"I can't breathe": FBI to investigate death of man detained by Minneapolis PD; Update: Mayor announces four officers "terminated"

How did a forgery suspect end up dead while in custody of the Minneapolis police department? The suspect, later identified as George Floyd, initially resisted arrest, but police had him handcuffed on the ground for several minutes while an officer put his knee on his neck. A bystander video picks up after Floyd had already been corralled, and it picks up comments from witnesses urging the police to get off his neck.


Now the FBI has opened an investigation into an incident that seems inexplicable when watching the video. By the four-minute mark, Floyd had clearly stopped being responsive, and yet the knee remained while bystanders demanded that police “check his pulse.” Be warned — this is not easy to watch, and some language is NSFW:


A man appearing to yell “I can’t breathe” as a Minneapolis police officer pinned him to the ground and put his knee on the man’s neck for about eight minutes died Monday night, prompting the FBI and Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to step in and investigate.

Video of the incident shows that a white police officer had a black man pinned to the ground next to the back tire of his patrol car with his knee on the man’s neck.

“Please, please, please I can’t breathe,” the man begs. “My stomach hurts. My neck hurts. Please, please. I can’t breathe.”

Onlookers outside the Minneapolis deli urge the officer to get off the man.

“You’re stopping his breathing right now, you think that’s cool?” one man says. “His nose is bleeding, look at his nose!” says a woman.

The officer doesn’t budge.

And then the man goes silent.

“Did they f***ing kill him?” one woman says at the 6:30 mark. Only after that does a state trooper check Floyd’s pulse — and the officer kept the knee on his neck. In fact, the officer kept his knee on the suspect’s neck until EMS showed up with a gurney, by which time Floyd is clearly incapacitated, if not already dead.


We don’t know what preceded this, and we won’t until we see the body-cam footage, but it’s tough to imagine what required this continued application of potentially lethal force for this long. Remember that police have limits on the application of lethal force just as citizens do, albeit somewhat broader in terms of public safety. The limit is that justification ends when a threat to life or serious injury ends, which is what the FBI and the MBI will both keep in mind when investigating Floyd’s death.

The technique itself is not unusual, but its application far past the threat is. Using this technique to end resistance and cuff a suspect is understandable; keeping a handcuffed person in this position for several minutes isn’t. They could have loaded Floyd in the back of a cruiser while processing the rest of the arrest, which again was for forgery, not a violent crime.  It seems clear that by the time this video began, Floyd was subdued enough to control any more resistance and to assure the safety of officers at the scene.

Minneapolis mayor Jacob Frey got emotional while perhaps jumping to a conclusion a bit soon. “What we saw was horrible, completely and utterly messed up,” Frey said today, choking back tears. “Whatever the investigation reveals, it does not change the simple truth that he should be with us this morning”:

In an early morning news conference at City Hall, Minneapolis police Chief Medaria Arradondo said he asked for the federal probe after watching the video from a bystander and receiving “additional information” about the incident involving several officers, who have since been relieved of duty.

“There was additional information that I had received that quite frankly, from community sources, that just provided more context than I had preliminarily,” he said, without elaborating the nature or source of the information.

Mayor Jacob Frey said at the same news conference it was clear from the video that race played a part in the encounter.

“Being black in America should not be a death sentence,” said Frey. “For five minutes, we watched a white officer press his knee into a black man’s neck. Five minutes. When year hear someone calling for help, you’re supposed to help. This officer failed in the most basic, human sense. What happened on Chicago and 38th last night is awful. It was traumatic. It serves as a reminder of how far we have to go.”


Minneapolis police have a spotty track record on use of lethal force, to be kind. Arradondo owes his position to a previous lethal-force incident that forced his predecessor to resign. This won’t help build any confidence in the local PD either, especially since they appear to have not told the truth in their initial statement on this incident:

In the chaotic hours after the incident, police issued a news release that was to be sharply contradicted by the bystander footage.

The release said that man, whose identity wasn’t released but who is thought to be in his 40s, died at a nearby hospital a short time after the incident, during which he suffered a medical episode while struggling with officers. Speaking to reporters a few hours after the incident, police spokesman John Elder would not elaborate on whether the man had any pre-existing medical conditions, but said that he appeared to be under the influence of alcohol or a narcotic. He insisted that he was limited in what he could divulge because the case had already been turned over to the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA).

The man got out of the car on his own, but then “physically resisted” officers, Elder said. After they handcuffed him, officers noticed that the man was in “medical distress,” Elder said, and an ambulance was called to the scene.

That turned out to be entirely false. Floyd wasn’t having a “medical episode” until the police officer’s knee hit his neck. (What part of a “medical episode” would be helped by the application of a knee to a neck for 10-plus minutes?)  If that was what the officers reported, then they lied. If that’s not what the officers reported, then the police department itself lied. And if bystanders hadn’t recorded as much of the incident as they did, it’s possible that Floyd’s death would have been written off — which seems to be what the MPD hoped would happen.


Of course, we have yet to see the body cam video and the statement from the officers involved, so we can’t necessarily rush to judgment in the other direction. However, it’s going to take one hell of an explanation to make this video irrelevant.

Update: Frey’s not waiting for the internal review, it seems:

Four? Only two can be seen on camera, and only one used force against Floyd. One has to wonder whether this immediate termination has something to do with the now-debunked narrative MPD tried to use yesterday.

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