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Four takeaways from Ellison’s decision to prosecute the three other ex-MPD officers, add 2nd-degree murder charge against Chauvin

Attorney General Keith Ellison
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
Attorney General Keith Ellison announcing a second-degree murder charge for former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin at Wednesday afternoon's news conference.

On Wednesday, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison added a second-degree murder charge to the counts against former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for the killing of George Floyd, who died after Chauvin pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes. Ellison also charged the three other officers at the scene when Floyd died. Here is a look at what we learned from Ellison’s remarks about the case, and from Gov. Tim Walz, who also spoke to reporters after the charges against the officers became public.

1. Ellison moved quickly, but he also wants to manage expectations

The decision to add charges against former Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin to include second-degree murder — and to charge the three other officers who stood by as George Floyd died — came just two days after Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison took over the case. 

“I believe the evidence available to us now supports the stronger charge of second-degree murder,” for Chauvin, Ellison said Wednesday afternoon. At his side was Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, whose office is assisting in the prosecution.

The initial charges of third-degree murder and manslaughter against Chauvin were always subject to be amended, but there was a desire to charge him quickly, and the initial charges were enough to arrest and jail him pending further investigation.

The other three officers — J. Alexander Kueng, Tou Thao and Thomas K. Lane — now all face charges of aiding and abetting second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter. All were fired from the Minneapolis Police Department the day after Floyd’s death, but only Chavin had faced charges before Wednesday. Because they are charged with aiding and abetting a felony, the three other officers face the same maximum penalties as for the underlying crime: up to 40 years in prison. 

The three were taken into custody on Wednesday and are being held at the Hennepin County jail.

J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao face charges of aiding and abetting second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter.
Hennepin County Sheriff's Office
J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao face charges of aiding and abetting second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter.
Ellison warned that he will be quiet about the building of the case going forward and wouldn’t comment on the investigation or the evidence. “Our job is to seek justice and to get a conviction, not to make statements in the press. We’ll do our talking in court.” 

He also said building the case could take months. “I don’t know how many. But it is better that we have a solid case — fully investigated, researched — before we go to trial than to rush it,” he said.

Ellison also warned that getting a conviction against police officers is difficult, noting that Freeman is the only county attorney in the state to have won a murder conviction, that of Mohamed Noor for killing Justine Damond.

2. Ellison didn’t believe the evidence supported a first-degree murder charge for Chauvin

Ellison acknowledged that some have called on him to charge Chauvin with first-degree murder.

Derek Chauvin
Ramsey County Jail
Derek Chauvin
To win a conviction for first-degree murder in Minnesota, however, Ellison would have to prove premeditation and deliberation. For the new charge of second-degree murder, he has to prove that the killing was unintentional in the course of committing a felony. 

“I pledge and I promise to hold everyone accountable for the behavior that we can prove in a court. If I don’t charge it, it means we did not have the facts to do that,” Ellison said, adding: “I did not allow public pressure to impact our decision-making process.”

But he acknowledges suspicion and a lack of trust because “our country has underprosecuted these matters, in Minnesota and throughout the country. The (lack of) trust is a result of historically not holding people who are public guardians accountable for their behavior in situations where we should have.

“But we can’t control the past. All we can do is take the case in front of us and do our good-faith best to bring justice to this situation, and we will.”

3. Floyd’s family supports Ellison’s charging decisions 

George Floyd’s family, their attorney and the Rev. Al Sharpton all applauded the new criminal charges at a press conference Wednesday and said they would use Floyd’s funeral Thursday to call for federal legislation to reform policing and the criminal justice system.

Invoking the 1964 Civil Rights Act as well as other landmark laws, Sharpton and Attorney Benjamin Crump called for sustained advocacy. Floyd’s killing was so egregious, they said, it has galvanized Americans to demand changes in unprecedented numbers.

“We believe this is the tipping point in America where we finally address … the fact that there are two justice systems in America: One for black America, and one for white America,” Crump said.

