Protesters and police face each other during a rally for George Floyd in Minneapolis. Richard Tsong-Taatarii, Star Tribune via AP
By Amy Forliti Associated Press
May 26, 2020
MINNEAPOLIS – A black man has died in Minneapolis police custody after video shared online from a bystander showed a white officer kneeling on his neck during his arrest as he pleaded that he couldn’t breathe.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said Tuesday that the four responding officers involved in the incident have been fired and identified the victim as George Floyd.
Frey announced the dismissals on Twitter, saying “This is the right call.”
Floyd’s death Monday night after a struggle with officers is under investigation by the FBI and state agents. The incident drew comparisons to the case of Eric Garner, an unarmed black New York man who died in 2014 after he was placed in a chokehold by police and pleaded for his life saying he couldn’t breathe.
Prior to the firings, Frey apologized Tuesday to the black community in a post on his Facebook page.
“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.
‘Man, I can’t breathe’
Minneapolis police said Floyd matched the description of a suspect in a forgery case and resisted arrest. The video shows an unidentified officer kneeling on his neck and ignoring his pleas. “Please, please, please, I can’t breathe. Please, man,” Floyd is heard telling the officer.
After several minutes, one of the officers tells Floyd to “relax.” “Man, I can’t breathe,” he responds. Minutes pass and the man becomes motionless under the officer’s restraint. The officer leaves his knee on Floyd’s neck for several minutes more.
Several witnesses had gathered on a nearby sidewalk, with some recording on their phones. Bystanders became increasingly agitated as Floyd pleaded with police. One bystander tells officers that they need to let him breathe. Another yelled at the officers to check the man’s pulse.
Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, speaking to reporters Tuesday, was asked about the use of the knee on the man’s neck during the arrest.
“We clearly have policies in place regarding placing someone under control,” Arradondo said, explaining that those policies “will be part of the full investigation we’ll do internally.”
The New York City officer in the Garner case said he was using a legal maneuver called “the seat belt” to bring down Garner, whom police said had been resisting arrest. But the medical examiner referred to it as a chokehold in the autopsy report and said it contributed to his death. Chokehold maneuvers are banned under New York police policy.
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.
Messages left with the police officers’ union were not immediately returned.
Officers called to investigate report of forgery, police said
Nekima Levy-Armstrong, a prominent local activist, said watching the footage that was shared on social media made her “sick to her stomach” and said it reminded her of the Garner case, she told the Star Tribune. A grand jury later decided against indicting the officers involved in Garner’s death, sparking protests around the country.
Floyd’s death in Minneapolis also came amid outrage over the death of Ahmaud Arbery, who was fatally shot Feb. 23 when a white father and son pursued the 25-year-old black man after spotting him running in their subdivision. More than two months passed before charges were brought.
Officers in Minneapolis were called about 8 p.m. Monday to investigate a report of a forgery at a business, according to police spokesman John Elder. Police found Floyd, believed to be in his 40s, matching the suspect’s description in his car.
“He was ordered to step from his car. After he got out, he physically resisted officers,” Elder said in a statement. “Officers were able to get the suspect into handcuffs and noted he appeared to be suffering medical distress.”
Floyd was taken by ambulance to a hospital, where he soon died, police said. Cause of death is expected to be released by the medical examiner.
All body camera footage has been turned over to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, and the agency asked to speak with anyone who saw the arrest or recorded video. The officers were initially put on paid administrative leave, per department protocol. The agency said the officers’ names will be released after interviews with the people involved and witnesses.
The FBI is conducting a separate federal civil rights investigation, at the request of Minneapolis police, the BCA said. Messages left with the FBI were not immediately returned.
Police in Minneapolis has come under the microscope in recent years for deadly run-ins with citizens. A 24-year-old black man, Jamar Clark, was shot in the head and died in 2015 after a confrontation with two white officers responding to a reported assault. A county prosecutor declined to prosecute the officers, saying Clark was struggling for one of the officers’ gun when he was shot.
A white woman, Justine Rusczcyk Damond, died in 2017 when she was shot in the stomach by a Minneapolis officer responding to her 911 call. That officer, who is black, was convicted of manslaughter and murder and is serving a 12-year prison sentence.
Contributing: Gretchen Ehlke, Associated Press