‘I Can’t Breathe’: 4 Minneapolis Officers Fired After Black Man Dies in Custody


The F.B.I. and Minnesota law enforcement authorities are investigating the arrest of a black man who died after being handcuffed and pinned to the ground by an officer’s knee, in an episode that was recorded on video by a bystander and denounced by the mayor of Minneapolis on Tuesday.

After the shocking video circulated widely on social media, the mayor said in the afternoon that four police officers had been fired. He identified the victim as George Floyd.

The arrest took place on Monday evening, the Minneapolis Police Department said in a statement, after officers responded to a call about a man suspected of forgery. The police said the man, believed to be in his 40s, was found sitting on top of a blue car and “appeared to be under the influence.”

“He was ordered to step from his car,” the department’s statement said. “After he got out, he physically resisted officers. Officers were able to get the suspect into handcuffs and noted he appeared to be suffering medical distress.”

The statement said that officers called for an ambulance and that the man was taken to Hennepin County Medical Center, “where he died a short time later.”

On Tuesday morning, without referring to the video recorded by a bystander, the police updated a statement, titled “Man Dies After Medical Incident During Police Interaction,” that said that additional information had “been made available” and that the F.B.I. was joining the investigation.

On Tuesday afternoon, Mayor Jacob Frey of Minneapolis tweeted that the four responding officers involved in the case had been terminated. “This is the right call,” he said.

The bystander video shows a white Minneapolis police officer pressing his knee into a black man’s neck during an arrest, as the man repeatedly says “I can’t breathe” and “please, I can’t breathe.”

As the video spread on social media on Monday night, the arrest quickly drew comparisons to the case of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man who died in New York Police custody in 2014, after an officer held him in a chokehold. Mr. Garner’s repeated plea of “I can’t breathe” — also recorded by a cellphone — became a rallying cry at demonstrations against police misconduct around the country.

“Being black in America should not be a death sentence,” Mayor Frey said in a statement on Tuesday. “For five minutes, we watched a white officer press his knee into a black man’s neck. Five minutes.”

The video recorded in Minneapolis shows that, after a few minutes, the man, lying face down in the street with his hands cuffed behind his back, becomes silent and motionless; the officer continues to pin the man to the pavement with his knee.

Bystanders plead and curse, begging the officer to stop and telling him the man’s nose is bleeding. Another officer faces the people gathered on the sidewalk. An ambulance medic arrives and, reaching under the officer’s knee, feels for a pulse on the man’s neck.

The medic turns away, and a stretcher is wheeled over. The arrested man is then rolled onto the stretcher, loaded into an ambulance and taken away.

The video did not show what happened before the officer pinned the man to the ground by his neck. Chief Medaria Arradondo of the Minneapolis police said at a news conference on Tuesday that he had received information the night before that he “deemed necessary to contact the special agent in charge of the Minneapolis bureau of the F.B.I.”

He said he asked the agency to investigate and declined to comment on what information he had received.

The F.B.I. is conducting a federal civil rights investigation, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension said in a statement. The state bureau also said that it was conducting its own investigation at the request of the Police Department, and that it would release its findings to the Hennepin County district attorney’s office.

The names of the officers would be released after interviews, it said.

Benjamin L. Crump, a Tallahassee, Fla., lawyer who has risen to prominence by taking on similar cases, said he was retained to represent Floyd’s family. “This abusive, excessive and inhumane use of force cost the life of a man who was being detained by the police for questioning about a non-violent charge,” Mr. Crump said in a statement.

Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota, called in a statement for a “complete and thorough” investigation into the encounter, which she described as “another horrifying and gut-wrenching instance of an African-American man dying.”

In a separate statement, John Gordon, executive director of the ACLU of Minnesota, said, “The systemic targeting of and use of unnecessary force against people of color is woven into the fabric of our law enforcement institutions and stems from the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow in this country.”

The “horrifying video” underscores the immediate need for a thorough, fair and transparent investigation into the case, he said, and “the officers involved — not just the perpetrator, but also those who stood by and did nothing — must be held accountable.”

Similar high-profile cases have generated large protests and given rise to a national debate over police conduct toward black people, including in 2016 after an African-American man, Philando Castile, was shot dead by a police officer at a traffic stop in a suburb of St. Paul, Minn. The officer, Jeronimo Yanez, was later acquitted of second-degree manslaughter and of endangering safety by discharging a firearm in the shooting.

“If you’re sad, I get it. If you’re angry, that makes complete sense. If you feel the need to protest, of course, we want to make sure that people are able to express themselves,” Mayor Frey said at the news conference Tuesday, with a reminder about the risks of the coronavirus.

He described the event on Monday night as “awful” and “traumatic.”

“When you hear someone calling for help, you’re supposed to help,” he said. “This officer failed in the most basic, human sense. All I keep coming back to is this: This man should not have died.”

The Police Department’s statement said that no weapons were used and that the officers’ body cameras were recording. Mr. Frey said that he had seen the video “taken and posted by a civilian” but not the body camera footage.

“Whatever the investigation reveals, it does not change the simple truth: He should still be with us this morning,” the mayor said. “I believe what I saw and what I saw is wrong on every level.”

Derrick Bryson Taylor contributed reporting.





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