Crump said Floyd’s family prefers first-degree murder charges against Chauvin, but celebrated Ellison’s move to bring more severe charges as a positive step. “I’m just thankful they arrested him,” said Quincy Mason Floyd, George Floyd’s son.

Civil rights leader Reverend Al Sharpton shown leading a prayer on May 28 at the site where George Floyd was killed.
REUTERS/Adam Bettcher
Civil rights leader the Rev. Al Sharpton shown leading a prayer on May 28 at the site where George Floyd was killed.
Floyd’s funeral is set for 1 p.m. Thursday at North Central University in Minneapolis, where Sharpton will deliver the eulogy. Sharpton told reporters they would focus on the “human side of who Floyd was,” as well as “challenge this country” to start a movement for sweeping changes to law enforcement and policing.

“Otherwise they will say we had nice rallies, some of us went to jail, some of us did other things, but nothing changed,” Sharpton said. “It’s not about piecemeal policy here.”

4. Walz called Ellison’s decision a ‘meaningful step toward justice for George Floyd’

Walz, first lady Gwen Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan visited the area at 38th and Chicago in south Minneapolis where George Floyd died and placed flowers on the memorial that has sprung up at the site. Walz also met and apologized personally to the CNN reporter who was arrested near the Minneapolis Police Department’s Third Precinct headquarters last week. 

In a statement afterward, Walz called Floyd’s death “the symptom of a disease.”

“We will not wake up one day and have the disease of systemic racism cured for us,” he said. “This is on each of us to solve together, and we have hard work ahead. We owe that much to George Floyd, and we owe that much to each other.”

Gov. Tim Walz and First Lady Gwen Walz
Office of the Governor
Gov. Tim Walz and first lady Gwen Walz visited the area at 38th and Chicago in south Minneapolis where George Floyd died and placed flowers on the memorial that has sprung up at the site.
He also expressed support for the additional charges filed by Ellison and Freeman. “The charges announced by Attorney General Keith Ellison today are a meaningful step toward justice for George Floyd. But we must also recognize that the anguish driving protests around the world is about more than one tragic incident.”

Also on Wednesday, Walz extended a shortened-curfew for the Twin Cities for two more nights. “Conditions have improved, but threats to public safety remain,” the order states. “Since May 29, 2020, when I first issued a nighttime curfew, hundreds of individuals have been arrested. Credible threats of arson and other violence remain. Some individuals have used vehicles to ram law enforcement and National Guard vehicles.”

Walz noted that law enforcement has recovered weapons in several recent arrests, and that officers are tracking increased reports of incendiary devices. Because much of the destruction and violence has taken place under the cover of darkness, Walz said, “We must continue a temporary nighttime curfew in coordination with the Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul.”

Comments (36)

  1. Submitted by Susan Maricle on 06/03/2020 - 09:15 pm.

    Having been a defense attorney, Ellison is aware of the tactics that defense attorneys might use.
    As a prosecutor, he realizes he has to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
    He is the right person for this job.

  2. Submitted by John Dorschner on 06/04/2020 - 09:07 am.

    Ellison said all the right things yesterday: It’s not easy to get convictions in police brutality cases. He told CNN that the cops would have outstanding lawyers and the court case will be a battle.

    I wrote a book about a similar case, Verdict on Trial, about the death of a black motorcyclist in Miami in 1980 at the hands of police. In that case, Janet Reno bowed to public pressure and upped the charges against one officer to second-degree. A juror after the acquittals said that the second-degree charge insulted the jurors’ intelligence. In another Florida case, the death of teenager Trayvon Martin, the prosecutors bowed to public pressure and upped the charges to second-degree murder. The jury didn’t buy it and acquitted Zimmerman.

    Another note: This trial is going to have warring autopsies, which will be weird. Baden, 85 years old, did an “independent autopsy,” the press reports: In fact, he’s one of those “expert witnesses” who invariably contradicts the official medical examiner. He does this time after time, the latest being in the death of perv billionaire Jeffrey Epstein. And about all those drugs in Floyd’s system: The defense is going to make this a major factor during the trial. Whether that will impact the jury we’ll have to see.

