By BILL HUTCHINSON and WHITNEY LLOYD, ABC NEWS
(MINNEAPOLIS, Minn.) — The mayor of Minneapolis called on prosecutors Wednesday to file criminal charges against a white police officer seen in a viral video pressing his knee into the neck of an African American man who is repeatedly heard in the footage saying “I can’t breathe” before he died.
Mayor Jacob Frey said at a news conference that he has contacted the office of Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman to demand justice for George Floyd and his family.
“I’ve wrestled with, more than anything else over the last 36 hours, one fundamental question: Why is the man who killed George Floyd not in jail?” Frey said. “If you had done it, or I had done it, we would be behind bars right now. I cannot come up with a good answer to that question and so I’m calling upon Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman to act on the evidence before him. I’m calling on him to charge the arresting officer in this case.”
Frey’s comments came a day after protesters took to the streets of Minneapolis to demand justice for Floyd. The demonstrators clashed with police, who sprayed chemical irritants on them in an attempt to disperse the large crowd.
The protests turned violent again Wednesday evening, causing Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz to ask people to leave over safety precautions.
“The situation near Lake Street and Hiawatha in Minneapolis has evolved into an extremely dangerous situation,” the governor tweeted around midnight Wednesday. “For everyone’s safety, please leave the area and allow firefighters and paramedics to get to the scene.”
At least one business was set on fire Wednesday night and ABC affiliate KSTP-TV is reporting looting took place at a local Target in the area.
Frey tweeted early Thursday morning, asking for peace because the protests have become dangerous.
“Please, Minneapolis, we cannot let tragedy beget more tragedy,” Frey tweeted. “The area along Lake has become unsafe. We are asking for your help in keeping the peace tonight.”
Floyd died shortly after he was apprehended by Minneapolis police on Monday. Video emerged on social media showing a police officer with his knee on Floyd’s neck as Floyd, who was handcuffed, begged for mercy.
“I can’t breathe, please, the knee in my neck,” Floyd is heard saying to the officer, identified as Officer Derek Chauvin, who had him pinned to the ground. “I can’t move … my neck … I’m through, I’m through.”
Officers Chauvin, Tou Thao, who is also seen in the video, and Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng, who were also involved in the incident, were fired on Tuesday by Police Chief Medaria Arradondo.
Frey said he made his decision to ask that criminal charges be filed in the case based primarily on the video of the incident.
“There are events in our city that shape us. There are precedents and protocols sitting in the reserves of institutions just like this one that will give you about a thousand reasons not to do something, not to speak out, not to act so quickly,” Frey said. “We cannot turn a blind eye. It is on us as leaders to see this for what it is and call it what it is. George Floyd deserves justice, his family deserves justice, the black community deserves justice and our city deserves justice.”
While autopsy results determining the cause of Floyd’s death have not been released, Frey said that “what I can say with certainty based on what I saw, is that the individual, the officer who had his knee on the neck of George Floyd, should be charged.”
According to the police watchdog group Communities United Against Police Brutality, Chauvin was one of six Minneapolis police officers involved in an October 2006 incident in which police fatally shot Wayne Reyes, who was suspected of stabbing his girlfriend and a male friend. Hennepin County officials confirmed to ABC News that a grand jury declined to indict the officers of wrongdoing.
Thao was named in an “unreasonable use of force” lawsuit that was settled out of court for $25,000 in 2017, according to attorney Seth Leventhal, who represented the plaintiff, Lamar Ferguson, in the case. The complaint filed in the case alleged that Ferguson was handcuffed when he suffered “punches, kicks and knees to the face and body” that left him with broken teeth and bruising. Ferguson alleged in the complaint that he was walking home with his pregnant girlfriend when Thao and another officer stopped him without cause and began questioning him about a previous incident they suspected involved Ferguson’s family members.
Mayor Frey would not specify what charges he would like to see filed in the Floyd case.
“I do not want to get into the fundamentals of different classifications of murder. I do not want to get into the fundamentals of any one specific charge or any one individual,” he said. “I’m not going to weigh in on the evidence. I know there’s clearly more evidence to come, but I will say that based on what I saw in the video this is the decision that I am making, obviously not as a prosecutor.”
Freeman’s office issued a statement in respond to Frey’s request, saying, “We are working with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and the Hennepin County Medical Examiner to expeditiously gather and review all of the evidence in the tragic death of Mr. George Floyd. The videotaped death of Mr. Floyd, which has outraged us and people across the country, deserves the best we can give and that is what this office will do.”
The Minneapolis Police Department said in a statement Monday that their officers initially confronted Floyd after being called to the scene “on a report of a forgery in progress.” The officers were advised that the suspect “appeared to be under the influence” and that he “physically resisted officers.”
The department said Floyd “appeared to be suffering medical distress” and that officers called an ambulance. Floyd was taken to the Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, where he was pronounced dead. Police officials said no weapons were found on Floyd and none of the officers involved in the incident were injured.
Frey’s statements echoed those made by Floyd’s sister, Bridgett Floyd, during an interview Wednesday morning on ABC’s Good Morning America.
She said terminating the officers is “definitely not enough justice for me or my family.”
“They murdered my brother. They killed him,” Bridgett Floyd said. “Firing them is just not enough.”
Following George Floyd’s death, the University of Minnesota announced Wednesday night that it would stop contracting the Minneapolis Police Department for most of its sporting events, concerts and ceremonies.
“As a community, we are outraged and grief-stricken,” University of Minnesota President Joan Gabel said in a statement. “I do not have the words to fully express my pain and anger and I know that many in our community share those feelings, but also fear for their own safety. This will not stand.”
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