MINNEAPOLIS – A Minnesota judge dismissed a third-degree murder charge filed against the former Minneapolis police officer who pressed his knee against George Floyd’s neck, saying there was not enough probable cause for that count to be tried. The most serious second-degree murder charge against Derek Chauvin remains.
The decision by Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill, dated Wednesday and made public on Thursday, found a likely cause for Chauvin to be tried on a second degree unintentional murder charge and a manslaughter charge. in second degree. Cahill also found a probable cause for advancing aid and complicity counts against three other former officers, Thomas Lane, J. Kueng and Tou Thao.
“In the opinion of this court, with one exception, the State has complied with the burden of showing the probable cause that justifies the trial process against each of these Defendants in each of the criminal charges that the State has brought against them,” wrote Cahill. He said a jury will decide whether they are guilty.
Floyd, a black man in handcuffs, died on May 25 after Chauvin, who is white, pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck while saying he couldn’t breathe. Floyd’s death sparked protests in Minneapolis and beyond, and led to a national race score. All four policemen were fired. They are due to be tried in March.
Following Cahill’s decision, Governor Tim Walz activated the Minnesota National Guard in anticipation of the protests. Protesters protested in the streets after Chauvin was released on bail earlier this month, resulting in dozens of arrests. A truck driver who drove against a large crowd of protesters on a bridge in Minneapolis after Floyd’s murder was charged Thursday with two criminal charges.
On the second-degree murder charge, prosecutors presented a probable cause to show that Chauvin’s actions were a “substantial causal factor” in Floyd’s death, and that he was committing or attempting to commit another crime at the time, in this case, assault , wrote Cahill. .
He said prosecutors need not show that Chauvin’s actions were the sole cause of Floyd’s death. He also said that Chauvin’s decision to remain kneeling on Floyd’s neck after he was silent and immobile “is strong evidence of Chauvin’s intention to inflict bodily harm”.
But to prove a third-degree murder charge, prosecutors must show that Chauvin’s intentional conduct was “eminently dangerous to others” and not specifically directed at Floyd, Cahill said.
“This is not an appropriate case for a third-degree murder charge,” he said.
While former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor was convicted of third-degree murder in the murder of Justine Ruszczyk Damond in 2017, Cahill said the cases are “factually distinguishable”. Noor fired outside the car window, potentially putting a nearby cyclist, residents, potential passersby, his partner or others at risk.
In that case, Cahill said, “nothing about the way Chauvin pressed his knee to Floyd’s neck … was eminently dangerous for anyone other than Floyd”, who was the target of Chauvin’s actions.
Lawyer Ben Crump said in a statement that Floyd’s family is grateful that most of the charges have been preserved, including the most serious second-degree murder count, “for which we expect a conviction, based on the clear and evident use of excessive force that we all saw in the video. “
Many legal observers initially believed that counting third-degree homicides was not a good option, and activists and family members called for more serious charges.
Nicole Kettwick, a criminal defense attorney not associated with this case, said the dismissal of that charge is not surprising because the facts currently known do not fit the elements of the charge.
When the third-degree murder charge was brought, the Minnesota section of the American Civil Liberties Union asked the state to take over the Hennepin County case, saying more serious charges were justified. Attorney General Keith Ellison’s office is now the chief prosecutor in the case.
“The ACLU of Minnesota was waiting for today’s decision and believes it is an appropriate step in this legal process,” said ACLU of Minnesota executive director John Gordon in a statement. “Today was a good day to get justice for George Floyd.”
Cahill also found probable cause for the aid and complicity charges to pursue Lane, Kueng and Thao, saying that they could be held criminally responsible if prosecutors could prove that they intentionally helped or conspired with Chauvin, and that they knew Chauvin was committing a crime in Time. He said prosecutors must also show that their presence or actions allowed the crime to continue.
Lane and Kueng heard Floyd say he couldn’t breathe, knew that Chauvin was kneeling on Floyd’s neck and heard the crowd’s screams, but continued to restrain Floyd by the legs and the back, Cahill said. The fact that Lane asked if Floyd should be rolled over to a recovery position shows that Lane knew “the consequences of keeping Floyd stuck face down on the ground”, but chose to “stay the course,” said Cahill.
Lane never tried to get out of the situation or assertively tell Chauvin to stop, he said. Even if Floyd’s restriction was initially justified, it does not give police officers “carte blanche” to continue to detain him regardless of changing circumstances, the judge said.
Lane and Kueng’s rookie status is irrelevant, he said: “There is no free pass under state law for newbies who choose to disregard their training at the suggestion of a senior officer.”
Cahill said Thao never physically restrained Floyd, but he could see and hear what was happening, and his actions to keep the crowd at bay allowed Floyd to continue to contain himself.
This story has been corrected to show that the name of one of the officers accused of Floyd’s death is J. Kueng, not J. Jueng.
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