced they intend to defund and dismantle the city’s police department amid reporting by the StarTribune on how Minneapolis’ Third Precinct allegedly served as a “playground” for rogue cops like Chauvin.
“Let me be clear, I am for massive structural and transformational reform to an entire system that has not for generations worked for black and brown people; we have failed them, and we need to entirely reshape the system, we need a full-on cultural shift in how our Minneapolis Police Department and departments throughout the country function,” Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said Monday, before stressing he was not supporting a measure to entirely abolish the police department. The mayor was booed over his public skepticism of that policy over the weekend.
On Monday, former Vice President Joe Biden was expected to meet with Floyd’s family as they prepared for a final six-hour public memorial in the city. Though the Democratic presidential nominee will not attend the public memorial, he will record a video message for Floyd’s private funeral service and burial Tuesday.
An amended criminal complaint filed for Chauvin outlines the events leading up to the now-infamous video of the 44-year-old officer pinning his knee on Floyd’s neck until he lost consciousness.
Prosecutors allege that two officers, Lane and Kueng, initially responded to a call at 8:08 p.m. on May 25 that Floyd had used a counterfeit $20 bill at a convenience store. Both officers had just started at the Minneapolis Police Department just days prior, according to their attorneys.
When the two officers found Floyd outside in his car, along with two passengers, they asked him to get out. The complaint says Lane then pointed a gun at Floyd and ordered him to show his hands. When Floyd put his hands on the steering wheel, Lane put his gun away and pulled the 46-year-old out of the car.
Once handcuffed, Floyd walked with Lane to the sidewalk and sat on the ground, and calmly said: “Thank you, man.” The complaint states that Lane then told Floyd to give him his name and identification, and asked if he was “on anything” after noting there was foam at the edges of his mouth.
After the two-minute conversation, Lane and Kueng then walked Floyd to their squad car, at which point he stiffened up and fell to the ground while saying he was claustrophobic. Officers Chauvin and Thao arrived and all four men tried to get Floyd in the car, but he kept falling down and saying he couldn’t breathe, the complaint states.
“At all times, Mr. Kueng and Mr. Lane turned their attention to that 19-year veteran,” Kueng’s attorney, Thomas Plunkett, said last week in a court hearing, referring to Chauvin. “[Kueng] was trying—they were trying to communicate that this situation needs to change direction.”
When Floyd fell down again, Kueng held his back and Lane held his legs—while Chauvin placed his knee on the unarmed man’s neck. The move prompted Floyd to call out for his mother and say several times that he couldn’t breathe. “I’m about to die,” he warned, according to the complaint.
“He was doing what he thought was right,” Lane’s attorney, Earl Gray, argued on NBC’s Today show Monday. “He did not stand by and watch. He was holding the legs because the guy was resisting at first.”
Later, Lane asked his fellow officers if they should roll Floyd on his side, saying, “I’m worried about excited delirium or whatever.” Chauvin responded: “That’s why we have him on his stomach.” The complaint states that Chauvin and Kueng then held Floyd’s right hand up, while the other officers stayed in their positions.
After Floyd stopped moving at around 8:24 p.m., Lane again suggested moving him onto his side, while Kueng checked for a pulse but couldn’t find one. The officers never changed Floyd’s position, prosecutors said.
EMTs told investigators that when Floyd was loaded into an ambulance, he had no pulse.
According to body-camera footage, Chauvin had his knee on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds—including nearly three minutes in which Floyd was unresponsive.
Prosecutors added that “Chauvin’s restraint of Mr. Floyd in this manner for a prolonged period was a substantial causal factor in Mr. Floyd losing consciousness, constituting substantial bodily harm, and Mr. Floyd’s death as well.”
The three other officers “intentionally aided” in Floyd’s death by “culpable negligence... and consciously [taking] the chances of causing death or great bodily harm,” prosecutors said.
Lane’s attorney, however, stressed Monday that his client was just following orders—similar to how a military officer would have followed a superior’s commands.
“Now, if you’ve ever been in the military, you ask your sergeant should we do something and he says no, are you going to say, ‘Well no, I’m going to do it anyway’? I don’t think so,” Gray said.
An updated report from the Hennepin County Medical Examiner indicated that Floyd died due to cardiac arrest from the restraint and neck compression. The medical examiner’s office report also states there were indications Floyd had heart disease, including “arteriosclerotic and hypertensive heart disease,” and there was fentanyl in his system.
An independent report commissioned by Floyd’s family, however, states that the 46-year-old was in good health and died of strangulation from pressure to his back and neck. Both reports concluded that Floyd’s death was a homicide.