‘I can’t breathe’

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FBI probing death of George Floyd, who died after cop kneeled on his neck.

People placed flowers Tuesday near the site where George Floyd died in South Minneapolis.
ELIZABETH FLORES/MINNEAPOLIS STAR TRIBUNE/TNS

BY LIBOR JANY
STAR TRIBUNE/TNS

MINNEAPOLIS — Four Minneapolis police officers were fired Tuesday after the detention and death of 47-year-old George Floyd — a scene that unfolded in a Facebook video showing a White officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck as he pleaded with police, “I can’t breathe.”Floyd died at Hennepin County Medical Center soon after the encounter, which started when police detained him Monday evening on suspicion of trying to pass a fake $20 bill at a convenience store.

The FBI launched an investigation Tuesday, as the Minneapolis Police Department fired the officer as well as three others who were at the scene. The quick action didn’t prevent a large protest Tuesday evening that included tense confrontations with police, who responded with tear gas.

“Being Black in America should not be a death sentence,” said a visibly shaken Mayor Jacob Frey, who said the officer used an unauthorized move against Floyd.

“For five minutes, we watched a White officer press his knee into a Black man’s neck. Five minutes. When you hear someone calling for help, you’re supposed to help. This officer failed in the most basic, human sense.”

‘Very tragic and very sad’

Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said he had stayed up all night wrestling with his decision to fire the officers.

Arradondo said he couldn’t say much about the case — either about the FBI’s investigation or a parallel probe by the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) — but added that “sanctity of life” has always been a pillar of his department.

“What occurred last night was certainly very tragic, and very sad,” he said in an afternoon news conference on the steps of City Hall.

Multiple sources identified the two officers prominently featured in the10-minute Facebook Live video as Derek Chauvin, who was kneeling on Floyd’s neck, and Tou Thao, who stood by as witnesses pleaded with the officers to let Floyd up and to check his pulse.

‘This is murder

Arradondo said at an earlier news conference that he’d asked the FBI to take the case after
watching the video of the encounter and receiving “additional information” about it from community members, without elaborating.

Community activist John Thompson says the images of Floyd and other Black men across
the country who have met unjust deaths at the hands of police trigger a kind of collective trauma within the Black community.

“Let’s be clear: This is murder,” said Thompson, whose advocacy in the 2016 police killing of his friend Philando Castile catapulted him into a run for state office. “I don’t want to be labeled the angry Black man — I should be able to have that emotion. I’m angry. Wouldn’t you be?”

Crump representing family

Floyd’s family has retained attorney Benjamin Crump, who also represents the families of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, a Black man and woman killed in recent high-profile cases.

“This abusive, excessive and inhumane use of force cost the life of a man who was being detained by the police for questioning about a nonviolent charge,” read the statement from Crump’s office.

Chauvin is represented by Thomas Kelly, a Minneapolis attorney who was part of the legal
team that successfully defended former St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez in the 2016 fatal shooting of Castile. Kelly declined to comment through a spokesman Tuesday.

How it started

The arrest that sparked the fatal chain of events happened about 8 p.m. Monday, when police were called to investigate a report of someone trying to pay with a counterfeit bill at Cup Foods, 3759 Chicago Av., and found the man matching the suspect’s description in his car, according to police and scanner audio posted online.

Cup Foods’ owner, Mike Abumayyaleh, later confirmed that one of his employees had followed store policy by calling police after someone, thought to be Floyd, tried to pay with a counterfeit $20 bill. Abumayyaleh said he’s been receiving death threats since then.

Officers ordered Floyd out of the car and took him into custody, police spokesman John Elder said, adding that their body cameras were rolling the whole time.

Streamed on Facebook

The arrest also was streamed by a bystander on Facebook Live, where the archived footage approached 1 million views as of Tuesday evening.

The video captures Chauvin with his knee on the neck of Floyd, who is lying face down on the street next to the rear passenger wheel, writhing, while repeatedly telling police he couldn’t breathe as three officers hold him down.

“Please, please, please I can’t breathe. Please, man,” Floyd is heard pleading with the officers. At one point, he cries out for his mother.

By then, several other witnesses had gathered on the sidewalk outside of Cup Foods, with several recording the scene on their phones. “Bro, you’ve got him down, let him breathe at least, man,” one bystander is heard telling police.

Agitated bystanders

At one point, as a group of bystanders continue to plead for the officers to check Floyd’s pulse, an officer, believed to be Thao, can be heard saying, “Don’t do drugs, guys.”

“So, you call what he’s doing OK?” one bystander asks, referring to Chauvin.

As Floyd begins to lose consciousness, the group of bystanders becomes increasingly agitated. Among them was a woman who identified herself as an offduty firefighter and first responder.

“The fact that you guys aren’t checking his pulse and doing compressions if he needs them
— you guys are on another level!” she said.

No weapons recovered

Thao is then shown moving away from his colleagues to tell the crowd to “get back on the sidewalk.” As he moves toward them, one of the bystanders points out that Floyd no longer seems to be moving.

A short time later, paramedics arrive and put him onto a gurney and into a waiting ambulance. Floyd was taken to HCMC, where he died at 9:25 p.m.

The cause of his death is “pending further testing and investigation” by multiple agencies, according to the medical examiner.

No weapons were recovered from the scene, police said.

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