A judge in the case against former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin has made a decision to dismiss one charge. Chauvin, accused of killing George Floyd in May, is no longer facing a third degree murder charge. So what charges remain, and what does this mean in the case against Chauvin?
In May, Chauvin Kneeled on George Floyd’s Neck Until He Died
On May 25th, former officers Thomas Lane, and J. Alexander Kueng responded to reports of a forgery in progress. After arriving, the encountered Floyd in his car, who they identified as a suspect. After handcuffing him, Lane and Kueng tried to place Floyd in their squad car but Floyd refused, citing claustrophobia. Then-officers Derek Chauvin and Tou Thao arrived to assist at this point.
Fox 9 reports the following interaction; “As the officers were trying to force Floyd into the backseat of the squad car, he repeatedly said that he could not breathe and would not go voluntarily into the vehicle.
Chauvin pulled Floyd out of the squad car and he went down on the ground, still handcuffed. Kueng held his back and Lane held his legs while Chauvin pressed his knee onto Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes while he repeatedly cried ‘I can’t breathe.’
Floyd eventually lost consciousness, but none of the officers moved from their positions. The ambulance arrived minutes later. Floyd was later declared dead at the hospital.”
Fury Erupts in the Streets
Following what many are calling the cold-blooded murder of Floyd, protests erupted all over the country. All 4 officers involved in Floyd’s death were fired, but it took 4 days to arrest Chauvin. While authorities patted themselves on the back for the speed with which they arrested Chauvin – a department record – critics weren’t satisfied. The entire incident was caught on film, with no way for Chauvin to pretend his actions were anything other than alleged, and a slew of witnesses besides. Black Lives Matter protests arose in cities and towns across the US, and the dialogue turned to police brutality and the murder of unarmed Black people.
Chauvin is Charged
Upon his arrest, Chauvin was charged with 3rd degree manslaughter and 3rd degree murder. On June 3rd, Chauvin’s charges were upgraded to second degree murder, second degree manslaughter, and third degree murder.
A Judge Dismisses Third Degree Murder
Wednesday, a Hennepin County, Minnesota, judge announced that the third degree murder charges would be dropped. However, the second degree murder and manslaughter charges remain. The judge also declined to dismiss aiding and abetting charges against the other three involved officers.
Per CNN, “[Judge Peter] Cahill’s ruling states the jury should decide if the state of Minnesota has proven the guilt of the former officers, writing in his summary that the state has met the burden of probable cause in the charges against Thao, Lane and Kueng.
The exception was the third-degree murder charge against Chauvin. Cahill wrote the charge can ‘be sustained only in situations in which the defendant’s actions were ’eminently dangerous to other persons’ and were not specifically directed at the particular person whose death occurred.’
But the evidence presented by the state does not show that Chauvin’s actions were ’eminently dangerous’ to anyone but Floyd, the ruling says.
CNN senior legal analyst Laura Coates explained the third-degree murder charge was ‘odd’ to begin with, saying it ‘wouldn’t have stuck.’
‘Third-degree in Minnesota is meant to be someone firing a gun into a crowd with no specific target or driving down the wrong side of the road,’ Coates said. ‘You mean to harm or know that you could harm someone, but you don’t have a particular person in mind or a personal vendetta.’
In a statement, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, who is leading the prosecution of Floyd’s death, called the ruling a ‘positive step forward in the path toward justice for George Floyd, his family, our community, and Minnesota.’
‘The court has sustained eight out of nine charges against the defendants in the murder of George Floyd, including the most serious charges against all four defendants,’ Ellison said.
‘We look forward to presenting the prosecution’s case to a jury in Hennepin County,’ he added.”
Will the Dismissal Spark Unrest?
Out of an abundance of caution, the National Guard has been prepared for unrest in Minnesota following the announcement. It’s possible Floyd’s family, friends, and supporters, will see this as a step in the wrong direction. While the higher murder charge remains, second degree is harder to prove, which makes the prosecution’s job of proving the case against Chauvin harder. However, as Coates explained, third was not entirely appropriate in this case. As supporters of Floyd and Black Lives Matter advocates watch the case closely, it remains to be seen what the reaction will be. It’s not just those close to Floyd watching these proceedings; the world is watching and holding it’s breath, wondering if maybe this time, an officer will be held accountable.