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Swift firings for Minneapolis officers in death of black man as many protest

Protesters gather near the Minnesota Police 3rd Precinct during a gathering Tuesday, May 26, 2020, in response to the death the day before of George Floyd in police custody. (Richard Tsong-Taatarii/Star Tribune via AP)

Firings came swiftly for four Minneapolis police officers after bystander video captured the death of a black man in custody.

Posted: May 27, 2020 6:38 AM
Updated: May 27, 2020 1:49 PM

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — To the general public, the video of a white police officer pressing his knee into the neck of a black man prone on the street, crying out for help until he finally stopped moving, was horrifying.

Four officers were fired a day after George Floyd's death, a stunning and swift move by the Minneapolis chief with the mayor's full backing. But despite their dismissal, whether the incident will be considered criminal, or even excessive force, is a more complicated question that will likely take months to investigate.

The officers were dismissed soon after a bystander’s video taken outside a south Minneapolis grocery store Monday night showed an officer kneeling on the handcuffed man’s neck, even after he pleaded that he could not breathe and stopped moving. Floyd’s death prompted protests Tuesday, with thousands taking to the streets at the intersection where he died.

Many protesters marched more than 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) to the police precinct station in that part of the city, with some damaging the building’s windows and squad cars and spraying graffiti. Police in riot gear eventually confronted them with tear gas and projectiles, with tense skirmishes stretching late into the evening.

Bridgett Floyd told NBC's “Today” show in an interview Wednesday morning that the officers involved in her brother's death should be charged with murder because “that’s exactly what they did.” She said she hadn't watched the bystander's video, but told ABC's “Good Morning America” that “I don’t understand how someone could possibly let an individual go out like that."

Mayor Jacob Frey announced the firings on Twitter, saying: "This is the right call.”

The FBI and state law enforcement were investigating Floyd's death, which immediately drew comparisons to the case of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man who died in 2014 in New York after he was placed in a chokehold by police and pleaded for his life, saying he could not breathe.

But in the Garner case, local prosecutors, the NYPD’s internal affairs unit, and the Justice Department all finished investigations into the case before the officer was ultimately fired. Garner’s family and activists spent years begging for the officer to be removed.

The officers in the Minneapolis incident haven’t even been publicly identified, though one defense attorney has confirmed he is representing Derek Chauvin, the officer seen with his knee on Floyd’s neck. The attorney, Tom Kelly, declined to comment further.

The police union asked the public to wait for the investigation to take its course and not to “rush to judgment and immediately condemn our officers.” Messages left with the union after the firings were not returned.

During Tuesday's protests, some chanted and carried banners that read, “I can’t breathe” and “Jail killer KKKops.” And some stacked shopping carts to make a barricade at a Target store across the street from the station.

Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said the department would conduct a full internal investigation, and prosecutors will decide whether to file criminal charges against the officers involved. The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office said it was “shocked and saddened” by the video and pledged to handle the case fairly. Part of that investigation will likely focus on the intent of the officers, whether they meant to harm Floyd or whether it was a death that happened in the course of police work. The FBI was investigating whether the officers willfully deprived Floyd of his civil rights.

News accounts show Chauvin was one of six officers who fired their weapons in the 2006 death of Wayne Reyes, who police said pointed a sawed-off shotgun at officers after stabbing two people. Chauvin also shot and wounded a man in 2008 during a struggle after Chauvin and his partner responded to a reported domestic assault. Police did not immediately respond to a request for Chauvin’s service record.

In Minneapolis, kneeling on a suspect’s neck is allowed under the department’s use-of-force policy for officers who have received training in how to compress a neck without applying direct pressure to the airway. It is considered a “non-deadly force option,” according to the department’s policy handbook.

A chokehold is considered a deadly force option and involves someone obstructing the airway. According to the department’s use-of-force policy, officers are to use only an amount of force necessary that would be objectively reasonable.

But two use-of-force experts told The Associated Press that the officer clearly restrained the man too long, noting that the man was under control and no longer fighting. Andrew Scott, a former Boca Raton, Florida, police chief who now testifies as an expert witness in use-of-force cases, called Floyd’s death “a combination of not being trained properly or disregarding their training.”

“He couldn’t move. He was telling them he couldn’t breathe, and they ignored him,” Scott said. “I can’t even describe it. It was difficult to watch.”

In a post on his Facebook page, the mayor, who is white, apologized Tuesday to the black community for the officer’s treatment of Floyd, 46, who worked security at a restaurant.

“Being Black in America should not be a death sentence. For five minutes, we watched a white officer press his knee into a Black man’s neck. Five minutes. When you hear someone calling for help, you’re supposed to help. This officer failed in the most basic, human sense,” Frey posted.

Police said the man matched the description of a suspect in a forgery case at a grocery store, and that he resisted arrest.

The video starts with the man on the ground, and does not show what happened in the moments prior. The unidentified officer is kneeling on his neck, ignoring his pleas. “Please, please, please, I can’t breathe. Please, man,” said Floyd, who has his face against the pavement.

