US prosecutors have announced new charges against all the four sacked Minneapolis police officers who were present while unarmed African-American man George Floyd died in custody.
Addressing a news conference on Wednesday, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said that Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis Police Department officer, who court documents said knelt on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes, was charged with second-degree murder, reports Xinhua news agency.
The announcement was an upgrade to the previous charge against him for third-degree murder and manslaughter.
“I believe the evidence available to us now supports the stronger charge of second-degree murder,” Ellison said.
The attorney General also announced that arrest warrants were issued for three other officers who, also fired by the department, were involved in the brutal killing on May 25 of the 46-year-old black man.
Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng, who helped Chauvin constrain Floyd, and Tou Thau, who stood by without stopping his colleagues, were charged with aiding and abetting murder, Ellison said.
“I strongly believe that these developments are in the interests of justice for George Floyd, his family, our community and our state,” the Attorney General said.
The four former officers arrested Floyd after a nearby shop owner called police, saying a man had used a counterfeit $20 dollar to purchase cigarettes.
Chauvin kept his knee down on Floyd’s neck even after the latter lost consciousness, according to a document released by prosecutors.
The higher charge facing Chauvin, which alleges that he murdered Floyd “without intent” but “while committing a felony offence”, comes with a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison.
The charge against each of the three other cops is a felony with maximum penalty of 10 years of life behind bars and/or a $20,000 fine.
Informing reporters that he is the lead prosecutor of the case, Ellison acknowledged that although the prosecution team believed in the appropriateness of the charges they filed, “what I do not believe is that one successful prosecution can rectify the hurt and loss that so many people feel”.
He added that “constructing justice and fairness in our society” would be a “slow and difficult work” ahead, urging leaders in government and all citizens “to begin rewriting the rules for a just society now”.
In response to the new charges, Benjamin Crump, the attorney for George Floyd’s family, said it wa not a time for celebration since an arrest is not a conviction, adding that the family wanted Chauvin to be charged with first-degree murder.
“You know, we don’t want partial justice. We want whole justice.” Crump said.
“The family has always wanted first-degree murder. They wanted him charged to the full extent of the law,” he added, referring to Chauvin.
Further condemning racial injustice in the US, the lawyer said “there are two justice systems in America — one for black America and one for white America, when there should be equal justice for the United States of America”.
One of the former officers, J. Alexander Kueng, is set to appear in court on Thursday afternoon, according to court records.
Asked about the timetable of the prosecution process, Ellison said “we’re probably a number of months before this case will be in front of a jury”.
Also following the announcement of the charges, former President Barack Obama, in a live-streamed town hall meeting with local and national leaders of the police reform movement, urged “every mayor in this country to review your use of force policies with members of your community and commit to report on planned reforms”.
Referring to the death of Floyd and the ensuing nationwide unrest over police brutality and racial discrimination, Obama said: “As tragic as these past few weeks have been, as difficult and scary and uncertain as they’ve been, they’ve also been an incredible opportunity for people to be awakened to some of these underlying trends.”