The three former Minneapolis police officers who watched as their partner pinned George Floyd to the ground and crushed his neck with a knee for more than eight minutes have been charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder.
Thomas Lane, 37, J. Alexander Kueng, 26, and Tou Thao, 34, face two charges each of aiding and abetting their fellow former officer Derek Chauvin in connection to Floyd's death, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said Wednesday.
Charges against Chauvin were also upgraded to second-degree murder, carrying the possibility of a longer sentence if convicted.
"I believe the evidence available to us now supports the stronger charge of second-degree murder," Ellison said. "I strongly believe these developments are in the interest for justice, Mr. Floyd, our community, and the state."
Arrest warrants were issued, and one of the officers was in custody at the time the charges were announced, officials said. All three were in custody by the late afternoon, according to Hennepin County booking records.
All four officers were fired shortly after the May 25 incident, but it wasn't until Friday when Chauvin, the white officer who put Floyd in a knee chokehold, was arrested and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter by local prosecutors. Two autopsies have found that the compression of Floyd's neck contributed to his death.
According to Minnesota law, third-degree murder carries a sentence of up to 25 years and is filed in cases where someone's death was caused "without intent."
Second-degree murder, or a murder that is not premeditated, carries a sentence of up to 40 years.
"George Floyd mattered," Ellison said. "His life has value, and we will seek justice for him, and for you, and we will find it."
Asked about the protests that have been sparked because of Floyd's death, Ellison said he felt a "tremendous sense of weight" with the case.
"This is a very serious moment," he said. "I can honestly tell you I take no joy in this, but I do feel a tremendous sense of duty and responsibility."
The latest charges come after Ellison took over the prosecution in Floyd's death, which was captured on video and has sparked days of unrest across the country as thousands have taken to the streets to protest police killings of unarmed black people.
According to the criminal complaint filed against Chauvin, officers were called after someone reported that a customer had used a counterfeit $20 bill. Officers pulled Floyd out of his car at gunpoint and placed him in handcuffs.
When officers tried to put him inside a police car, Floyd fell to the ground and told them he was claustrophobic, according to the complaint. When Floyd fell to the ground, Kueng and Lane held his back and legs as Chauvin put him in a knee chokehold.
Thao is seen in the video standing over Chauvin and Floyd; he then turns his back to face onlookers as they call on the officers to stop and check Floyd's pulse.
An independent autopsy found Floyd died of asphyxiation. Experts who worked on that report said the pressure applied to his neck and back cut off air to his lungs and blood flow to his neck, making him lose consciousness. The official autopsy by a local medical examiner determined his cause of death to be "cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression."
"These officers are complicit by their silence, but we now know based on the audio from their body cam that they also are accomplices because their failure to act when they knew that he did not have a pulse," Benjamin Crump, an attorney representing Floyd's family, said Wednesday near the site where the 46-year-old was killed. "The system needed to be listening to George Floyd."
In the eyes of Floyd's family, Crump said, the three other officers are "just as guilty" as Chauvin for his death.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who tweeted news of the charges before the attorney general's announcement, called the charges "another important step for justice."
In an interview with CNN on Sunday night, Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo told Floyd's family that he believed the other three officers, in addition to Chauvin, were also responsible for the death.
"Mr. Floyd died in our hands, and so I see that as being complicit," Arradondo said. "Silence and inaction, you're complicit. If there was one solitary voice that would have intervened ... that's what I would have hoped for."