U.S. Department of Justice says probe into George Floyd’s death ‘top priority’

(Reuters) – The U.S. Department of Justice said on Thursday it had made its investigation into police involvement in the death of George Floyd a “top priority,” after a second day of protests in Minneapolis over the unarmed black man’s death.

Experienced prosecutors and investigators from the Federal Bureau of Investigation had been assigned as part of a “robust” probe into whether the police officers involved had violated federal laws, the department said in a statement.

The statement followed a second day of protests in Minneapolis triggered by rage over the death of Floyd, a black man who was seen in a widely circulated video gasping for breath as a white officer knelt on his neck.

Floyd, 46, died on Monday. The investigation will be carried out by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Minnesota, the Justice Department’s civil rights division and the FBI’s Minneapolis Field Office.

The widely circulated video of Floyd’s fatal encounter on Monday night with the police, taken by a bystander, showed him lying face down and handcuffed, groaning for help and repeatedly saying, “please, I can’t breathe,” before becoming motionless.

The second day of demonstrations, accompanied by looting and vandalism, began on Wednesday hours after Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey urged prosecutors to file criminal charges against the white policeman shown pinning Floyd to the street.

The victim’s brother Philonise Floyd told CNN on Thursday that he was “tired of seeing black men die” and understood people’s anger but urged protesters to be peaceful.

“To the police, I want them to get everything right, start doing your job the right way because I haven’t been seeing it,” Floyd said.

“I want justice, I just want justice,” he added, struggling to fight back tears.

(Reporting by Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut and Maria Caspani in New York; Editing by Gareth Jones and Bernadette Baum)

Protests, looting erupt in Minneapolis over racially charged killing by police

By Eric Miller and Nicholas Pfosi

MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) – Protesters clashed with riot police firing tear gas for a second night in Minneapolis on Wednesday in an outpouring of rage over the death of a black man seen in a widely circulated video gasping for breath as a white officer knelt on his neck.

The video, taken by an onlooker to Monday night’s fatal encounter between police and George Floyd, 46, showed him lying face down and handcuffed, groaning for help and repeatedly saying, “please, I can’t breathe,” before growing motionless.

A man is injured after being hit in the head by an object at a protest near the Minneapolis Police third precinct after a white police officer was caught on a bystander’s video pressing his knee into the neck of African-American man George Floyd, who later died at a hospital, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S. May 27, 2020. REUTERS/Eric Miller

The second day of demonstrations, accompanied by looting and vandalism, began hours after Mayor Jacob Frey urged prosecutors to file criminal charges against the white policeman shown pinning Floyd to the street.

Floyd, who was unarmed and reportedly suspected of trying to pass counterfeit bills at a corner eatery, was taken by ambulance from the scene of his arrest and pronounced dead the same night at a hospital.

The policeman shown kneeling on Floyd’s neck and three fellow officers involved were dismissed from the police department on Tuesday as the FBI opened an investigation.

Hundreds of protesters, many with faces covered, thronged streets around the Third Precinct police station late on Wednesday, about half a mile from where Floyd had been arrested, chanting, “No justice, no peace” and “I can’t breathe.”

The crowd grew to thousands as night fell and the protest turned into a standoff outside the station, where police in riot gear formed barricade lines while protesters taunted them from behind makeshift barricades of their own.

Police, some taking positions on rooftops, used tear gas, plastic bullets and concussion grenades to keep the crowds at bay. Protesters pelted police with rocks and other projectiles. Some threw tear gas canisters back at the officers.

Television news images from a helicopter over the area showed dozens of people looting a Target store, running out with clothing and shopping carts full of merchandise.

Fires erupted after dark at several businesses, including an auto parts store. Eyewitnesses said the blazes appeared to be the work of arsonists. Media said a smaller, peaceful protest was held outside the home of one of the police officers.

