Why Was Derek Chauvin Charged With Third-Degree Murder in George Floyd’s Death?

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Derek Michael Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who killed George Floyd while arresting him, was charged with 3rd degree murder on May 29. Chauvin’s arrest comes days after Minneapolis erupted in protest against the brutal murder.

The 44-year-old former police officer was charged with one count of 3rd degree murder and 2nd degree manslaughter, according to a criminal complaint released by the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office. If convicted, Chauvin faces up to 25 years for the murder charge and up to 10 years and/or $20,000 fine for the manslaughter charge.

According to the criminal complaint, Chauvin pulled Floyd out of the passenger side of the squad car and to the ground. “The defendant placed his left knee in the area of Mr. Floyd’s head and neck,” the criminal complaint says. “Mr. Floyd said, ‘I can’t breathe’ multiple times and repeatedly said, ‘Mama’ and ‘please,’ as well.”

Chauvin responded to Floyd by saying he was “talking fine.” Fellow Minneapolis Police officer Thomas Lane asked if they should roll Floyd to the side, but Chauvin insisted they remain put. After nearly five minutes, Floyd stopped moving and a minute later he appeared to stop breathing or speaking.

Lane asked again if they wanted to roll Floyd on his side. Officer J. Alexander Kueng checked Floyd’s right wrist for a pulse and did not find one. Despite this, none of the officers moved from their positions, the criminal complaint said. At 8:27 p.m., more than 8 minutes after Chauvin began kneeling on Floyd’s neck, he finally removed himself and emergency medical personnel arrived.

Chauvin had his knee on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, of which 2 minutes and 53 seconds happened after Floyd became non-responsive. The criminal complaint noted that police officers are trained that this type of restraint with a subject in a prone position is inherently dangerous.

Floyd was pronounced dead at Hennepin County Medical Center less than an hour later. Preliminary findings by the medical examiner found no physical findings that support a diagnosis of traumatic asphyxia or strangulation.

“The combined effects of Mr. Floyd being restrained by the police, his underlying health conditions and any potential intoxicants in his system likely contributed to his death,” the criminal complaint said. The full report from the medical examiners is pending.

Fellow Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) Officers Lane, Kueng and Tou Thoa, who were present during Floyd’s killing, have yet to face charges. Chauvin is the first white police officer in Minnesota to be criminally prosecuted in the death of a Black civilian, according to The Star-Tribune.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey responded to Chauvin’s arrest and charging in a statement that said “what’s happened in Minneapolis is bigger than any one city and any single event. For our Black community who have, for centuries, been forced to endure injustice in a world simply unwilling to correct or acknowledge it: I know that whatever hope you feel today is tempered with skepticism and a righteous outrage.”

Amanuel Soquar stands outside the home of fired Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin in Oakdale, Minn., Wednesday, May 27, 2020. The mayor of Minneapolis called Wednesday for criminal charges against Chauvin, the white police officer seen on video kneeling against the neck of Floyd George, a handcuffed black man who complained that he could not breathe and died in police custody. (Jeff Wheeler/Star Tribune via AP)

Why was Chauvin Charged With 3rd Degree Murder?

According to Minnesota law, 3rd degree murder occurs when a person “without intent to effect the death of any person, causes the death of another by perpetrating an act eminently dangerous to others and evincing a depraved mind, without regard for human life.”

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman told reporters on May 29 that the charges against Chauvin were based on evidence, including video, witness statements, discussions with an expert and a preliminary medical examiner’s report. He said that his office received key evidence as late as May 28, but declined to say what that evidence was.

When asked how closely he had looked at 2nd degree murder statues, Freeman said his office had looked closely at all statues, adding that 3rd degree murder is what his office had opted to charge Chauvin with now.

“Investigation is ongoing. We have more discussions to do with our experts,” he said. “These are the same charges we made when we charged former Minneapolis Police Officer Mohamed Noor. Exact same 3rd degree charge.” Noor was convicted in 2019 of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter after he fatally shot Justine Ruszczyk Damond in 2017.

Freeman noted that Chauvin may face additional charges at a later time.

“We felt it appropriate to focus on the most dangerous perpetrator,” Freeman added later, when asked why Chauvin’s three colleagues had not yet been arrested. While he did not go into detail, Freeman said that he anticipated charges against the three other officers.

Benjamin Crump, the attorney representing Floyd’s family, said in a statement that the arrest and charges against Chauvin were “a welcome but overdue step on the road to justice.” However, he noted that Floyd’s family expected more serious charges, as well as the arrest of the three other officers.

“We call on authorities to revise the charges to reflect the culpability of this officer,” Crump said in a statement. “The pain that the Black community feels over this murder and what it reflects about the treatment of Black people in America is raw and is spilling out onto the streets across America.”

Crump added: “We fully expect to see the other officers who did nothing to protect the life of George Floyd to be arrested and charged soon.”

Protesters hold signs on a sidewalk across the street from a townhouse owned by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, Friday, May 29, 2020, in Windermere, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

Action Steps

  • Call this hotline (612) 324-4499 to learn how to contact those in office who could seek justice for George Floyd. Shaun King will be on the other line to coach you through. Be sure to share that number on all your social media accounts.

  • Visit JusticeForBigFloyd.com to sign a petition, which will then be emailed to everyone involved. We ask that you share the petition along with the phone number.

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About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a senior writer for The North Star. She has published in various publications, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Europe, Asia, Australia and the Americas.