George Floyd’s family filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the city of Minneapolis and the four police officers charged in his death, alleging the officers violated Floyd’s rights when they restrained him and that the city allowed a culture of excessive force, racism and impunity to flourish in its police force.
The lawsuit came the same day that members of a city charter commission took public comments on a proposal to dismantle the Minneapolis Police Department. Many residents strongly favored putting the proposal to a citywide vote in November.
The civil rights lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Minnesota, was announced by attorney Ben Crump and other lawyers representing Floyd’s family members. It seeks compensatory and special damages in an amount to be determined by a jury. It also asks for a receiver to be appointed to ensure that the city properly trains and supervises officers in the future.
“This complaint shows what we have said all along, that Mr. Floyd died because the weight of the entire Minneapolis Police Department was on his neck,” Crump said in a statement. “The City of Minneapolis has a history of policies, procedures and deliberate indifference that violates the rights of arrestees, particularly Black men, and highlights the need for officer training and discipline.”
Crump said the lawsuit seeks to set a precedent “that makes it financially prohibitive for police to wrongfully kill marginalized people — especially Black people — in the future.”
Mayor Jacob Frey’s office said he couldn’t comment on pending litigation. Interim City Attorney Erik Nilsson said the city is reviewing the lawsuit and will respond to it.
Floyd, a Black man who was handcuffed, died May 25 after Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck for nearly eight minutes as Floyd said he couldn’t breathe. Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter. Three other officers at the scene — Tou Thao, Thomas Lane and J. Kueng — are charged with aiding and abetting both second-degree murder and manslaughter.
All four officers were fired the day after Floyd’s death, which set off protests that spread around the world and turned into a national reckoning on race in America.
Floyd’s death also sparked calls to abolish the Minneapolis Police Department and replace it with a new public safety department. A majority of City Council members support the move, saying the department has a long history and culture of brutality that has resisted change. The proposal requires a change in the city charter. Most callers to the first hour of a public hearing Wednesday evening urged the charter commission to let voters decide.
The lawsuit comes on the same day that a court allowed public viewing by appointment of video from the body cameras of Lane and Kueng. A coalition of news organizations and attorneys for Lane and Kueng have been advocating to make the videos public, saying they would provide a more complete picture of what happened. The judge hasn’t said why he’s not allowing the video to be disseminated more widely.
According to documents in state probate court, Floyd is survived by 11 known heirs, including five children and six siblings. They live in Texas, North Carolina, Florida and New York. All but one of Floyd’s children are adults. He has no living parents or grandparents. Kaarin Nelson Schaffer, named last week as the trustee for Floyd’s family, is the plaintiff in the federal lawsuit.
The lawsuit takes issue with police policies and training. It says that even though neck restraints can be deadly, the police department allowed them to be used in situations in which deadly force wasn’t warranted. After Floyd’s death, Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said the type of restraint Chauvin had used wasn’t authorized.
The lawsuit also contends that the city acted with “deliberate indifference” when it came to allowing police to use excessive force. It says the city ratified practices that allowed officers to treat Black community members differently and it fostered a culture in which officers weren’t penalized for bad actions.
“It really is about trying to change the culture and behavior of policing,” Crump said at a news conference. “We would have hope that George Floyd did not have to sacrifice his life to bring about these changes. But now we are here, and we are at a tipping point.”
Last year, Minneapolis agreed to pay $20 million to the family of Justine Ruszczyk Damond, an unarmed woman who was shot by an officer after she called 911 to report hearing a possible crime happening behind her home.