Washington, May 28 (efe-epa).- The US Department of Justice and the FBI on Thursday issued a joint statement saying that they will undertake a “robust criminal investigation” into the death of an African American man at the hands of Minneapolis police, adding that the matter will be considered “a top priority.”
The investigation into the death of 46-year-old George Floyd while he was handcuffed and pinned to the ground by a police officer during his arrest on May 25 was announced after violent protests in the Minnesota capital over the past two nights.
“The Department of Justice has made the investigation a top priority and has assigned experienced prosecutors and FBI criminal investigators to the matter,” said US attorney in Minneapolis Erica MacDonald and FBI Special Agent Rainer Drolshagen, who is in charge of the bureau’s Minneapolis field office, in a joint statement.
The Justice Department and other law enforcement officials said that they are delving into whether any of the four former police officers involved – all of whom were fired on May 26 after the incident became public with the posting on the social networks of a shocking cellphone video of the incident – had violated federal law.
Floyd’s death has revived a national debate about excessive police violence against the country’s African American citizens.
The FBI investigation into the matter will assemble witness statements and other evidence before the US attorney’s office considers whether to pursue federal charges against any of the officers. To gain a conviction on civil rights charges in the case, prosecutors would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the officers willfully acted to deprive Floyd of his constitutional rights.
Meanwhile, the investigators called on the public for “calm” as they conduct their probe.
After receiving a complaint, reportedly that a man might be trying to pass a counterfeit $20 bill at a local store, officers arrived on the scene on Monday and found Floyd sitting in his vehicle, and when they ordered him to get out they said he resisted arrest, adding in their official report filed after the incident that after they had handcuffed him and made him lie facedown on the pavement they noticed that he was in “medical distress.”
In the video taken by a passerby of Floyd’s arrest and the events leading to his death, the black man is seen lying facedown on the pavement beside a patrol car with one of the officers kneeling on the back of his neck for more than five minutes without changing position, despite the fact that Floyd can be heard saying that he cannot breathe and begging for the officers not to hurt him until he ultimately loses consciousness.
“Please, please, please I can’t breathe,” and “My stomach hurts. My neck hurts. Please, please. I can’t breathe,” Floyd is heard saying, but the officer never reduced the pressure of his knee and body weight on the man’s neck until an ambulance arrived minutes later and Floyd was loaded onto a stretcher showing no signs of life.
He was later pronounced dead at a local hospital.
At a press conference on Tuesday, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey described the incident as “completely and utterly messed up.”
“I believe what I saw and what I saw is wrong on every level,” Frey said, adding that “Being black in America should not be a death sentence.”
“When you hear someone calling for help, you are supposed to help, and this officer failed in the most basic human sense,” Frey added.
Frey said on Thursday in an interview with CBS that Floyd would be alive today if he had been white, adding definitively that the arresting officer had killed him.
On Wednesday night, clashes and looting erupted in Minneapolis, with rising calls for the arrest of the officer directly responsible for Floyd’s death.
In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, thousands of people took to the streets of the Minnesota capital for the second consecutive day and night to stage a series of protests that targeted the homes of the police officer who asphyxiated Floyd and the county prosecutor, and those protests became more and more violent as the night wore on.
The protests also included clashes with police, who fired tear gas and rubber bullets at demonstrators at several spots around the city, as well as the looting of a Target department store, a Foot Locker and a liquor store, and the burning of an auto parts store, among other incidents.
A pawn shop owner shot one person, who died at a local hospital, police told local media.
Another group of protesters headed for the home of the officer who had knelt on Floyd’s neck – Derek Chauvin – pouring red paint on his driveway and writing “Killer” on his garage door before riot police disbursed them.