On Thursday, the judge overseeing the case against four former Minneapolis police officers charged with killing George Floyd dismissed a third-degree murder charge against lead officer Derek Chauvin.
Chauvin will now face charges of second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, both of which carry much heavier penalties than the third-degree charge.
KARE Minneapolis reports that all four defendants in the Floyd case — Chauvin, Tou Thao, Thomas Lane, and J. Alexander Kueng — petitioned for the judge to dismiss their charges, but the judge in the matter ruled against all but one of the petitions — the petition to drop the third-degree murder charge leveled against Chauvin. The other three officers are still charged with “aiding and abetting” a second-degree murder.
Thursday morning’s decision is expected to be the first in a flurry of decisions outlining how Chauvin’s and the other officers’ trials will proceed. All four officers moved not just to have their charges dropped but for a change of venue, arguing that, because of the national attention associated with the Floyd case, they cannot get a fair trial in Minneapolis.
KARE explained the judge’s decision as being in line with what defendants in Minnesota might expect.
“Second-degree murder is the traditional murder charge that’s been filed against Chauvin, while second-degree manslaughter is the most common charge used against officers in deadly use of force cases,” KARE noted. “Third-degree murder is a rarely used statute in Minnesota.”
“According to Minnesota law, murder in the third degree is committed when there isn’t intent or premeditation. A typical use of the third-degree murder charge would be used against a person who fired a gun in to a crowd or drove through a crowded sidewalk,” the outlet added, likening the charge to criminal recklessness.
“The language of the third-degree murder statute explicitly requires the act causing the ‘death of another’ must be eminently dangerous ‘to others,'” Judge Peter Cahill explained in his ruling.
“Cahill ruled that while third-degree murder is applicable in cases when a defendant’s actions could have harmed others, prosecutors are accusing Chauvin in the death of just one victim, Floyd,” NBC News added.
The judge noted a jury could reasonably conclude that Chauvin “grossly deviated from the standard of care a reasonable officer would observe, and consciously disregarded the risk of death to Floyd.”
Chauvin and the other officers were caught on tape in May, in a video that quickly went viral, arresting Floyd for allegedly passing a counterfeit bill as payment in a neighborhood grocery store, CUP Foods. Floyd died during that encounter, and, in the video, Chauvin can be seen kneeling on Floyd’s neck for a full 8 minutes. An autopsy later revealed that asphyxiation was the proximate cause of Floyd’s death (the defendants dispute this finding, however).
Chauvin and the other three officers were dismissed from the Minneapolis police force and arrested shortly thereafter. Floyd’s death triggered a national anti-police brutality and anti-racism movement that gave rise to massive protests in most major cities.