The family of George Floyd is suing the city of Minneapolis and the four officers involved in the unarmed 46-year-old’s death, in which his final pleas of “I can’t breathe” became a national rallying cry.
The federal lawsuit filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota alleges that the city and the Minneapolis cops involved in the May 25 death “deprived” Floyd of “his clearly established rights as secured by the Fourth and Fourteen Amendments.”
It also alleges the Minneapolis Police Department has a history of providing and permitting “warrior-style” training and that the city allowed a culture of excessive force and racism to flourish within law enforcement.
Seeking unspecified damages, the suit also asks for the appointment of a “receiver”—or similar authority—to ensure that the city of Minneapolis properly trains and supervises police officers.
“This is the tipping point for policing in America,” Ben Crump, a civil rights attorney representing Floyd’s family, said in a Wednesday press conference announcing the lawsuit. “This is a crisis in Black America, a public health crisis.”
He said the lawsuit seeks to set a precedent “that makes it financially prohibitive for police to wrongfully kill marginalized people, especially Black people, in the future.”
The lawsuit notes other cases of excessive force involving the Minneapolis P.D., alleging that there was a culture of training officers to use deadly force in non-deadly situations. It alleges that Minneapolis Police Officers Federation President Bob Kroll “has further encouraged officers to behave aggressively, stating that MPD officers who do not receive citizen complaints are ‘low-level slugs’ who ‘[don’t] get out and investigate anything. And that’s not what we’re paying our officers to do.’”
“We are going to have an important conversation that continues based on this lawsuit,” Crump said Wednesday. “It was not just the knee of Officer Derek Chauvin on George Floyd's neck... it was the knee of the entire Minneapolis Police Department.”
The lawsuit is the latest legal battle against the four officers involved in a death that galvanized the Black Lives Matter movement worldwide.
Former Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin—the cop who held his knee on George Floyd’s neck while Floyd repeatedly said he couldn’t breathe and begged for his mother—is facing several charges including second-degree murder. The 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 aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter with culpable negligence.
All four were fired after graphic footage of the arrest emerged. Floyd’s death also ignited calls for the scandal-plagued Minneapolis P.D. to be replaced with a public safety department—a decision backed by a majority of local city council members.
Prosecutors allege that Lane and Kueng initially responded to a 911 call at 8:08 p.m. on May 25 about Floyd attempting to use a counterfeit $20 bill at a Cup Foods.
When the two rookies, who had been full-time officers for less than a week, found Floyd outside in his car, along with two passengers, they asked him to get out. The criminal complaint said 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.
“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. God dang man. Man, I got shot. I got shot the same way, Mr. Officer, before,” Floyd told Lane when he drew his gun, according to a transcript from Lane’s body camera footage revealed in a July 7 motion to dismiss the charges against Lane.
In the bodycam footage viewed by FOX9 on Wednesday, there was a moment during the arrest when the situation seemed under control and the 46-year-old was handcuffed sitting against a wall.
“After he was securely handcuffed, Mr. Floyd remained calm and complied with each of the officers’ commands as directed, including sitting down against a wall and walking with the officers across the street without incident,” the Floyd family’s lawsuit states.
Then, after having a two-minute conversation outside his car, the officers tried to get Floyd into a squad car—causing the 46-year-old to become agitated and stiffen up. According to the bodycam footage and the complaint, Floyd fell to the ground as they tried to put him inside a squad car, saying he was claustrophobic.
“Oh man, God don’t leave me man, please man, please man,” Floyd pleaded to the officers, according to the bodycam transcript. Lane offered to sit in the squad car with Floyd, roll the windows down, and turn on the air conditioning but Floyd continued to resist, the motion said. “I’m not that kind of guy, man, I’m not that kind of guy...and I just had COVID, I don’t want to go back to that,” Floyd said, a reference to his COVID-19 diagnosis that was later confirmed in an autopsy.
Chauvin and Thao then arrived, and all four men tried to get Floyd in the car, but he kept falling down and saying he couldn’t breathe, the criminal complaint said.
The family’s lawsuit states that, despite Floyd’s pleas of discomfort, “Lane suggested to the other officers they employ the ‘maximal restraint technique’—a technique in which an arrestee is restrained in a prone position.” Then, without “provision or justification,” the suit states Kueng held Floyd’s back and Lane held his legs—while Chauvin placed his knee on the handcuffed 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 at one point, the criminal complaint said.
“Tell my kids I love them. I’m dead,” Floyd said, according to the lawsuit. “Please, please—I can’t breathe! Please man.” The lawsuit states that at one point, Chauvin asked Floyd, “What do you want?” to which the 46-year-old “repeated that he could not breathe and asked Chauvin to get off of his neck.”
“Mr. Floyd began to cry out for his mother and remarked, ‘I’m through.’ Mr. Floyd remarked that his stomach hurt, his neck hurt, and that he needed some water, and repeated that he could not breathe,” the lawsuit says, adding that “Chauvin responded that Mr. Floyd should stop talking. Mr. Floyd stated ‘They’re gonna kill me, man.’”
During the struggle, one onlooker allegedly told the officers that Floyd’s nose was bleeding—but the officer “did not check on Mr. Floyd.”
“This is why you don’t do drugs, kids!” Thao allegedly said as several onlookers begged the officers to release the man, the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit says that, after Chauvin re-adjusted the position of his leg and knee on Floyd’s neck when a bystander said the 46-year-old could not breathe, Floyd uttered his last words: “Please—I can’t breathe.”
When Floyd stopped moving at around 8:24 p.m., Lane 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. Chauvin had his knee on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds—including nearly three minutes in which Floyd was unresponsive, the complaint states.
The lawsuit states that when several onlookers began to shout at Chauvin to get off the lifeless Floyd, on officer “removed a canister of mace from his belt and pointed it toward the onlookers” while “Thao stepped forward toward the onlookers.”
“Thao not only did not come to Mr. Floyd’s aid, but he actively prevented bystanders from doing so,” the lawsuit states, noting that one onlooker “approached Defendant Thao and urged him by name to check Mr. Floyd for a pulse, to which Defendant Thao responded ‘Don’t do drugs, guys.’”
According to body camera footage, it took several minutes for the officers to get off Floyd and get him into an ambulance before any life-saving efforts started. EMTs told investigators that when Floyd was loaded into an ambulance, he had no pulse.
The Hennepin County Medical Examiner said Floyd died due to cardiac arrest from the restraint and neck compression. The medical examiner’s office report also said 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, concluded that the 46-year-old was in good health and died of strangulation from the pressure to his back and neck. Both reports determined Floyd’s death was a homicide.