    The main thing here is what Obama said yesterday: We have to reform the system, not in demonstrations, not in a trial, but at the local level, one municipality at a time. It’s time that unarmed black men stop dying at the hands of police.

    • Submitted by Greg Laden on 06/07/2020 - 12:00 pm.

      I’m going to exploit your expertise in these matters and ask a procedural question: In some cases, it seems that a jury has the choice of lowering the degree of the murder charge. Is that something that varies by state, and if so, what is the story in Minnesota?

  3. Submitted by Pat Terry on 06/04/2020 - 09:51 am.

    My takeaway is that the charging decision cannot be in the hands of the district attorney who works with the police department. It is a hopeless conflict of interest.

  4. Submitted by Edward Blaise on 06/04/2020 - 11:16 am.

    609.19 MURDER IN THE SECOND DEGREE.

    §Subdivision 1.Intentional murder; drive-by shootings.

    Whoever does either of the following is guilty of murder in the second degree and may be sentenced to imprisonment for not more than 40 years:

    (1) causes the death of a human being with intent to effect the death of that person or another, but without premeditation; or

    (2) causes the death of a human being while committing or attempting to commit a drive-by shooting in violation of section 609.66, subdivision 1e, under circumstances other than those described in section 609.185, paragraph (a), clause (3).

    Subd. 2.Unintentional murders.

    Whoever does either of the following is guilty of unintentional murder in the second degree and may be sentenced to imprisonment for not more than 40 years:

    (1) causes the death of a human being, without intent to effect the death of any person, while committing or attempting to commit a felony offense other than criminal sexual conduct in the first or second degree with force or violence or a drive-by shooting; or

    (2) causes the death of a human being without intent to effect the death of any person, while intentionally inflicting or attempting to inflict bodily harm upon the victim, when the perpetrator is restrained under an order for protection and the victim is a person designated to receive protection under the order. As used in this clause, “order for protection” includes an order for protection issued under chapter 518B; a harassment restraining order issued under section 609.748; a court order setting conditions of pretrial release or conditions of a criminal sentence or juvenile court disposition; a restraining order issued in a marriage dissolution action; and any order issued by a court of another state or of the United States that is similar to any of these orders.

    Well, it was not a drive by shooting and Floyd did not have a protective order so, it would seem Ellison has decided to go the unintentional murder while committing a felony route.

    I believe the potential civil rights violation charge against Chauvin is a felony and that may be how the pieces fit together.

    Ellison has said good things about the US Atty. A Trump & Pawlenty appointee. He said, if left alone, he is confident she will do her job.

    • Submitted by Paul Linnee on 06/04/2020 - 12:39 pm.

      I have just read the amended complaint, and the specific statute charged is 609.19, Subdivision 2, Paragraph 1, which ends up being this:

      Subd. 2.Unintentional murders.

      (1) causes the death of a human being, without intent to effect the death of any person, while committing or attempting to commit a felony offense other than criminal sexual conduct in the first or second degree with force or violence or a drive-by shooting……

      Comment: As always, the prosecution must, beyond a reasonable doubt, prove and convince all 12 jurors of the “elements of the charged offense”, which in this case will be:

      – That the charged act was a proximate cause of Floyd’s death
      – That Floyd was a human being
      – That there was no intent on Chauvin’s part to cause Floyd’s death
      – That Chauvin was committing (or attempting to commit) a felony level offense (likely aggravated – 3rd degree- assault).

      However, since the amended complaint (charging sheet) as of today still appears to contain BOTH the Murder 2 and Murder 3 charges, as well as the 2nd degree manslaughter charge initially charged, it would appear that a jury could acquit on Murder 2 while still finding guilt on Murder 3.