People gather near the Minneapolis Police third precinct after a white police officer was caught on a bystander’s video pressing his knee into the neck of African-American man George Floyd, who later died at a hospital, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S. May 27, 2020. REUTERS/Eric Miller

ANGER ON THE WEST COAST

Outrage at Floyd’s death also triggered a rally in his name against police brutality by hundreds of people in downtown Los Angeles on Wednesday afternoon.

That demonstration turned violent after a crowd marched onto a nearby freeway and blocked traffic, then attacked two California Highway Patrol cruisers, smashing their windows, local media reported. One protester who clung to the hood of a patrol car fell to the pavement as it sped away, and was treated at the scene by paramedics, news footage of the incident showed.

The video of Monday’s deadly confrontation between Minneapolis police and Floyd led Mayor Frey to call on Wednesday for Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman “to charge the arresting officer in this case”.

The city identified the four officers as Derek Chauvin, Thomas Lane, Tou Thao and J Alexander Kueng. It did not say who knelt on Floyd’s neck, and gave no further information.

The local police union said the officers were cooperating with investigators and cautioned against a “rush to judgment”.

A protester vandalizes an O’Reilly’s near the Minneapolis Police third precinct, where demonstrators gathered after a white police officer was caught on a bystander’s video pressing his knee into the neck of African-American man George Floyd, who later died at a hospital, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S. May 27, 2020. REUTERS/Nicholas Pfosi

“We must review all video. We must wait for the medical examiner’s report,” the union statement said.

The county attorney’s office said it would decide how to proceed once investigators had concluded their inquiries.

The case was reminiscent of the 2014 killing of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man in New York City who died after being put in a banned police chokehold.

Garner’s dying words, “I can’t breathe,” became a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement calling attention to a wave of killings of African-Americans by police using unjustified lethal force.

(Reporting by Eric Miller and Nicholas Pfosi in Minneapolis; Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago and Steve Gorman and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Stephen Coates, Clarence Fernandez and Gareth Jones)

Four Minneapolis policemen fired after death of unarmed black man

By Eric Miller

MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) – Four Minneapolis police officers were fired on Tuesday over the death of an unarmed black man seen in a video lying face down in the street, gasping for air and groaning, “I can’t breathe,” while a white officer knelt on his neck for several minutes.

Hours after the officers’ dismissals were announced, thousands of protesters filled the streets around the scene of Monday evening’s deadly incident in a boisterous but peaceful rally. Many in the crowd wore facial coverings to protect against spread of the coronavirus.

But the gathering took an unruly turn around dusk as police in riot gear fired tear gas and non-lethal bean-bag rounds into the crowds while protesters hurled water bottles and other projectiles, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported.

Local news footage showed some demonstrators vandalizing the outside of a police precinct station and a squad car. The unrest appeared to have dissipated after dark as rain fell.

The day began with Minneapolis police chief Medaria Arradondo telling reporters that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had opened an inquiry at his request into the fatal arrest caught on video the night before.

Mayor Jacob Frey said at the same news briefing that regardless of the investigation’s outcome, it was clear the death of the man in custody, later identified as George Floyd, was unjustified, and that race was a factor.

“Being black in America should not be a death sentence,” the mayor said. “For five minutes we watched as a white police officer pressed his knee into the neck of a black man. For five minutes. When you hear someone calling for help, you are supposed to help.”

The mayor later announced the termination of four officers on Twitter, saying, “This is the right call.”

‘I CAN’T BREATHE’

The case was eerily reminiscent of the 2014 killing of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man in New York City, who died after being put in a police chokehold and telling the officers, “I can’t breathe.”

The officers involved in Monday’s encounter were responding to a report of a forgery in progress, and found a man fitting the suspect’s description, Floyd, aged in his 40s, in a car, according to a police department account.

After Floyd got out of the car, the department said, there was a physical altercation between the officers and Floyd. Floyd was handcuffed, and he appeared to be in medical distress, according to police.

Cell phone footage taken by an onlooker does not show what precipitated the confrontation. It opens with Floyd lying beside the rear wheel of a vehicle, with a white officer pinning him to the street by pressing a knee into Floyd’s neck.

