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Officer in George Floyd death faces 2nd-degree murder charge, others also charged

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison is upgrading the charge against fired officer Derek Chauvin to second-degree murder in George Floyd's death and is charging the other three officers who were present at the arrest.

Charge against Derek Chauvin upgraded from 3rd-degree murder; 3 others charged with aiding, abetting

A Detroit protestor holds a photo of George Floyd, who was killed in police custody in Minnesota, in a case that has launched nationwide protests and prompted criminal charges. (Sylvia Jarrus/Reuters)

Prosecutors on Wednesday expanded their case against the police who were at the scene of George Floyd's death, charging three of the officers with aiding and abetting a murder and upgrading the charges against the officer who pressed his knee on Floyd's neck to second-degree murder.

The most serious charge was filed against Derek Chauvin, whose caught-on-video treatment of the handcuffed Floyd spurred worldwide protests. Three other officers — Thomas Lane, J. Kueng and Tou Thao — were charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder. All four were fired last week.

"We are here today because George Floyd is not here," said Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison in announcing the charges. "He should be here. He should be alive, but he's not."

Widely seen bystander video showing Floyd's death has sparked anger around the world against police brutality and discrimination.

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar tweeted the news, calling it an "important step for justice." 

A second-degree murder conviction in Minnesota carries a maximum sentence of 40 years. The charges of aiding and abetting a second-degree murder carry the same potential sentence. 

Ellison asked the public to give the prosecutors the time and space to do their work. "George Floyd mattered," he said during a Wednesday news conference. "He was loved. His family was important. His life had value. We will seek justice for him and for you."

Benjamin Crump, an attorney for Floyd's family, called it "a bittersweet moment" and "a significant step forward on the road to justice." Crump said Ellison had told the family he would continue his investigation into Floyd's death and upgrade the charge to first-degree murder if warranted.

WATCH | U.S. political scientist comments on rarity of charges against four Minneapolis police officers

Ravi Perry, professor of political science at Howard University in Washington, D.C., says Minnesota's justice system may work this time for George Floyd, the black man killed in police custody.   3:21

Chauvin was initially charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

The move punctuated an unprecedented week in modern American history, in which largely peaceful protests took place in communities of all sizes but were rocked by bouts of violence, including attacks on officers, rampant thefts and arson in some places.

At least 12 deaths have been reported connected to the protests, though the circumstances in many cases are still being sorted out.

WATCH | Protesters react: 'We can make a big change':

Anthony Williams and Rev. Greg Drumwright say they believe the charges against the four officers involved in George Floyd's death will mark a turning point in U.S. history. 2:58

Some tense incidents continued Tuesday night, but were far less prevalent than in preceding days. Police and National Guard troops used tear gas, flash-bang grenades, non-lethal rounds and other means of dispersing crowds near a police precinct in Seattle, Wash., near Centennial Park in Atlanta and at demonstrations in Tampa and St. Petersburg, Fla.

2 medals of valour

Personnel records released by the city show Chauvin served as a military policeman in the U.S. Army in the late 1990s. Since being hired as a police officer in 2001, he has been awarded two medals of valour: one for being part of a group of officers who opened fire on a stabbing suspect after the man pointed a shotgun at them in 2006, and one for apprehending a man in a domestic incident in 2008.

In the latter case, Chauvin broke down a bathroom door and shot the man in the stomach.

Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who was arrested Friday, is now facing a second-degree murder charge in the death of Floyd. (Courtesy of Ramsey County Sheriff's Office via AP)

Chauvin was reprimanded in 2008 for pulling a woman out of her car in 2007, frisking her and placing her in his squad car after he stopped her for speeding 10 miles (16 km) per hour over the limit. His dashboard camera was not activated and a report said he could have interviewed the woman while standing outside her car.

Lane, 37, and Kueng both joined the department in February 2019, and neither have any complaints on their files.

Lane previously worked as a correctional officer at the Hennepin County juvenile jail and as a probation officer at a residential treatment facility for adolescent boys.

Former Minneapolis police officers Tou Thao, left, Thomas Lane, centre, and J. Alexander Kueng, right, have been charged with aiding and abetting murder in the death of George Floyd. (Hennepin County Sheriff's Department)

Kueng was a 2018 graduate of the University of Minnesota where he worked part-time as campus security. He also worked as a theft-prevention officer at Macy's in downtown Minneapolis while he was in college.

Tou Thao, a native Hmong speaker, joined the police force as a part-time community service officer in 2008 and was promoted to police officer in 2009. He was laid off later that year because of budget cuts and rehired in 2012.

Terrence Floyd, brother of George Floyd, sat several minutes at the makeshift memorial outside the store where George was arrested and later pinned to the ground. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

'Seize the moment'

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, speaking after the new charges were announced, said the state and nation need to "seize the moment" and use the wrenching events of the past week to confront the effects of racism, including unequal educational and economic opportunities.

"I think this is probably our last shot, as a state and as a nation, to fix this systemic issue," he said at a news conference.

Walz and the Minnesota Department of Human Rights on Tuesday launched a civil rights investigation of the Minneapolis Police Department and its history of racial discrimination in hopes of forcing widespread change.

The official autopsy by the county medical examiner concluded that Floyd's death was caused by cardiac arrest as police restrained him and compressed his neck. The medical examiner also listed fentanyl intoxication and recent methamphetamine use, but not as causes of death.

The autopsy report was released Wednesday. It also showed Floyd tested positive for 2019-nCoV, the coronavirus which causes COVID-19. 

Crump and the Floyd family commissioned a separate autopsy that concluded he died of asphyxiation due to neck and back compression caused by Chauvin's knee on his neck and other responding officers' knees in his back, which made it impossible for him to breathe.

People help lift up a photo of Floyd as it is mounted on the side of the bus station near where he was detained by police. (Kerem Yucel/AFP via Getty Images)

With files from CBC News

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