MINNEAPOLIS — One was a veteran of the Minneapolis Police Department who moonlighted as an off-duty security guard. The other provided security at a Salvation Army store and spent some of his evenings at local clubs, working as a bouncer.
In the year before their fatal encounter, George Floyd, 46, and the officer now charged with his death, Derek Chauvin, 44, worked at the same Minneapolis Latin nightclub, both part of the team responsible for keeping rowdy customers under control.
Their paths crossed for the last time in the waning light of a Memorial Day evening, outside a corner store known as the best place in town to find menthol cigarettes. Within an hour, Floyd was dead, his last pleas and gasps captured in a horrifically graphic video.
In a move that has since prompted protests in cities across the country, Chauvin knelt down on Floyd behind a police vehicle outside the store. For eight minutes and 46 seconds, according to a criminal complaint filed Friday by the Hennepin County district attorney, the police officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck in silence, staring toward the ground as his captive gasped repeatedly that he could not breathe.
Bystanders waved their cellphones, cursed and pleaded for help, and still, for two minutes and 53 seconds after Floyd had stopped protesting and became unresponsive, the officer continued to kneel.
The case has become part of a now-familiar history of police violence in recent years in which African American men have died in encounters that were shockingly mundane in their origins — Eric Garner, who died after a 2014 arrest in New York for selling cigarettes without tax stamps; Michael Brown, who died in an encounter with police the same year in Ferguson, Missouri, after walking in the street instead of using the sidewalk.
Floyd’s case began with a report of a counterfeit $20 bill that a storekeeper said he tried to pass to buy cigarettes.
“He died for nothing — something about a fake bill — that was nothing,” said Jason Polk, 53, a city bus driver and one of a number of South Minneapolis residents who have expressed outrage over the case.
Gov. Tim Walz called the fatal arrest, and the nights of violent protests that have come after it, “one of our darkest chapters.”
“Thank God a young person had a camera to video it,” the governor said.
With Chauvin in custody and formally charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, prosecutors must now try to understand what happened in the chaotic moments before Floyd was taken to the Hennepin County Medical Center and pronounced dead at 9:25 p.m.
Accounts from witnesses, cellphone and surveillance video and charging documents released Friday tell much of the story of how the “forgery-in-progress” arrest unfolded.
Floyd had been a star football and basketball player in high school, moving to Minneapolis about five years ago. When he returned to Houston for his mother’s funeral two years ago, he told a cousin that Minneapolis had come to feel like home. “He was such a happy guy, he loved to be around people, loved to dance and he loved Minneapolis,” said Jovanni Thunstrom, who owned the Conga Latin Bistro where Floyd worked security on salsa nights. “He walked in every day with a smile on his face.”
It was another club, El Nuevo Rodeo, where both Floyd and Chauvin worked. Maya Santamaria, who sold the club in January, said she doubted that the two men interacted.
Floyd worked the occasional weeknight, she said, while Chauvin worked security on weekends over the past 17 years. Sometimes during the club’s boisterous “urban nights,” she said, when it draws a primarily African American clientele, Chauvin was sometimes overly aggressive with customers, sometimes using pepper spray, she said.
“I did have words with him on various occasions, when I thought he was not reacting appropriately based on the situation at hand,” she said. “It was like, zero strikes and you’re out.”
Floyd’s younger brother, Rodney Floyd, 36, said he was the center of any room he walked into. “Always smiling, always somebody you could talk to and know that you would not be judged.”
The fatal encounter began just before 8 p.m., when Floyd entered Cup Foods, a community store run by four brothers, and a store clerk claimed that he had paid for cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill. The police got a call from the store at 8:01 p.m.
“Um, someone comes our store and give us fake bills, and we realize it before he left the store,” the caller said, according to a transcript released by the authorities, “and we ran back outside, they was sitting on their car.”
The store clerk demanded the cigarettes back. “But he doesn’t want to do that, and he’s sitting on his car cause he is awfully drunk and he’s not in control of himself,” the clerk said, according to a transcript of the call to police. “He is not acting right.”
The dispatcher pressed for a description, and the caller described the man as tall, bald, about 6 feet tall.
“Is he white, black, Native, Hispanic, Asian?”
“Something like that,” the caller replied.
“Which one? White, black, Native, Hispanic, Asian?”
“No, he’s a black guy,” the caller said.
Not long after, Angel Stately, a regular customer and former employee, arrived at the store looking for menthol cigarettes. The police were already outside. Stately said the clerk, a teenager, was feeling bad; he had called the police, he told her, only because it was protocol.
The clerk held up a folded bill and showed it to her. The bill was an obvious fake, she said. “The ink was still running,” she said.
Stately said she saw an officer approach Floyd, with his hand at his gun at his hip.
The charging documents say that officers found Floyd in a parked blue car with two passengers. Soon, additional police units arrived and the officers tried to get Floyd into a police vehicle. But he struggled.
“Mr. Floyd did not voluntarily get in the car and struggled with the officers, intentionally falling down, saying he was not going in the car, and refusing to stand still,” according to the charging document.
Even before he was placed on the ground under Chauvin’s knee, according to the prosecutors’ account, while standing outside the car, Floyd began saying repeatedly that he could not breathe.
Chauvin tried to place him in the police car with Officer J.A. Kueng’s help.
At 8:19, Chauvin pulled Floyd out of the passenger side of the squad car. Floyd hit the ground, face down, handcuffs still on. Kueng held Floyd’s back while Officer Thomas Lane held his legs.
Chauvin lodged his left knee in “the area of Mr. Floyd’s head and neck,” the documents said, and Floyd continued to protest: “I can’t breathe,” he said repeatedly.
He called for his mother. He said, “Please.”
One of the officers dismissed his pleas.
“You are talking fine,” one officer said, according to the charging documents.
At least one officer was worried: Lane asked if the officers should roll Floyd over on his side.
“No, staying put where we got him,” Chauvin replied.
“I am worried about excited delirium or whatever,” Lane said.
“That’s why we have him on his stomach,” Chauvin responded.
At 8:24 p.m., Floyd stopped moving.
Kueng checked Floyd’s right wrist for a pulse. “I couldn’t find one,” he said.
Still, none of the officers moved.
At 8:27 p.m., eight minutes and 46 seconds after he had lowered himself onto Floyd’s neck, Chauvin finally released his knee.
The medical examiner’s office listed the time of death as 9:25 p.m.