Floyd can be heard repeatedly moaning and gasping while he pleads, “Please, I can’t breathe, please, man,” as bystanders gather around, growing increasingly agitated and shouting at police to let him up. After several minutes, Floyd gradually grows quiet and ceases to move.

An ambulance took the suspect to the hospital, where he died a short time later, police said. No weapons were involved, and no officers were hurt in the incident, according to police.

In the case of Garner, he was placed in a banned chokehold by a white police officer trying to arrest him for illegally selling loose cigarettes on the street.

Garner’s dying words, “I can’t breathe,” became a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement calling attention to a wave of African-Americans and other minorities who died at the hands of police using unjustified lethal force.

Attorney Benjamin Crump, retained by Floyd’s family, said in a statement that officers’ “abusive, excessive and inhumane use of force cost the life of a man who was being detained by the police for questioning about a non-violent charge.”

(Reporting by Eric Miller in Minneapolis; Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Editing by Bill Tarrant, Leslie Adler and Gerry Doyle)

Methodist church plans to split over gay marriage, clergy: church officials

By Rich McKay

(Reuters) – The United Methodist Church plans to split into two denominations later this year, church officials said on Friday, a schism that follows years of contention over whether the church should end its ban on gay marriage and ordination of gay clergy.

The plan, if approved at the church’s worldwide conference in Minneapolis in May, would divide the third-largest U.S. Christian denomination into two branches: a traditionalist branch that opposes gay marriage and the ordination of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender clergy, and a more tolerant branch that will allow same-sex marriage and LGBT clergy.

The split would affect the denomination globally, church leaders said. The United Methodist Church lists more than 13 million members in the United States and 80 million worldwide.

The U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage throughout the nation in 2015, but that decision applies only to civil, not religious, services. Some denominations, including the Episcopal Church and certain branches of Judaism, have sanctified same-sex unions, while others including the Roman Catholic Church and Southern Baptist Convention, have declined to do so.

A council of Methodist bishops in Washington, D.C. called Friday’s move the “best means to resolve our differences.”

New York Conference Bishop Thomas Bickerton, part of the group that drafted the plan, said this was a way to reach an amicable separation.

“The protocol provides a pathway that acknowledges our differences, respects everyone in the process, and graciously allows us to continue to live out the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ,” he said.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by David Gregorio)

Fire in Minneapolis leaves 250 homeless on Christmas Day

By Steve Gorman

(Reuters) – Fire swept a hotel apartment building that provides transitional housing for the poor in downtown Minneapolis early on Wednesday, leaving about 250 people homeless on Christmas morning, city officials said.

No deaths or serious injuries were reported in the four-alarm blaze. Three residents with minor injuries were taken to a hospital for evaluation, and several others were treated at the scene for smoke inhalation, officials said.

The fire erupted before dawn on the second floor of the three-story Francis Drake Hotel before spreading to the third floor and attic area of the brick building, city Fire Chief John Fruetel told reporters outside the complex.

The cause was unknown, Fruetel said, adding that he expected it would take fire crews until Thursday to fully extinguish the blaze.

Television news footage showed flames leaping through the roof amid thick smoke as firefighters poured streams of water onto the burning structure.

“I would estimate that the building is going to be a total loss,” assistant fire chief Bryan Tyner told Minnesota Public Radio News.

With temperatures hovering just above freezing, the city immediately brought in transit buses to provide emergency shelter and warmth for displaced residents, Mayor Jacob Frey told a news briefing, adding that municipal agencies were working with the American Red Cross and other authorities to provide food, longer-term shelter, clothing and other needs for the evacuees.

“These are people’s lives, this is their home. They’re concerned about everything from a wallet or a phone so they can get in touch with a loved one on Christmas, to where are their babies going to get formula,” Frey said, choking up with emotion.

