ST. PAUL — Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison is pursuing charges against the other three former Minneapolis police officers present when former officer Derek Chauvin knelt on George Floyd's neck and is increasing the charges against Chauvin.
Ellison announced at a Wednesday, June 3, news conference that his office will be charging former officers Thomas Lane, Tou Thao and J Alexander Kueng with aiding and abetting murder. Warrants for their arrests have been issued and are expected to be served by night's end, according to Minnesota Department of Public Safety commissioner John Harrington.
The three officers were at the scene when, according to bystander video and incident records, Chauvin knelt on Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes May 25.
Lane, Thao and Kueng reportedly did not intervene to stop Chauvin, who is white, despite Floyd saying he couldn't breathe. Floyd, a 46-year-old black man from St. Louis Park, was pronounced dead later that evening, and two autopsies have ruled his death a homicide.
Chauvin has already been charged with murder and manslaughter, and according to his updated Hennepin County criminal complaint, those charges have been increased from third- to second-degree murder. His bail has also increased from $500,000 to $1 million.
"We are here today because George Floyd is not here," Ellison said Wednesday. "He should be here. He should be alive but he’s not. The world watched Floyd utter his very last words -- 'I can't breathe' -- as he plead for his life."
Ellison said the new charges for Chauvin were supported by existing evidence, and that all of the officers' charges were decided based on what his team is confident they can prove in court. But he cautioned that the case — overseen jointly by his office and the Hennepin County Attorney's Office — will take time to resolve.
"We are working together on this case with only one goal: justice for George Floyd," he said.
All four officers have been fired from the Minneapolis Police Department. Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz put Ellison in charge of the case on Sunday, following calls from Floyd's family and lawmakers to do so.
Ben Crump, a Florida-based attorney representing the Floyd family, said Monday that the family was "relieved" when Ellison took over the case. Speaking at the corner of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue — where Chauvin was filmed kneeling on Floyd — on Wednesday morning, Crump told a crowd that he expected the three to be charged no later than Thursday afternoon, when a memorial service for Floyd is scheduled in Minneapolis.
"A change is going to come in the tragic death of George Floyd. And I proclaim with his son as my witness, that change starts today," Crump said, with Floyd's son, Quincy Mason Floyd, at his side.
Mason was among the latest of Floyd's relatives to visit the scene of his final moments in recent days. Earlier this week, Terrence Floyd — George Floyd’s brother — also paid a visit to the south Minneapolis neighborhood, having traveled from his hometown of Houston.
While protests last week descended into riots and looting only a few streets away, buildings on 38th and Chicago appear untouched. Gatherings held there have largely been peaceful, and a makeshift memorial to Floyd grew from the sidewalk in front of the Cup Foods convenience store and now encompasses the entire intersection. Flowers and handmade art depicting Floyd's likeness adorn the area.
Neighbors have routinely played music over speakers and grilled food to give away at the spot. The crowd gathered there on Wednesday, though, was smaller than those of recent days, and the tone was less jovial.
A despondent Mason Floyd, meanwhile, spoke to reporters only briefly before departing the neighborhood for the airport, where Crump said he would receive other members of Floyd's family.
Ellison's new charges come after a week of daily protests demanding justice for Floyd and an end to police brutality and racial inequality, in Minneapolis and around the country and world. Ellison said his office landed on the former-officers' charges based on the facts of the case and Minnesota law, not public pressure.
But he said public outcry and legislation, as well as his team's prosecution, are all ways to influence overall change. And he said he doesn't believe that "one successful prosecution can rectify the hurt and loss that so many people feel."
"The solution to that pain will be the slow and difficult work of constructing justice and fairness in our society. That work is the work of all of us," Ellison said. "We need citizens, neighbors, leaders in government and in faith communities, civil and human rights activists, to begin rewriting the rules for a just society now. . . . There is a role for all who dream of a justice that we haven’t yet experienced."
In a late Wednesday press appearance, Walz described the case against the officers as a "last shot" for Minnesota and the U.S. to restore faith in the justice system's ability to hold itself accountable and commended the new charges. He said he has been in contact with the Minnesota People of Color and Indigenous Caucus and other groups in recent days about state legislative proposals to reform policing.
"This is a point in history that must be seized," he said.
In addition to the Attorney General Office's case, the Minnesota Department of Human Rights announced on Tuesday the launch of a first-of-its-kind investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department for alleged violations of Minnesota's civil rights law over the past 10 years.
A memorial fund for Floyd on GoFundMe has so far raised $12 million.