Three more former Minneapolis police officers were charged Wednesday in the death of George Floyd, five days after charges were brought against a fourth officer who was seen in a video kneeling on Floyd’s neck.
The three former officers, Tou Thao, Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng, were charged with aiding and abetting murder, according to criminal complaints filed by the state of Minnesota. The murder charge against the fourth, Derek Chauvin, was also elevated to second-degree, from third-degree.
Chauvin, who held his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes while detaining him on May 25, was also initially charged Friday with manslaughter by the Hennepin County prosecutor.
All four officers were fired on May 26, after a video showing Floyd's arrest went viral.
One of the officers was in custody while another two were in the process of being put in custody, officials said Wednesday.
All four of the men face a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison, according to the criminal complaints.
The Minnesota Fraternal Order of Police did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the elevated murder charge against Chauvin or the charges filed against the other three officers Wednesday. It was not immediately clear if the officers had lawyers.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison asked the community for continued patience on Wednesday as his team of prosecutors investigate the case, noting that prosecution of police officers for such a charge is a difficult task.
"I feel a tremendous sense of weight, I feel that this is a very serious moment," Ellison said. "I can tell you I feel no joy in this, but I do feel a tremendous sense of duty and responsibility."
The attorney general insisted that public pressure was not a factor in his decision to elevate the murder charge or charge the other officers involved in the case.
Ellison explained Wednesday after the charges were announced that first-degree murder would require proving premeditation, which the facts do not support at the moment. Instead, his team will assert that Chauvin committed a felony assault which unintentionally resulted in Floyd's death, which fits the requirements for second-degree murder, Ellison said.
"To the Floyd family, to our beloved community and to everyone that is watching, I say George Floyd mattered. He was loved," Ellison said. "His family was important. His life had value and we will seek justice for him, and for you, and we will find it."
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said in a statement that Wednesday's developments were a significant step forward, but the anguish on display following Floyd's death goes beyond a single incident.
"George Floyd’s death is the symptom of a disease," Walz said. "We will not wake up one day and have the disease of systemic racism cured for us. This is on each of us to solve together, and we have hard work ahead."
Multiple videos have been released on Floyd’s arrest, with one showing him pinned down by three different officers near a patrol car while a fourth stands near his head.
"Please, please, please, I can't breathe," Floyd begged in one video caught by a bystander. "My stomach hurts. My neck hurts. Please, please. I can't breathe."
He died while in custody that day.
Lane and Kueng were the first officers to arrive at scene that night, as they investigated a report that a possible counterfeit $20 bill had been passed at the Cup Foods grocery store, according to the complaint against Chauvin. When Lane found Floyd parked nearby, the officer pulled his gun, had Floyd get out of his car and handcuffed him, the complaint said.
A cuffed Floyd was eventually put face-down on the pavement with Kueng holding down his back and Lane pressing down his legs, the charging document against Chauvin said. While a distressed Floyd said “I can’t breathe,” “Mama” and “please” several times, Lane asked, “Should we roll him on his side?” according to prosecutors.
“No, staying put where we got him,” Chauvin responded, according to the complaint. “I am worried about excited delirium or whatever,” Lane allegedly said. “That’s why we have him on his stomach,” Chauvin responded, according to the complaint.
Several minutes later, Kueng checked Floyd’s right wrist for a pulse and allegedly said, “I couldn’t find one.”
The official autopsy from the Hennepin County medical examiner listed Floyd's cause of death as a "cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression."
The medical examiner ruled that Floyd's death was a homicide but added that he had "significant" underlying conditions, including hypertensive heart disease, fentanyl intoxication and recent methamphetamine use.
But an examination funded by Floyd’s family reached a somewhat different conclusion. It found that police officers' pressing on his neck and body cut blood and airflow to his brain, causing him to die by mechanical asphyxia, pathologists hired by the family said.
The autopsy paid for by the family also found that Floyd had no other medical conditions that contributed to his death.
Benjamin Crump, the attorney representing Floyd’s family, on Wednesday released a statement on behalf of the family: "This is a bittersweet moment. We are deeply gratified that Attorney General Keith Ellison took decisive action, arresting and charging all the officers involved in George Floyd's death and upgrading the charge against Derek Chauvin to felony second-degree murder."
He added that the decision to charge all four officers before Floyd's body was buried was gratifying and a source of peace for the family. The funeral is scheduled for Tuesday in Houston, Floyd's hometown.
"These officers knew they could act with impunity, given the Minneapolis Police Department's widespread and prolonged pattern and practice of violating people's constitutional rights," Crump added.
Crump said on TODAY Tuesday that he expected the charges to be filed against the other three officers and that the family's autopsy report was significant because it “pays particular attention to the two knees at the back compressing his lungs.”
Since the beginning of 2015, officers from the Minneapolis Police Department have rendered people unconscious with neck restraints 44 times, according to an NBC News analysis of police records. Several police experts told NBC News that number appears to be unusually high.
The Minnesota Department of Human Rights on Tuesday filed a civil rights charge against the Minneapolis Police Department to launch an investigation. The probe will look at the department’s policies, procedures and practices over the past 10 years to determine if it engaged in systemic discriminatory practices, Gov. Tim Walz said.
Speaking during a news conference on Wednesday, George Floyd’s son, Quincy Mason Floyd, said he was happy that all of the officers were charged.
“My father shouldn’t have been arrested,” he said. “We deserve justice.”