Even in the coronavirus pandemic that has killed nearly 100,000 people in the U.S. and prompted police departments around the country to change how they’re doing work, the officers in the video aren’t wearing masks. In some cities, low-level arrests such as attempted forgery are skipped right now.

Floyd also moans. One of the officers tells him to “relax.” Floyd calls for his mother and says: “My stomach hurts, my neck hurts, everything hurts ... I can’t breathe.” As bystanders shout their concern, one officer says, “He’s talking, so he’s breathing.”

But Floyd slowly becomes motionless under the officer’s restraint. The officer does not remove his knee until the man is loaded onto a gurney by paramedics.

Several witnesses had gathered on a nearby sidewalk, some recording the scene on their phones. The bystanders become increasingly agitated. One man yells repeatedly. “He’s not responsive right now!” Two witnesses, including one woman who said she was a Minneapolis firefighter, yell at the officers to check the man’s pulse. “Check his pulse right now and tell me what it is!” she said.

At one point, an officer says: “Don’t do drugs, guys.” And one man yells, “Don’t do drugs, bro? What is that? What do you think this is?”

The Hennepin County medical examiner identified Floyd but said the cause of death was pending.

Floyd had worked security for five years at a restaurant called Conga Latin Bistro and rented a home from the restaurant's owner, Jovanni Thunstrom.

He was “a good friend, person and a good tenant,” the restaurateur told the Star Tribune. “He was family. His co-workers and friends loved him.”

Ben Crump, a prominent civil rights and personal injury attorney, said he had been hired by Floyd’s family.

The death came amid outrage over the death of Ahmaud Arbery, who was fatally shot Feb. 23 in Georgia after a white father and son pursued the 25-year-old black man they had spotted running in their subdivision. More than two months passed before charges were brought. Crump also represents Arbery's father.

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Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 42772

Reported Deaths: 1542
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hennepin13697791
Ramsey5313234
Dakota275396
Stearns253619
Anoka2458111
Nobles16946
Washington130641
Olmsted130220
Mower9872
Scott8994
Rice8928
Clay62038
Kandiyohi5951
Blue Earth5862
Wright5475
Carver5002
Todd4042
Sherburne3725
Lyon3512
Freeborn3140
Watonwan2720
Steele2501
Benton2423
St. Louis23816
Nicollet20712
Martin1755
Winona15015
Cottonwood1420
Goodhue1428
Le Sueur1361
Crow Wing11512
Otter Tail1151
Pine1150
Chisago1111
McLeod1030
Dodge990
Carlton940
Polk903
Unassigned8838
Pipestone864
Isanti830
Murray830
Chippewa811
Waseca800
Itasca7612
Douglas740
Morrison691
Becker680
Meeker661
Faribault610
Jackson580
Sibley572
Beltrami550
Pennington540
Brown492
Wabasha430
Mille Lacs412
Renville373
Fillmore360
Rock350
Swift351
Grant320
Houston320
Yellow Medicine310
Roseau280
Lincoln250
Redwood250
Koochiching221
Wilkin223
Norman210
Cass202
Big Stone180
Kanabec181
Wadena180
Aitkin160
Marshall160
Clearwater150
Mahnomen131
Pope130
Stevens110
Hubbard100
Lake90
Traverse70
Lac qui Parle50
Red Lake50
Kittson20
Cook10
Lake of the Woods00

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 35534

Reported Deaths: 754
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Polk7611185
Woodbury334944
Black Hawk253459
Buena Vista173811
Johnson14878
Dallas141531
Linn141083
Marshall110019
Scott109810
Dubuque100023
Story8778
Pottawattamie84113
Wapello71631
Muscatine69545
Crawford6813
Sioux5050
Tama48829
Webster4295
Wright3991
Louisa36713
Jasper35717
Plymouth3535
Warren3371
Cerro Gordo3291
Dickinson3073
Washington2559
Hamilton2041
Boone1751
Clay1511
Clarke1453
Clinton1391
Allamakee1384
Mahaska11917
Shelby1190
Carroll1171
Bremer1167
Franklin1130
Poweshiek1128
Pocahontas1091
Des Moines1022
Emmet970
Cedar961
Henry933
Hardin920
Cherokee851
Marion840
Floyd822
Guthrie814
Taylor810
Benton781
Monona780
Jones741
Butler702
Osceola690
Sac680
Jackson670
Buchanan651
Calhoun652
Iowa631
Jefferson630
Hancock621
Harrison620
Lyon610
Humboldt601
Fayette590
Delaware581
Madison562
Lee542
Mills530
Palo Alto530
Monroe527
Clayton503
Winneshiek500
Grundy470
Mitchell470
Winnebago440
Davis431
Kossuth430
Union430
Howard370
Lucas354
Unassigned350
Chickasaw310
Greene310
Cass300
Worth270
Appanoose243
Keokuk241
Ida230
Page220
Van Buren211
Audubon181
Adair170
Ringgold161
Montgomery152
Decatur130
Fremont110
Wayne110
Adams80
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