The third-degree murder charge against Derek Chauvin was dropped by a judge overseeing the case against the former Minneapolis police officer, Fox News reports. The judge upheld the other two charges against the former officer, second-degree murder and manslaughter.
Derek Chauvin faces charges in connection with the death of George Floyd, who died in police custody as Chauvin pressed his knee against Floyd's neck for nearly eight minutes as Floyd pleaded with the officer. "I can't breath," Floyd chillingly repeated.
Bystanders too pleaded with Chauvin to take his knee off Floyd's neck, with Chauvin dismissing their concerns by saying that the fact that he is talking means he can breath and that Floyd was on drugs. The officers refused to allow an off-duty firefighter to take Floyd's pulse, instead waiting for an ambulance to arrive. Floyd was pronounced dead later that day, with an autopsy proclaiming his death to be a homicide.
Hennepin County Judge Peter A. Cahill dropped the charges at the request of the defense while refusing to drop the other charges against the former officer. He also refused to drop the charges of aiding and abetting second-degree murder against Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng, and Thomas Lane, the other three officers present during Floyd's death.
In Minnesota, a third-degree murder charge only applies to situations where the victim has died, the perpetrator caused the victim's death, and that the action was dangerous to others "without regard for human life." While the judge agreed with prosecutors that Chauvin caused Floyd's death, his behaviour did not put others aside from Floyd in danger, so third-degree murder charged did not apply in this case.
The defense argued that there is not enough evidence to charge the four officers despite the sequence of events being largely captured on video. Chauvin's attorney in particular argued that the officer had no intent to assault or to kill George Floyd. Prosecutors argue instead that Chauvin did intentionally assault Floyd.
Floyd's death sparked a summer of protests across the United States affiliated with the Black Lives Matter movement. While most protesters sought to peacefully demonstrate against police brutality, radical black nationalists and anarchist groups took advantage of the public outcry to launch a nationwide wave of rioting and looting, causing billions in property damage and resulting in more than a dozen deaths.
The judge's decision was welcomed by Minnesota's Democratic Governor Tim Waltz, describing the decision as "an important step towards justice."
Floyd was initially charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter, but Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison updated the charges to include second-degree murder.
The incident was not the first instance of brutality on Chauvin's record. Chauvin's record as a police officer includes 18 official complaints, two of which he was disciplined for. Chauvin has also been involved in multiple police shootings over his 19-year career in law enforcement, one of which was fatal. He has also been accused of using overly aggressive tactics while working at a nightclub.
Chauvin was released from jail on October 7th on a $1 million bail. His trial is expected to begin in March.
Chauvin could face up to nearly 20 years in prison if he is convicted on both charges.