The Francis Drake, which opened in 1926 as a luxury hotel later converted to residential units, provides overflow shelter space for homeless families, as well as temporary lodging for individuals who lack permanent housing in Minnesota’s largest city, municipal and county officials said.

Drake Hotel resident Jason Vandenboom said he was awakened by his wife when fire alarms sounded and he ventured out of their unit to see “a guy coming down the hallway, just pounding on the doors, saying, ‘There’s a fire, we gotta get out of here.'”

Gazing out to another wing of the building, “I saw flames shooting at least about 10, 15 feet (3, 4.5 meters) up,” he told CBS affiliate WCCO-TV. Vandenboom said he then ran back to his room and told his wife, “‘Yeah, we gotta go now.’ … It was bad.”

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Culver City, Calif.; Editing by Leslie Adler and Sandra Maler)

Minnesota ex-policeman faces prison for fatal shooting of Australian woman

FILE PHOTO: Mohamed Noor, center, former Minnesota policeman on trial for fatally shooting an Australian woman, walks into the courthouse in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S., April 30, 2019. REUTERS/Craig Lassig/File Photo - RC1DDA04DCD0

By Joey Peters

MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) – A former Minneapolis police officer faces the possibility of stiff prison time when he is sentenced on Friday for the fatal shooting of an Australian woman nearly two years ago after she had called police to report a possible sexual assault.

In April, Mohamed Noor, 33, was convicted of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter for killing 40-year-old Justine Ruszczyk Damond outside her home near Minneapolis.

Australia’s then-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull called the incident “shocking.”

After the jury verdict, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said he expected Noor to face 12-1/2 years in prison for the murder charge and four years for the manslaughter charge.

A sentencing hearing before Minnesota District Judge Kathryn Quaintance began on Friday morning.

Noor, who was acquitted of a more serious charge of second-degree intentional murder, has asked the judge to impose probation during which time he would report to a halfway house-type correctional facility for a week on the anniversaries of Damond’s death and birth.

Citing Noor’s community service, his clean record and his cooperation with the investigation, Noor’s attorneys asked that he be sentenced to at most a year and a day.

“There is no benefit to Mr. Noor or the community that will come from a lengthy prison sentence,” Attorneys Thomas Plunkett and Peter Wold said in a memorandum submitted on Wednesday.

Noor – the first Minnesota police officer to be convicted of murder – and his partner drove to Damond’s home the night of July 15, 2017, to respond to a report she had made of a possible sexual assault. When Damond approached the patrol car, Noor fired through the car window, killing her.

Noor had testified that he shot her in self-defense after he and his partner heard a loud noise.

Minneapolis city officials last month agreed to pay $20 million to settle a civil suit brought by Damond’s family.

(Writing by Peter Szekely in New York; editing by Bill Tarrant, G Crosse and Susan Thomas)

Storms unleash tornadoes in U.S. east, record snow in Midwest

Dark clouds hover above buildings amidst tornadoes in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the U.S., April 10, 2018 in this still image obtained from a social media video. Emmet Finneran/via REUTERS

By Rich McKay

ATLANTA (Reuters) – Deadly slow-moving storms generated record or near-record snowfall and low temperatures in the U.S. Midwest and tornadoes further east on Sunday, leaving airline travelers stranded and thousands without power.

In Michigan, where snowfall was expected to reach 18 inches in some areas, about 310,000 homes and businesses were without power because of an ice storm, most of them in the southeast of the state.

Large areas of Detroit were without power and customers were not expected to have it back on Sunday night, utility DTE Energy said. It was working to have 90 percent of outages restored by Tuesday, DTE spokeswoman Carly Getz said in a statement.

Cars are seen on a road during a tornado in Mountainburg, Arkansas, U.S., April 13, 2018 in this picture grab obtained from social media video. JOSHUA COLEMAN/via REUTERS

Cars are seen on a road during a tornado in Mountainburg, Arkansas, U.S., April 13, 2018 in this picture grab obtained from social media video. JOSHUA COLEMAN/via REUTERS

The weight of ice on power lines, coupled with high winds, caused more than 1,000 power lines to fall in Detroit and Wayne County, DTE said.

