In the midst of the rioting following the killing of George Floyd by Officer Derek Chauvin, the Mayor of Minneapolis, Jacob Frey, asked himself the rhetorical question at a press conference last week: “Why is the officer who killed George Floyd, not in jail right now? I can’t answer that question.” The answer is simple as he well knows. His police chief, Medaria Arradondo, decided not to arrest Chauvin on any number of charges, ranging from felony assault and manslaughter to murder.
Had he promptly done so at the time he fired Chauvin and the other three officers who assisted him, the community, as well as his fellow officers on the force, would have seen that law enforcement was being responsive and the rioting might have been minimized.
The subsequent complaint against Chauvin filed by the Hennepin County Prosecutor for manslaughter and third-degree murder would have superseded the initial charges of any arrest. There was no excuse for delaying the arrest of Chauvin. After all, Mr. Floyd, before he was killed, was arrested on mere suspicion of passing a counterfeit $20 bill, a petty non-violent offense. Here, we have videotapes and eyewitnesses to a brutal assault, torture, and homicide.
Mr. Floyd was handcuffed behind his back and placed face down on the street while Chauvin pressed his knee down on the back of Mr. Floyd’s neck for over eight minutes. Mr. Floyd repeatedly begged his torturer, “I can’t breathe.” Instead of releasing his knee, Chauvin kept on pressing it down, sadistically ordering Mr. Floyd to do the impossible, “Get up and get in the car, man.” Mr. Floyd pleaded, “I can’t breathe. I can’t move.” With his knee pressing on Mr. Floyd’s neck, Chauvin repeated two more times, “Get up and get in the car.”
Mr. Floyd pleaded with Chauvin 16 times that he couldn’t breathe, even calling out to his mother for help who died two years earlier as life drained from his body. Bystanders pleaded with Chauvin and the other three officers to stop and to roll him over since it appeared that he had stopped breathing. Those pleas were ignored.
Mr. Chauvin continued to press his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck with one hand in his pocket and casually looking away from his dying victim. Only after paramedics arrived and told Chauvin to release his knee did he do so. The ambulance became Mr. Floyd’s hearse.
So, what about the fate of the other three officers? Charges may be filed soon by the county prosecutor, but why no arrest by the police or better yet, by Chief Arradondo himself, in the interim as the Floyd family and the public have been demanding to know? The non-answer given by Arrandondo live on CNN to the Floyd family via a reporter who relayed the question to the chief was literally a cop-out.
First, it is appalling that this was the first time the chief had even engaged the Floyd family since the killing a week ago, and only by happenstance via the reporter. Officers under his command murdered their brother and he did not have the decency to pick up the phone to express his condolences to the family and vow to bring the officers to justice?
Second, the chief dodged the question as to why these officers have not yet been not arrested, but did concede that they were “complicit.” In legal parlance, that’s aiding and abetting the killing. The response by Mr. Floyd’s brother, Philonise Floyd, to this non-answer was spot on: “They have enough to fire them, they have enough evidence to arrest them. I don’t know who he is talking to but I need him to do it, because we all are listening.”
Hopefully, the other three officers will soon be charged by the county prosecutor and justice will be done. But the additional pain caused by the delay in their arrests—and Chauvin’s—was preventable.
Paul Kamenar is Counsel to the National Legal & Policy Center