Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison has elevated the third-degree murder charge against the former Minneapolis police officer who was recorded on video kneeling on George Floyd's neck for several minutes before he died in police custody to second-degree murder.
Ellison has also charged the other three officers at the scene — J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao — with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter, according to court documents.
Attorney Ben Crump and the Floyd family called the moment "bittersweet" in a joint statement.
"We encourage Attorney General Ellison to continue his investigation," they said. "And we hope and expect to see the charges ultimately upgraded to first-degree murder."
A pair of autopsies released Monday — one official and one commissioned by the Floyd family ruled the death a homicide.
Kueng, one of the first officers on the scene, helped pin Floyd down, according to video recordings. Lane, his partner, had held Floyd at gunpoint, handcuffed him and helped pin him on the ground.
At one point, Lane wondered aloud whether they should roll Floyd onto his side, according to the initial criminal complaint filed against Chauvin. Thao interposed himself between Floyd and bystanders, video showed, looking on as he struggled.
The charges come days after Gov. Tim Walz, D-Minn., called on Ellison to take over the prosecution, previously in the jurisdiction of the attorney's office where Floyd was killed in Hennepin County.
Chauvin was arrested last Friday and initially charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.
"This is a significant step forward on the road to justice, and we are gratified that this important action was brought before George Floyd's body was laid to rest," the statement from Crump added. "That is a source of peace for George's family in this painful time."
Floyd's death in police custody touched off the most explosive bouts of civil unrest the country has seen since 1968, as protesters clashed with law enforcement from Long Island to Long Beach amid the social pressure of the coronavirus pandemic. In the nation's capital, police backed by the National Guard unleashed tear gas, rubber bullets and flash-bang shells on peaceful protesters to clear the way for President Donald Trump to have his photo taken holding a Bible in front of historic St. John's Episcopal Church.
With no end to the protests in sight, more than 40 cities have imposed curfews in an effort to dial down the temperature. The unrest has so far claimed the lives of more than a dozen people.
In the wake of Chauvin's initial charging, Walz and the Minneapolis Department of Human Rights announced a civil rights investigation into the city's police force.
The Floyd family and their attorney have asked Ellison to upgrade charges to first-degree murder. The charge, which carries a life sentence in Minnesota, requires evidence that the crime was planned.
"These officers knew they could act with impunity, given the Minneapolis Police Department's widespread and prolonged pattern and practice of violating people's constitutional rights," their statement said. "Therefore, we also demand permanent transparent police accountability at all levels and at all times."
"Find constructive and positive ways to keep the focus and pressure on," they added. "Don't let up on your demand for change."