      Finally, it would be very helpful if somebody (press, politicians, pundits) would go out of their way to explicitly inform folks that in Minnesota, no prosecutor (be it a County Attorney or the Attorney General) can charge a person with a crime the sentence for which is Life in Prison, such as 1st DEGREE MURDER. This can only be charged under an indictment issued by a Grand Jury. That is 16 – 23 Hennepin County regular folks brought together to hear a presentment from the prosecutor in which only the prosecution side make their case, and they try to convince the MAJORITY of these 16 – 23 folks that the suspect did fulfill the ‘elements of the offense’ of 1st Degree Murder. If the MAJORITY so votes, they issue an Indictment, and the process follows to trial.

      It is always in the case in Minnesota, even in the most heinous of murder crimes, where the party is originally arrested and charged with Murder 2, and in some to many cases, that is upgraded to Murder 1 days, weeks or months later.

      …….But it has long been said that a good prosecutor can get a Grand Jury to indict a ham sandwich…..but be careful what you wish for.

      For those calling for Murder 1, it is helpful to remember the all important ‘elements of the offense’ for that crime. Specifically, as follows:

      609.185 MURDER IN THE FIRST DEGREE.
      (a) Whoever does any of the following is guilty of murder in the first degree and shall be sentenced to imprisonment for life:

      (1) causes the death of a human being with premeditation and with intent to effect the death of the person or of another;

      The key words in the above are “premeditation” and “intent to effect (cause – my word) the death”.

      Can/could it be proven that Chauvin INTENDED for Floyd to die?

      Can/could it be proven that he thought about or planned the above INTENT in advance of his actions? That is what premeditation means in these cases.

      Final caution here, and this is 100% my opinion: Perhaps nothing could be a worse outcome in this matter than for the prosecution to have set too high a bar for themselves (e.g. charge too high) and then fail to get a conviction. Just imagine the public outrage at “the system”…..and it should not take too much imagination. Just look up the 1992 L.A. riots after the acquittal of the LAPD cops in the Rodney King case.

  5. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/04/2020 - 11:40 am.

    I think the concept and phrase: “Takeaways” should be banned from journalism. Just report the story.

  6. Submitted by David Markle on 06/04/2020 - 12:04 pm.

    Nothing unexpected or out of line on the part of Ellison and the prosecution. Good that Freeman and his staff have not been pushed out of the actual work room; Ellison is not an experienced prosecutor.

  7. Submitted by Cameron Parkhurst on 06/04/2020 - 01:15 pm.

    Ellison will not be the trial attorney, that is the job of the assistant State’s attorneys.

  8. Submitted by tom kendrick on 06/04/2020 - 01:19 pm.

    Above all, as some of you have suggested, Ellison simply MUST NOT FAIL in getting a conviction. Even though this is “just” the trial of one man, and is deeply relevant to his family especially, and the community, the much larger issue is “can a cop in 2020 still get away with murder?” The answer must be no. This simply MUST be a turning point in the old and brutal relationship between police departments and black people. This needs to be the fundamental bend in the road that brings us in an entirely new direction.

  9. Submitted by Betsy Larey on 06/04/2020 - 01:22 pm.

    Back in the day trials like this were moved to a different jurisdiction because of the inability to find an unbiased jury. If there ever was a trial that should be moved this is the one.
    Not only will it not be moved, the AG, who works with the police department, has taken over the prosecution. This doesn’t pass the smell test. These cops were tried and convicted they the Mayor and the Governor instantly. Public figures used to say we will withhold judgement, now they can’t fall over each other fast enough to try and convict in the court of public opinion.
    Did it ever occur to anyone when all the public officials and news media continue to bash the police department nobody in their right mind would want to join the police department? Let alone try and stop a crime from being committed. That is a big worry in my opinion.

    • Submitted by Elsa Mack on 06/04/2020 - 02:46 pm.

      Have you watched the video, Betsy?

      What justification is there for kneeling on a man’s neck when he is handcuffed and unconscious?

      Who wants to join a police department where such behavior is tolerated? Only people who should never, ever be given such power. The city of Minneapolis can only benefit by preventing another Derek Chauvin from joining the force.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 06/04/2020 - 04:19 pm.

      What utter nonsense. People have made up their minds about this because it took place in public and on video. Four depraved monsters murdered a man on the street. What judgment is there to withhold?

