Washington, May 29 (efe-epa).- Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was arrested Friday on charges of third-degree murder for his part in the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man detained after allegedly paying for groceries with a counterfeit $20 bill.
Chauvin, who is white, was taken into custody after a third night of protests and violence in Minneapolis and neighboring St. Paul.
Minnesota Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington announced the arrest during a joint press conference with the state’s governor, Tim Walz.
The chief prosecutor in Hennepin County, which includes Minneapolis, later told reporters that he expected the three other now-ex-cops involved in Monday’s incident would also be arrested.
“We felt it was important to focus on the most dangerous perpetrator,” County Attorney Mike Freeman said.
Cell-phone video shows that in the course of Monday’s arrest, Chauvin had his knee pressed to Floyd’s neck for a number of minutes, even as the handcuffed man complained repeatedly of being unable to breathe.
Bystanders urged Chauvin to relent, pointing out the Floyd was not moving, but the officer held his position until paramedics arrived.
All four officers who took part in detaining the 46-year-old Floyd were fired Tuesday based on what could be seen in the video.
But protesters, joined by some public officials, demanded that the former police be arrested and charged.
“Why is the man who killed George Floyd not in jail?,” Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey wondered aloud earlier this week. “If you had done it or I had done it, we would be behind bars right now.”
Chauvin, 44, was named in more than a dozen complaints of police misconduct during his 19 years on the force in Minneapolis.
Harrington, the state’s top law enforcement officer, described Chauvin’s actions as murder.
“That’s what it looked like to me,” Harrington said Friday. “I’ll call it as I see it.”
Amid hope that Chauvin’s arrest would make it possible for authorities to restore calm after the scenes of looting, vandalism and arson, Frey announced that an 8.00 pm-6.00 am curfew would take effect Friday night and continue through the weekend.
US President Donald Trump was among those who criticized Frey for failing to restrain the violence.
While Harrington insisted on distinguishing between peaceful protesters and the “arsonists, the thieves, the burglars, the vandals who were tearing apart the city of Minneapolis.”
Walz assumed authority over the situation in Minneapolis and St. Paul – known as the Twin Cities – in the wee hours of Friday, deploying state police and the National Guard.
“This has obviously been the most difficult week in Minnesota in recent history and maybe our entire history,” the governor said. “Our community, especially our black community, is hurting beyond words. Minneapolis and St. Paul are on fire. The fires still smolder in our streets. The ashes are symbolic of decades and generations of pain, of anguish.”
He said that the state government decided to step in after the police precinct headquarters where Chauvin and the other three officers were assigned was torched by protesters.
Frey had earlier ordered police to evacuate the precinct house.