The worst of the snow was focused on the upper Great Lakes, with Green Bay, Wisconsin, seeing its second largest snowstorm ever after 23.2 inches fell as of Sunday afternoon, the National Weather Service said.

For the twin cities of Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, the April monthly record for snowfall of 21.8 inches (55 cm) was surpassed on Saturday, the National Weather Service said.

Two tornadoes tore up trees and ripped apart homes in Greensboro and Reidsville, North Carolina, killing a motorist who was hit by a tree, according to Greensboro’s city manager, local media reported.

The storms stretched from the Gulf Coast to the Midwest and were moving into the Northeast and New England.

Record low temperatures for the date were expected in Oklahoma City on Monday at 30 degrees F (-1 C), and in Kansas City, Missouri, at 25 F (-4 C), Hurley said.

On Friday, the weather system produced 17 reports of tornadoes in Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri and Texas, with four people injured and 160 buildings damaged in a possible tornado in northwest Arkansas, local media reported.

The weather was blamed for two traffic deaths in western Nebraska and Wisconsin, according to National Public Radio.

The storms also killed a one-year-old girl when a tree fell on a recreational vehicle where she was sleeping, the sheriff’s office in Bossier Parish, Louisiana, said.

By Sunday night, 1,804 flights had been canceled into or out of U.S. airports, the website flightaware.com reported, including 148 flights in or out of the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Additional reporting by Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. and Andrew Hay in Taos, N.M.; Editing by Adrian Croft and Peter Cooney)

Super Bowl security document found on commercial flight

Policemen talk as a Super Bowl promotional banner showing Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles and New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady hangs in an atrium at the Mall of America in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S. January 29, 2018

By Alex Dobuzinskis

(Reuters) – A U.S. government document outlining plans for responding to a possible biological attack at Sunday’s Super Bowl in Minneapolis was left on a commercial jetliner, CNN reported on Monday, saying one of its employees found the paper in a seat pocket.

Multiple copies of the document, marked “for official use only” and “important for national security,” were found during a flight before the Super Bowl was played.

CNN said on its website it had delayed reporting about its discovery until after the game, at the request of federal officials. It did not say when the document turned up or if the flight in question was going to or coming from Minneapolis. CNN said it could not determine who left the documents on the airplane.

The errant document offered a critique of how officials performed during a simulated release of the infectious disease anthrax in Minneapolis on the day of the Super Bowl. Other sensitive material was also found, CNN said, without further description.

Officials conducted such exercises in July and November, as part of the Department of Homeland Security’s BioWatch program, according to CNN.

One of the biggest sporting events of the year, the National Football League’s championship Super Bowl is high on the list of potential targets for an attack, security experts have previously said.

The Department of Homeland Security often conducts exercises with state and local governments to guard against national security threats, Tyler Houlton, acting press secretary of the department, said in a statement in response to a Reuters inquiry about the CNN report.

“It is important that operators regularly exercise their capabilities against a wide range of scenarios in order to effectively counter the changing threat environment,” Houlton said.

Houlton declined to confirm whether any sensitive documents related to the Super Bowl were misplaced.

The game went off without a hitch, with the Philadelphia Eagles beating the New England Patriots, 41-33, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

The security plan included bomb-sniffing dogs, a massive police presence, helicopters and a chain-link and concrete fence surrounding the stadium, officials said at a news conference ahead of the game on Wednesday.

In preparation for the game, authorities conducted more than 200 security assessments of critical infrastructure in the Minneapolis area, in addition to training for everything from active shooters to bombings.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank McGurty and Lisa Shumaker)

Probe of fatal Minneapolis school blast focuses on repair work

Damage to the building is seen as emergency personnel work the scene of school building collapse at Minnehaha Academy in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S., August 2, 2017. REUTERS/Adam Bettcher

By Gina Cherelus

(Reuters) – Authorities in Minneapolis were investigating on Thursday whether contractors working at a Christian private school caused a gas explosion that leveled a building, killing two staff members and injuring nine other people.

