Within a day of George Floyd’s curbside death at the hands of four Minneapolis police officers responding to a call about a possible counterfeit $20, Chief Medaria Arradondo fired them all.
But the law didn’t catch up with ex-cop Derek Chauvin – the white man who knelt on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes – until he was arrested four days later and charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
Now legal experts are calling that third-degree murder charge brought by Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman “legally defective.”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) predicts Chauvin will evade punishment unless charges are revised to first- or second-degree murder.
“Third Degree Murder applies only when the acts of the defendant were committed without regard to their effect on any particular person, and not when the actions were directed to a specific person,” said ACLU Minnesota in a statement.
“Minnesota courts have repeatedly ruled that to support a charge of Third Degree Murder, the offender’s actions need to be ‘eminently dangerous to more than one person.’ This has been the law in Minnesota since 1896 and includes numerous State Supreme Court decisions stretching all the way to the present saying the same thing.”
Chauvin’s actions were clearly directed at Floyd alone, said Sarah Davis, associate director of Minneapolis’s Legal Rights Center, which represents low-income people of color accused of crimes pro bono.
“Minneapolis police officers callously and brutally killed George Floyd,” she said. “A more serious charge of first- or second-degree murder is absolutely warranted here and, in light of the failure of the Hennepin County Attorney's Office to prosecute this case in a timely and legally supported manner, it is critical that a special prosecutor be appointed immediately to avoid a gross miscarriage of justice.”
Freeman did not respond to a request for comment.
The office has been under fire for not yet bringing charges against the other three ex-officers involved in Floyd’s slaying – Tou Thao, Thomas Lane, and J.A. Kueng. It has also been criticized for the manner in which the criminal complaint against Chauvin underscored Floyd’s apparent threat to the police, noting Floyd was “over six feet tall and weighs more than 200 pounds,” and suggested he was under the influence of "intoxicants in his system," which the county attorney's office did not confirm prior to filing charges.
Sunday afternoon, Freeman announced he has asked Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison to assist with “cases arising out of the death of George Floyd,” saying, “There have been recent developments in the facts of the case where the help and expertise of the Attorney General would be valuable.”
His office did not respond to whether Freeman wanted help charging the other three ex-officers, or if it were possible he’d revise the charges against Chauvin.
Hours later, Gov. Tim Walz announced in a press conference that he was the one to ask Ellison to take over the prosecution from Freeman, which is aligned with the wishes of Floyd’s family.
The attorney general is meeting with Hennepin County prosecutors today.
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