Judge drops 3rd-degree murder charge against Derek Chauvin

A judge on Thursday dropped charges of third-degree murder against Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who used excessive force against George Floyd, a Black man, back in May. The other charges—second-degree murder and manslaughter—still remain.

Chauvin was videotaped on May 25 pushing his knee down on Floyd’s neck, who was on his stomach and handcuffed, for nine straight minutes until he died from the asphyxiation, despite repeatedly telling Chauvin that he could not breathe. Floyd’s death was categorized as a homicide on June 6 by the Hennepin County Medical Examiner.

Three other officers—Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng, and Thomas Lane—were at the scene throughout the incident and appear in the viral video. They were fired alongside Chauvin.

Additionally, Minneapolis Judge Peter A. Cahill declined to dismiss the charges against the other three officers. They face charges for aiding and abetting in the killing of Floyd.

The incident and the viral video that captured the scene sparked nationwide, as well as worldwide, protests against police brutality and systemic racism this past summer, bringing racial injustice back to the forefront of the national dialogue.

While defense attorneys had argued that there wasn’t enough probable cause to charge all the officers, the prosecutors claimed that there was enough to try them on every charge. The prosecutors argued that Chauvin purposely assaulted Floyd and would thus qualify for a second-degree murder charge and that the other officers assisted him.

Ultimately, Judge Cahill agreed with Chauvin’s legal team and decided to drop third-degree murder from the roster of charges against him, a less severe charge than murder in the second degree.

Citing Minnesota Supreme Court precedents, Cahill argued that the only person that Chauvin directly harmed was Floyd and could not have hurt anybody else, meaning a charge for third-degree murder was not applicable to this case because “probable cause does not exist for the third-degree murder charge.”

According to the Star Tribune: “Third-degree murder is an unusual, uncommon count that some defense attorneys have said didn’t suit the Floyd case. Some attorneys have said the charge best fits a situation such as a person randomly shooting into a moving train and killing someone.”

On October 7, Chauvin was released from jail on a bond of $1 million, while the others were released on $750,000 bond.

In the protests that erupted following Chauvin’s release, 51 individuals were arrested in Minneapolis on a variety of charges that were primarily misdemeanors.

All four officers are set to stand trial in March, however, the judge is still deciding on whether or not to try them all together or separately.

You can follow Douglas Braff on Twitter @Douglas_P_Braff.