“Various agencies will be on site this morning to pinpoint exactly how this happened,” the fire department’s assistant chief, Bryan Tyner, said on Thursday. “That investigation will include local, state and federal agencies.”

Minneapolis fire department officials told reporters on Wednesday there were early indications that a gas line was ruptured by contractors working on the campus.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which investigates accidents involving pipelines, said on Thursday it had sent an emergency response team to the site and that its officials were expected to brief reporters later in the day.

The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has also sent agents and trained canines to join the investigation.

School receptionist Ruth Berg and custodian John Carlson were killed by the blast that tore through the Upper School of the Minnehaha Academy at about 10 a.m. local time on Wednesday, officials said.

“Please keep John’s family, Ruth’s family, those who were injured, and our school community, in your prayers,” the school said on Facebook.

The school described Carlson, 82, as its “biggest cheerleader.” He had graduated from Minnehaha in 1953. Berg, 47, was engaged to be married, local media reported.

One of the injured was in critical condition at a local hospital. He was named as Bryan Duffey, an assistant soccer coach at the school. One other person was listed as satisfactory, while seven were treated and released, the Hennepin County Medical Center said on Thursday.

“We pray for his healing and for the wisdom of the doctors and nurses caring for him at this time,” the school said in a statement on Thursday, referring to Duffey.

Minnehaha Academy was founded in 1913 and teaches more than 800 students from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade on two campuses, according to its website.

School was not in session on Wednesday due to the summer break. City fire officials said the situation would have been far worse if pupils were in class.

Hundreds of people crowded into a chapel for a prayer service at the academy on Wednesday night.

“We’re going to get through it,” said Minnehaha Academy President Donna Harris, who was injured in the explosion. “We trust God. He is going to do phenomenal work.”

(Reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York; Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Diane Craft)

Investigators look for answers in deadly Minneapolis school explosion

Investigators look for answers in deadly Minneapolis school explosion

(Reuters) – Federal and state authorities on Thursday investigated the cause of a gas explosion that ripped through a Christian private school in Minneapolis, killing two people and injured nine.

School receptionist Ruth Berg and staff member John Carlson were killed in the explosion that tore through the Upper School of the Minnehaha Academy at about 10 a.m. local time on Wednesday, the school said.

“Please keep John’s family, Ruth’s family, those who were injured, and our school community, in your prayers,” the school said on Facebook.

The school called Carlson, who graduated from the school in 1953, its “biggest cheerleader.” Carlson, 82, was a custodian and Berg, a 47-year-old receptionist, was engaged to be married, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune newspaper reported.

Local officials said it appeared that a ruptured gas line may have led to the explosion, caused by contractors working at the school, local media reported.

The academy said there had been a gas leak and explosion at its school.

The state fire marshal and local fire officials were combing through the rubble on Thursday to determine the exact cause of the explosion, Minneapolis Fire Chief John Fruetel said at a news conference on Wednesday.

“The investigators will continue their work and hopefully they will have some answers … in the coming days,” he said.

The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives had agents on the scene, the agency said on Twitter.

According to its website, Minnehaha Academy was founded in 1913 and teaches more than 800 students from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade on two campuses.

School was not in session due to summer break.

“It would have been dramatically worse … we were pretty lucky in that sense,” Fruetel said.

Of the nine people injured, one was in critical condition and three were in satisfactory condition at Hennepin County Medical Center. Another five were released, the hospital said on Twitter.

Hundreds of people crowded into the campus chapel for a prayer service at the academy’s lower and middle campus on Wednesday night.

“We’re going to get through it,” said Minnehaha Academy President Donna Harris, who was injured in the explosion. “We trust God. He is going to do phenomenal work.”

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)