By Brendan O’Brien
MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) – A fired Minneapolis police officer will face a more serious murder charge and three other sacked officers will be charged as aiding and abetting in the death of an unarmed black man that triggered eight days of nationwide protest, court documents said on Wednesday.
George Floyd, 46, died after Derek Chauvin, a white policeman, knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes on May 25, reigniting the explosive issue of police brutality against African Americans five months before a presidential election.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison is charging Chauvin, 44, with second-degree murder in addition to the third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter charges leveled against him last week, according to court documents.
The new charge can carry a sentence of up to 40 years, 15 years longer than the maximum sentence for third-degree murder.
The other three former officers who were involved in the incident – Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao – face charges of aiding and abetting murder and arrest warrants have been issued by Ellison, according to the documents.
Ellison, a black former U.S. congressman, has requested that bail be set at $1 million for each of the four former officers, the documents showed. Ellison was expected to hold a briefing later on Wednesday.
When reached by Reuters over the phone, Earl Gray, the attorney for Lane, said he had not received any information on the charges yet. Attorneys for the other officers who are being charged did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
“This is a significant step forward on the road to justice, and we are gratified that this important action was brought before George Floyd’s body was laid to rest,” Benjamin Crump, attorney for the Floyd family, said in a statement.
He later told CNN that Chauvin should be facing a first-degree murder charge, and that Ellison had informed Floyd’s family that the investigation is ongoing and other charges could be filed.
Protesters who have vented their anger over Floyd’s death in sometimes violent demonstrations in major U.S. cities over the past week had demanded the case be widened to include all the officers who were present during the incident.
“This is another important step for justice,” said U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, who is from Minnesota and a potential running mate for presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden in the Nov. 3 election.
Tens of thousands of people defied curfews and took to the streets of cities coast to coast for an eighth night in protest over Floyd’s death and brutality against other black Americans.
Authorities took the unusual step of ordering the curfews, and bands of police in riot gear and other heavily armed officers patrolled, ringing landmarks and shouting at protesters while helicopters roared overhead.
While most protests have been peaceful, there was less looting and vandalism overnight, and clashes between police and protesters were more sporadic.
The protests have highlighted the issues of racial inequality and excessive police force in a country that will go to the polls on Nov. 3 to decide whether to give Republican President Donald Trump another term in the White House.
Trump has said justice must be done in Floyd’s case but also touted a hard line on the violent protests, threatening to use the military to end the chaos. Biden has vowed to heal the racial divide in the nation if he is elected.
(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien, Nathan Layne, Maria Caspani, Rich McKay, Jonathan Allen, Sharon Bernstein, Dan Whitcomb, Lisa Lambert, Susan Heavey, Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali; Writing by Paul Simao; Editing by Nick Macfie, Howard Goller)