Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said Derek Chauvin, who was seen on video kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, a handcuffed black man who died in custody was charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.

State Patrol Police officers block a road on the fourth day of protest, over the killing of unarmed black man George Floyd under police custody in Minneapolis, Minnesota, May 29, 2020.
State Patrol Police officers block a road on the fourth day of protest, over the killing of unarmed black man George Floyd under police custody in Minneapolis, Minnesota, May 29, 2020. (AFP)

The police officer who was seen on video kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, a handcuffed black man who died in custody after pleading that he could not breath, was arrested Friday and charged with murder in a case that sparked protests across the United States and violence in Minneapolis.

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said Derek Chauvin was charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter. Freeman did not provide immediate details, but said a criminal complaint would be made available later Friday and that more charges were possible.

In the video, Chauvin is seen kneeling on Floyd's neck as Floyd is on the ground. He gradually becomes motionless as Chauvin and three other officers ignore bystanders’ shouts to get off him. Freeman said the investigation continues into the other three officers, but that authorities “felt it appropriate to focus on the most dangerous perpetrator.”

Freeman highlighted the “extraordinary speed” in charging the case just four days after Floyd’s death, but also defended himself against questions about why it did not happen sooner. He said his office needed time to put together evidence, including what he called the “horrible” video by a bystander. He said he would not bring a case unless he had enough evidence to prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt.

Protests in Minneapolis escalated in violence on Thursday, when demonstrators torched a police station that officers had abandoned.

“I’m not insensitive to what happened in the streets,” Freeman said. “My own home has been picketed regularly.”

All four officers who were at the scene of Floyd's death were fired the next day. After the charges were announced, protesters outside the government centre chanted, “All four got to go.”

'Minneapolis and St. Paul are on fire'

News of the arrest came moments after Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz acknowledged the “abject failure” of the response to the protests and called for swift justice for officers involved. Walz said the state would take over the response to the violence and that it’s time to show respect and dignity to those who are suffering.

“Minneapolis and St. Paul are on fire. The fire is still smouldering in our streets. The ashes are symbolic of decades and generations of pain, of anguish unheard,” Walz said, adding. “Now generations of pain is manifesting itself in front of the world — and the world is watching.”

The governor cited a call he received from a state senator who described her district “on fire, no police, no firefighters, no social control, constituents locked in houses wondering what they were going to do. That is an abject failure that cannot happen.”

His comments came the morning after protesters torched a police station that officers abandoned during a third night of violence. Livestream video showed protesters entering the building, where intentionally set fires activated smoke alarms and sprinklers. President Donald Trump threatened action, tweeting “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” which prompted a warning from Twitter for “glorifying violence.”

Protests across US

On Friday morning, nearly every building in the shopping district around the abandoned police station had been vandalised, burned or looted. National Guard members were in the area, with several of them lined up, keeping people away from the police station.

Dozens of volunteers swept up broken glass in the street, doing what they could to help.

Dozens of fires were also set in nearby St. Paul, where nearly 200 businesses were damaged or looted. Protests spread across the US, fuelled by outrage over Floyd’s death, and years of violence against African Americans at the hands of police. Demonstrators clashed with officers in New York and blocked traffic in Columbus, Ohio, and Denver.

Trump threatened to bring Minneapolis “under control,” calling the protesters “thugs” and tweeting that "when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” The tweet drew another warning from Twitter, which said the comment violated the platform’s rules, but the company did not remove it.

Trump also blasted the “total lack of leadership” in Minneapolis.

He defended the city's lack of engagement with looters, only a handful of arrests across the first two nights of violence, and said, “We are doing absolutely everything that we can to keep the peace.” He said National Guard members were stationed in locations to help stem looting, including at banks, grocery stores and pharmacies.

CNN reporter is handcuffed

The Minnesota State Patrol arrested a CNN television crew early Friday as the journalists reported on the unrest. While live on air, CNN reporter Omar Jimenez was handcuffed and led away. A producer and a photojournalist for CNN were also taken away in handcuffs.

The Minnesota State Patrol said the journalists were among four people arrested as troopers were “clearing the streets and restoring order," and they were released after being confirmed to be media members. CNN said on Twitter that the arrests were “a clear violation of their First Amendment rights." Walz publicly apologised on Friday.

In Louisville, Kentucky, police confirmed that at least seven people had been shot Thursday night as protesters demanded justice for Breonna Taylor, a black woman who was fatally shot by police in her home in March.

Source: AP