      And the idea that “back in the day” trials like this were moved is simply false. There is nothing about this case that makes it unique to Minneapolis. No matter where its tried, anyone with even a shred of humanity will be disgusted and outrages by this murder.

      These men were not cops. They were degenerate criminals with badges and guns. Good people will always want to become cops. But we need to get rid of the bad ones, like these four and the union president Bob Kroll. These are the people giving good cops a bad name.

      • Submitted by Betsy Larey on 06/04/2020 - 10:58 pm.

        And the “protestors” who stole and burned entire neighborhoods should have been arrested and charged with a felony. They weren’t. In fact, the mayor gave up the 3rd precinct because he knew it was going to be torched that night. For one day he lied and said he didn’t tell the cops to move their stuff out. When photos revealed that was not true, he changed his tune and said : lives matter more than brick and motor”. He has a responsibility to protect businesses, and he abdicated that responsibility I will always support someone’s right to peacefully protest. I will never support the city/county/state standing by and allowing people to torch our city. I think Mayor Frey and the council should take turns protecting downtown Mpls from all the shootings that happen every weekend in downtown in the summer. Hey, don’t call 911. Nobody home we fired them all.

        • Submitted by Pat Terry on 06/08/2020 - 01:34 pm.

          The cops allowed people to torch the cities. They backed off, just like they always do when faces with reform, and let it happen. The cops are the real criminals here.

      • Submitted by tom kendrick on 06/05/2020 - 05:45 am.

        Pat, I share your outrage at a gut level, at a human level. But we mustn’t draw hard conclusions on either side, as appalling as this video is. From the safety of the sidelines it is easy to conclude, rather simplistically, that these four police are monsters. One cries out for one of them to intervene as a handcuffed man slowly dies in front of them.
        But you have to consider the culture of the police department. If these three standers-by were new hires (as most of them were, I believe), they are actively discouraged, within the structure of this organization, from speaking out against a fellow officer. I see THIS as the reason that the MPD needs to be remade from the ground up, and let’s make sure we are not using the same old bricks when we rebuild.
        My friends, it is not more heat that we need, but more light.

        • Submitted by Pat Terry on 06/08/2020 - 01:28 pm.

          Do you want the WW2 cliche about just following orders?

          Obviously, the level of culpability among these officers is not the same. But these guys, rookies or not, culture or not, stood by while a man was murdered in the street.

      • Submitted by Mike Hindin on 06/07/2020 - 07:05 am.

        Remember that two police officers were absolute rookies on the job less than 1 week. Chauvin was a “training officer.” Lane tried to get Chauvin to turn Mr. Floyd. I would not be surprised if Lane is released and possibly reinstated. The rush to judgement almost caused the murder if the truck driver who was later proven to be legally on the freeway.

    • Submitted by Matt Haas on 06/04/2020 - 08:01 pm.

      Please name the cases “back in the day” that were routinely moved. In fact, due to rather onerous conditions for said changes of venue, they are particularly rare here in Minnesota.

      • Submitted by Susan Maricle on 06/09/2020 - 08:20 am.

        Actually, I do remember that cases were moved, but don’t recall if they were in Minnesota or my home state of Michigan. But they weren’t moved to find an impartial jury, they were moved to find a more favorable jury.

  10. Submitted by Greg Claflin on 06/04/2020 - 06:39 pm.

    The only thing holding back police reform and accountability are their Unions. Ones which have the mindset a police officer can do no wrong. Case in point, Joe Biden spoke out for police reform recently in the specifics of this case (not the first time) and the police unions across the country came out and said afterwards Joe has lost touch with reality so now they will come out against him in the next election and support trump’s under the heel of my boot suggested style of police policy. What Joe Biden and most of is support is good policing and good policies and getting rid of every bad actor who has no place in law enforcement. Everything is conditional. I don’t think multiple cases of criminal actions behind the cover of badge is a condition Joe Biden or anyone else in their right mind is willing to overlook.

