The Minneapolis police officer who spent almost nine minutes kneeling on the neck of George Floyd was charged with murder on Friday. But the fate of his colleagues, who stood by as Floyd’s strained cries grew silent, is yet to be determined.
Three colleagues of Derek Chauvin, who is accused of third-degree murder and manslaughter, were fired after Floyd’s death but have not been arrested and have reportedly gone to ground as protests have spread from Minneapolis across the US.
On Friday the Hennepin county attorney, Mike Freeman, who announced the charges against Chauvin, said he expected charges would be brought against the now ex-police officers J Alexander Kueng, Tou Thao and Thomas Lane.
Freeman is yet to detail the charges the three men could face, but all three were mentioned in the documents charging Chauvin.
Kueng, according to the official complaint, held Floyd’s back while Lane held down his legs as Chauvin placed his knee on Floyd’s neck.
As Floyd repeatedly told the officers “I can’t breathe”, Kueng, Lane and Thao, according to prosecutors, “stayed in their positions”.
Chauvin, 44, had worked for the Minneapolis police department since 2001. It was a career littered with violent incidents.
In 2011 he and four other officers were placed on leave after they shot and wounded an indigenous man. The same year, Chauvin was part of a team that responded to a domestic violence call where the suspect was shot, although not by Chauvin.
Chauvin shot and wounded Ira Latrell Toles during a domestic abuse call in 2008, the Minnesota newspaper the Star Tribune reported, and in 2006 Chauvin and five other officers were involved in the shooting death of Wayne Reyes, who allegedly pointed a shotgun in their direction.
Away from his police career, Chauvin had worked security at a Minneapolis dance club, the Star Tribune reported. His former manager there said he had been the subject of complaints from customers.
“I’ve seen him in action and I’ve seen him lose it and I’ve called him out on it before,” Maya Santamaria told the newspaper. “I’ve told him it’s unnecessary and unjustified some of the ways that he behaves. He just loses it.”
In total, Chauvin’s 19-year history at the police department included 15 conduct complaints, according to the Star Tribune, most of which were closed without Chauvin being disciplined.
In a statement released through lawyers over the weekend, Chauvin’s wife, Kellie Chauvin, said she had filed for divorce.
“She is devastated by Mr Floyd’s death and her utmost sympathy lies with his family, with his loved ones and with everyone who is grieving this tragedy,” said Sekula Family Law Offices.
Protesters have demanded that Lane, Thao and Kueng also be charged. Records show that Thao, like Chauvin, had a history of complaints.
Thao, a fellow officer and the city of Minneapolis were sued in 2017 for alleged use of excessive force, according to the Los Angeles Times, after Lamar Ferguson claimed Thao and another officer assaulted him three years earlier.
In a court deposition, Thao, 34, said he punched Ferguson after one hand slipped out of his handcuffs.
“At this point he’s actually resisting arrest,” Thao said. “So I had no choice but to punch him.”
The case was settled out of court for $25,000, the Times reported.
Lane, 37, and Kueng, 26, received their law enforcement licenses last August and had not been the subject of any complaints.
Freeman did not elaborate on the charges he expected Thao, Lane and Kueng would face. But on Sunday the chief of Minneapolis police suggested the three men also bore responsibility for Floyd’s death.
“Mr Floyd died in our hands and so I see that as being complicit,” Chief Medaria Arradondo told CNN.
“Silence and inaction, you’re complicit. If there was one solitary voice that would have intervened … that’s what I would have hoped for.”