George Floyd, a 46-year-old African American man, died May 25 after being handcuffed and pinned to the ground by a white police officer’s knee in an encounter that was captured on video and incited large protests against police brutality and systemic racism in Minneapolis and in more than 150 American cities in the weeks and months that followed.
The explosive footage, recorded by a bystander and shared widely on social media, led to community outrage; an FBI civil rights investigation; and the firing and arrest of the officer, Derek Chauvin. The Minneapolis Police Department also fired three officers who were with Chauvin at the scene.
In June, Chauvin, 44, was charged with second-degree manslaughter and second-degree murder, a more serious charge than he had originally faced. He could be sentenced to up to 40 years in prison.
The other fired officers, Thomas Lane, Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng, face aiding and abetting charges.
After Chauvin’s arrest in May was announced, Floyd’s relatives called the charges “a welcome but overdue step on the road to justice.”
George Floyd was pronounced dead May 25.
On the evening of May 25, a man identified as George Floyd — not yet a household name — was taken to the Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis. He was pronounced dead at 9:25 p.m., according to the medical examiner.
The preliminary results from an autopsy found that Floyd did not appear to have died from strangulation or asphyxiation.
“Mr. Floyd had underlying health conditions, including coronary artery disease and hypertensive heart disease,” prosecutors said in a criminal complaint, which also listed “potential intoxicants.”
The combined effects of his conditions and the way the police restrained him “likely contributed to his death,” the complaint said.
Documents tell how a call about a $20 bill turned fatal.
Around 8 p.m. May 25, Minneapolis police officers responded to a call from a store clerk who claimed Floyd paid for cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill, the Police Department said in a statement. The police said the man 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 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 the officers had called for an ambulance.
According to charging documents, however, the officers had tried to get Floyd into a police vehicle. Floyd struggled with the officers, “intentionally falling down, saying he was not going in the car, and refusing to stand still.”
Floyd began saying repeatedly that he could not breathe.
Chauvin eventually placed him in the police car with Kueng’s help. At 8:19 p.m., 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 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.”
The day after Floyd’s death, the police updated a statement, originally titled “Man Dies After Medical Incident During Police Interaction,” to say that the FBI was joining the investigation after additional information had “been made available.”
A cellphone video shows the aftermath of the arrest.
Bystanders pleaded and cursed, begging the officer to stop. A paramedic arrived and reached under the officer’s knee, feeling for a pulse on the man’s neck.
The medic turned away, and a stretcher was wheeled over. Floyd was rolled onto the stretcher, loaded into an ambulance and taken away.
The video did not show what had happened before he was pinned to the ground by his neck.
Mayor Jacob Frey of Minneapolis said he did not know how the initial police statement, which described a “medical incident,” had come to be written, but he said he wanted to be “absolutely as transparent as possible.”
Additional footage, from cameras worn by two officers, shows a delayed medical response.
The FBI is investigating.
On May 26, Frey announced that the four officers involved in the case had been terminated. “This is the right call,” he said on Twitter.
The Police Department’s statement said that no weapons had been used and that the officers’ body cameras were recording.
Frey said he had asked the FBI to investigate, and in a statement posted on social media said, “Being Black in America should not be a death sentence.”
The same day, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension said in a statement that the FBI was conducting a federal civil rights investigation.
Keith Ellison, Minnesota’s attorney general, announced in June that Lane, Thao and Kueng had been charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder as well as aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter.
Chauvin, who had initially been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in May, had his murder charge upgraded to the second-degree.
In July, Floyd’s family filed a lawsuit against the officers.
Police used tear gas and other means to break up protests in Minneapolis.
After the release of the initial video, demonstrators poured into Minneapolis streets for several nights to protest Floyd’s death.
Officers used tear gas and fired rubber bullets into the crowds.
Images on television and social media had captured businesses being lit on fire and people carrying goods out of a store that had been vandalized. Some demonstrators had gathered at the house of Chauvin and the house of the local prosecutor, according to The Star Tribune.
State officials said that a series of errors and misjudgments — including the Minneapolis police’s decision to abandon a precinct on May 28 that protesters overtook and burned — had allowed demonstrators to create what Gov. Tim Walz called “absolute chaos.”
On May 29, demonstrators returned to the street for a fourth consecutive night in violation of a curfew imposed by Walz, who activated the National Guard to help the police patrol the streets. Protesters had again overwhelmed law enforcement.
Minnesota’s top officials acknowledged on May 30 that they had underestimated the destruction that protesters in Minneapolis were capable of inflicting. The curfew did little to stop people from burning buildings and turning the city’s streets into a smoky battleground.
In total, a 5-mile stretch of Minneapolis sustained extraordinary damage. Not since the 1992 unrest in Los Angeles has an American city suffered such destructive riots.
Protests had also spread across the country to Los Angeles, New York, Boston and Louisville, Kentucky, where demonstrators protested the March shooting by the police of Breonna Taylor, a young Black woman who worked as an emergency medical technician. That shooting is also under federal investigation.
The case has drawn condemnation and comparisons to the death of Eric Garner.
As the video spread on social media, the arrest quickly drew comparisons to the case of Eric Garner, a Black man who died in New York police custody in 2014 after an officer held him in a chokehold. Garner’s repeated plea of “I can’t breathe” — also recorded by a cellphone — became a rallying cry at demonstrations against police misconduct across the country.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, had condemned the force used by the officers in Minneapolis.
“George Floyd deserved better and his family deserves justice,” Biden tweeted on May 26. “His life mattered.”
Days later, he addressed the nation in a brief speech from his Wilmington, Delaware, home and called on white Americans to confront the enduring inequities faced by Black Americans.
“The pain is too intense for one community to bear alone,” Biden said.
President Donald Trump had called Floyd’s death “a very very sad event,” and later tweeted that he had asked for the FBI investigation to be expedited, adding: “My heart goes out to George’s family and friends. Justice will be served!”
Trump later suggested on Twitter that protesters could be shot.
“These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won’t let that happen,” Trump said. “Just spoke to Governor Tim Walz and told him that the Military is with him all the way. Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts. Thank you!”
Walz said Trump’s tweet was “just not helpful.”
“In the moment where we’re at, in a moment that is so volatile, anything we do to add fuel to that fire is really, really challenging,” he told reporters.