Police officer accused of killing George Floyd faces extra charge, with trial set to begin Monday

David Millward
·3-min read
Derek Chauvin in his police mugshot - AFP
Derek Chauvin in his police mugshot - AFP

The trial of Derek Chauvin, the police officer accused of killing George Floyd in Minneapolis last year, is set to begin on Monday despite a late court ruling which added another charge to the indictment.

On Friday the Minnesota Appeals Court decreed that the jury must also consider whether Chauvin should be convicted of third-degree murder, which carries a maximum 25-year jail term.

Chauvin was initially charged with third-degree murder, but following a public outcry, prosecutors substituted the more serious offence of second-degree murder, which carries a 40-year maximum jail term, and second-degree manslaughter.

Prosecutors' decision to reinstate the third-degree murder charge was to ensure jurors had "every option" to hold Chauvin liable for Mr Floyd's death, said Ben Crump, a civil rights lawyer who has been advising Mr Floyd's family,

Chauvin is one of four officers facing trial in connection with Mr Floyd's death.

Three others are accused of aiding and abetting Chauvin.

People gather at the unveiling of artist Kenny Altidor's memorial portrait of George Floyd - Angela Weiss/AFP
People gather at the unveiling of artist Kenny Altidor's memorial portrait of George Floyd - Angela Weiss/AFP

The death of Mr Floyd, 46, triggered rioting across the US after mobile phone footage emerged showing Chauvin, a white police officer, kneeling on his neck.

Mr Floyd's plea "I can't breathe" was taken up by tens of thousands of protesters as he was seen as a symbol of the brutality inflicted by some police officers on African-Americans.

His death became a pivotal issue in the presidential election with Joe Biden offering condolences to his grieving family and appealing for racial justice, while Donald Trump focussed on the wave of destruction which accompanied the protests.

Just last week, the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives in Washington passed the "George Floyd Justice in Policing Act" which, among other things, would ban the use of chokeholds and make it easier to ensure officers are legally accountable for misconduct.

The bill, which still has to clear the Senate, was praised by Mr Biden who hailed what he described as a "landmark policing reform law."

Ahead of the trial, security has been stepped up in Minneapolis, with the deployment of approximately 2,000 members of the National Guard and 1,100 police officers.

Offices and buildings have also been boarded up as a precaution.

The heavy police presence has led to accusations that Minneapolis was being turned into a "police state" at a time when a coalition of 17 activist groups is planning to mount a peaceful protest during the trial.

Tension rose in the city after a fatal shooting near "George Floyd Square", a junction that serves as a memorial to Mr Floyd, on Saturday. The circumstances surrounding the incident remain unclear.

Such is the level of security that jurors will remain anonymous, being referred to by number rather than name.

It is anticipated that it could take as long as three weeks to pick a jury of 12 and four alternates.

Potential jurors have been asked to complete questionnaires detailing their age, occupation, marital status, views on the police and the Black Lives Matter movement.

They have also been asked to disclose what they read and their favourite TV news station.

Despite the late intervention by the Minnesota Appeals Court, Chauvin's trial is expected to begin on Monday with jury selection, Mr Crump said.

"George Floyd’s family, as the victims who I represent, have been informed that they have every intention of the trial going forward," he told Margaret Brennan on Face the Nation.

Mr Crump said the family urged protesters to avoid violence.

"Their message is thank you for standing up and exercising your First Amendment rights, but doing so in a peaceful way. I know Attorney General Keith Ellison, the first African-American attorney general for the state of Minnesota, is going to prosecute this case zealously."