Minneapolis, MN – The Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled Friday morning that former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin should face a third-degree murder charge in the death of George Floyd in addition to second-degree manslaughter and unintentional second-degree murder.
Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill dismissed the third-degree murder charge against Chauvin on Oct. 22, 2020 but let the other charges stand.
The appeals court’s ruling reverses Cahill’s decision and sends it back Hennepin County District Court, WCCO reported.
In their ruling, the judges wrote that Cahill should have followed the precedent set in the case of former Minneapolis Police Officer Mohamed Noor, who was convicted of third-degree murder in the death of Justine Ruszczyk Damond in 2017.
The Minnesota Appeals Court upheld Noor’s conviction in February and that prompted prosecutors to appeal the judge’s earlier ruling on the third-degree murder charges, WCCO reported.
Chauvin’s trial was scheduled to begin on Monday.
However, it wasn’t known if Cahill would immediately reinstate the third-degree murder charge or delay the start of jury selection on March 8 to allow for Chauvin’s defense team to make additional arguments, WCCO reported.
“The district court has discretion to consider any additional arguments Chauvin might raise in opposition to the state’s motion,” the appeals court’s ruling said, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
The city has been preparing for protests and the possibility of riots in the days leading up to the trial, KARE reported.
Minneapolis and its surrounding areas have not yet recovered from the hundreds of millions of dollars in damage that were causing by the rioting and looting that erupted in the wake of Floyd’s death.
City leaders have shut down municipal buildings and erected fences and razor-wire barricades, KARE reported.
It has also advised business owners to contact their insurance company and make sure they have coverage in the case of more civil unrest in the city.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, who is leading Chauvin’s prosecution, celebrated the decision of the three-judge appellate panel, WCCO reported.
“We believe the charge of 3rd-degree murder, in addition to manslaughter and felony murder, reflects the gravity of the allegations against Mr. Chauvin,” Ellison said. “Adding this charge is an important step forward in the path toward justice. We look forward to presenting all charges to the jury in Hennepin County.”
The other three former Minneapolis police officers charged with aiding and abetting the death of Floyd will face trial together in August.
Cahill initially ruled that all four officers had to be tried together because separate trials were too complicated after attorneys for the other three officers tried to have their cases separated from Chauvin’s.
But then the judge reversed himself in January after the chief judge in Hennepin County brought up security and safety concerns related to having so many high-profile defendants at one time under pandemic social-distancing guidelines.
Hennepin County District Court Judge Toddrick Barnette said he hadn’t been aware of how many attorneys and support staff would be present at trial and told Cahill that the designated courtroom was “not an adequate venue when enforcing social distancing,” according to The Washington Post.
The chief judge suggested that fewer defendants per trial would mean fewer legal advisors in the courtroom so that social distancing could be observed.
Attorneys for the former officers have argued that Floyd’s death was a result of an overdose and not the fault of the officers who were arresting him.
The officers had responded to a call about a counterfeit $20 that Floyd had allegedly used to make a purchase at a deli on May 25.
Store employees pointed out the suspect to police and they arrested him.
The complaint used to charge Chauvin said Floyd actively resisted arrest and then fought being put in the back of a police car once he had been handcuffed.
Viral cell phone video showed then-Officer Chauvin and three other officers holding Floyd on the ground.
The video showed Officer Chauvin held his knee on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes, during which time the suspect lost consciousness.
Chauvin remained on Floyd’s neck for almost three minutes after he was unresponsive.