  11. Submitted by Arthur F Meincke on 06/07/2020 - 09:34 am.

    Why not file a First Degree murder charge against former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin? Chauvin DID strangle Floyd to death for over eight long minutes with his knee even after Floyd conveyed twice that he could not breathe. Meanwhile, three other MPD officers stood around them and did nothing NOTHING. Oh, but it was perfectly fine to charge Somali American officer Mohamed Noor with first-degree murder when, in July 2017, Noor fired his gun at Justine Ruszcyk Damond, a white Australian woman, MISTAKENLY killing her in an alley behind her home. And all this happened with the very same Minneapolis Police Department. Noor Noor was convicted and sentenced to 12.5 years prison sentence in 2018. There will be NO 12.5-year prison sentence for former MPD officer Derek Chauvin, given the fact that he is an American white male who enjoys WHITE PRIVILEGE. Justine Ruszczyk Damond’s family received a 20-million-dollar settlement from the City of Minneapolis. Do you honestly think that an African AMERICAN family like those related to George Floyd will ever receive such a significant compensation the way the family members of Justine Ruszczyk Damond have? There’s yet another example of WHITE PRIVILEGE in this nation, and it needs to STOP.

    • Submitted by Betsy Larey on 06/07/2020 - 08:48 pm.

      Tired of the white privilege line. Everyone in this country has access to free education. If you want to make something of your life go to school. Do not just assume the government has a responsibility to take care of you for your life. What you all should be fearing is allowing the far left to assume control of every level of government. They already have in mpls and St. Paul. Keep it up, and the people with money will move, and you will be left with nothing. Who do you think pays for all of the services that are available here?

      • Submitted by Arthur F Meincke on 06/07/2020 - 09:20 pm.

        White Privilege and Racism go hand in hand in our political matrix. Double standards and hypocrisy are all over the spectrum in American history. Get off your dual-standard view of the world. You’re a dying breed.

      • Submitted by Susan Maricle on 06/08/2020 - 01:10 pm.

        Tired though you may be of the white privilege line, white privilege exists. I have been let go with a verbal warning for traffic infractions that Philando Castile was ticketed for, ultimately paying with his life.

        One of those infractions was when I lived in north Mpls. I was on my way to a wedding shower and stopped at the Broadway Target for a greeting card. I turned right out of the parking lot without bothering to look left and almost got T-boned. A police car stopped me. The officer looked at me, dressed to the nines, grinned and said, “You’re not from around here, are you?”

      • Submitted by Pat Terry on 06/08/2020 - 01:43 pm.

        Actually, blue states and cities subsidize red states and rural areas. That is who pays for things.

  12. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 06/07/2020 - 10:12 am.

    Ultimately, the best protection for ALL of us is maintaining the rule of law.
    NOT ‘Judge Lynch’.

    • Submitted by Betsy Larey on 06/07/2020 - 08:50 pm.

      And whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty? With the new environment, it’s cops are guilty. Some of you may call it poetic justice. I get that. But has it ever occurred to you that without police your neighborhoods could be looted and burned and nobody would give a hoot? And good luck calling 911. Nobody home. Why anyone would want to be a cop in a major city in the US is beyond me. Go to the suburbs, much safer place to live

      • Submitted by Susan Maricle on 06/08/2020 - 01:12 pm.

        And I’m sure in cases when the defendant is a person of color, you believe the defendant is innocent until proven guilty.

      • Submitted by Pat Terry on 06/08/2020 - 01:31 pm.

        Because there is overwhelming evidence the cops are guilty. The union head is a white supremacist. Calling 9-11 isn’t safe now. The cops aren’t policing now. They went after protesters and allowed the looters to have at it.

  13. Submitted by Arthur F Meincke on 06/07/2020 - 09:23 pm.

    What is the “Rule of Law” today in the USA under the Republicans in the U.S. Senate and the criminal moron POTUS we have at the helm of the USA?

  14. Submitted by Susan Maricle on 06/08/2020 - 07:42 pm.

    Abolish the police? No. Reform the police? Yes. Defund the police? Defund them of the gear that turns them into a militia rather than peacekeepers who protect and serve.

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