Minneapolis, MN – Prosecutors filed a motion on Thursday to reinstate third-degree murder charges the judge had previously dismissed against former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin and add the same charge to the other three former officers involved in the George Floyd case.
Matthew Frank, on behalf of Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, cited a precedent-setting ruling on Tuesday in the case of former Minneapolis Police Officer Mohamed Noor, who is serving a 12-and-a-half year prison sentence for shooting Justine Ruszczyk Damond in 2019 when he and his partner were responding to her 911 call, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.
Noor’s attorney had appealed the former officer’s third-degree murder conviction because his actions were aimed at a specific person, rather than “eminently dangerous” to other people.
Third-degree murder in Minnesota is applied to defendants who have caused someone’s death because of “a depraved heart or mind murder that places others in eminent danger of death and disregarding human life” or “by selling, giving away, or administering a Schedule I or II controlled substance,” according to FindLaw.
Third-degree murder charges in Minnesota have traditionally been applied to drug dealers who caused overdose deaths, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.
But on appeal, a three-judge panel ruled in a split vote that third-degree murder charges could in fact be applied when the criminal conduct was directed at a single person.
Chauvin is currently charged with second-degree unintentional murder and second-degree manslaughter.
Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill dismissed the third-degree charge against Chauvin in October of 2020 and cited state law that said “a third-degree murder charge can be sustained only in situations in which the defendant’s actions… were not specifically directed at the particular person whose death occurred.”
But prosecutors said the appellate court’s ruling gave Cahill clear guidance on the elements of the third-degree murder charge and asked that he reinstate it against Chauvin, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.
Frank also asked the judge to permit the state to add a third-degree murder charge to former Minneapolis Police Officers Tou Thao, Thomas Lane, and J. Alexander Kueng who are all currently charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder.
“Noor’s actions arguably put others at risk in addition to the victim, whereas Chauvin’s conduct only directly endangered Floyd,” Frank wrote in his motion. “But this distinction made no difference to the Court of Appeals. That court has now clarified that it is immaterial whether the death-causing conduct in Noor may have been directed at, or may have endangered, others.”
Thomas Plunkett, the attorney for Noor, has said he will appeal the ruling to the Minnesota Supreme Court, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.
But it remains to be seen whether the Supreme Court will take up the case, and that’s unlikely to be determined until after the former Minneapolis police officers stand trial.
Chauvin’s trial is scheduled to begin on March 8 and the other three officers will stand trial in August, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.
The judge separated the trials after it was determined that the courthouse could not accommodate a trial for all four officers at the same time under social-distancing guidelines given how many attorneys and legal support staff were required.
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, 2020.
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.