The white Minneapolis police officer who pressed his knee into George Floyd’s neck as he begged for air was arrested Friday and charged with murder, and crowds broke overnight curfews imposed to try to stem violent protests over police killings of African Americans that have spread to cities across the U.S.
On Minneapolis’ south side, officers fired tear gas and rubber bullets to drive back crowds of protesters who then set cars and businesses on fire and broke into stores, including some near a police station.
Shortly before midnight, scores of officers on foot and in vehicles moved in to curb the violence a day after city and state leaders faced blowback for their handling of the crisis. Protesters on Thursday torched a police station soon after it was abandoned by police and vandalized dozens of businesses.
The Pentagon took the rare step Friday of ordering the Army to put several active-duty U.S. military police units on the ready to deploy to Minneapolis, according to three people with direct knowledge of the orders who did not want their names used because they were not authorized to discuss the preparations.
Ben Hubert, 26, of Minneapolis, said he wasn’t surprised people were breaking curfew and setting fires.
“I’m outraged,” he said of the Floyd case. “But I’m also sad. The injustice has been going on for so long. It’s been swelling for years.”
Downtown, thousands of protesters encircled a police station after the 8 p.m. curfew. “Prosecute the police!” some chanted, and “Say his name: George Floyd!” There was no violence, though some protesters sprayed graffiti on buildings.
The renewed protests came after Officer Derek Chauvin, 44, was charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. He also was accused of ignoring another officer who expressed concerns about Floyd as he lay handcuffed on the ground, pleading that he could not breathe while Chauvin pressed his knee into his neck for several minutes. Floyd, who was black, had been arrested on suspicion of using a counterfeit bill at a store.
Chauvin, who was fired along with three other officers who were at the scene, faces more than 12 years in prison if convicted of murder.
An attorney for Floyd’s family welcomed the arrest but said he expected a more serious murder charge and wants the other officers arrested, too.
Prosecutor Mike Freeman said more charges were possible, but authorities “felt it appropriate to focus on the most dangerous perpetrator.”
As the night dragged on, more fires erupted on the south side: A Japanese restaurant, a Wells Fargo bank, another restaurant, an Office Depot. Many burned for hours. Mayor Jacob Frey tweeted that firefighters could not respond until areas were secure. He said the city was working with the National Guard and the state to “provide support in the south.”
Protests nationwide have been fueled by outrage over Floyd’s death and years of police violence against African Americans. Protesters smashed windows at CNN headquarters in Atlanta, set a police car on fire and struck officers with bottles. Large demonstrations in New York, Houston, Washington, D.C., and dozens of other cities ranged from people peacefully blocking roads to repeated clashes with police.
“You are disgracing our city,” Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms told protesters. “You are disgracing the life of George Floyd and every other person who has been killed in this country.”
Police were trying to put Floyd in a squad car Monday when he stiffened and fell to the ground, saying he was claustrophobic, a criminal complaint said. Chauvin and Officer Tou Thoa arrived and tried several times to get the struggling Floyd into the car.
Chauvin eventually pulled Floyd out of the car, and the handcuffed Floyd went to the ground face down. Officer J.K. Kueng held Floyd’s back and Officer Thomas Lane held his legs while Chauvin put his knee on Floyd’s head and neck area, the complaint said.
When Lane asked if Floyd should be rolled onto his side, Chauvin said, “No, staying put is where we got him.” Lane said he was “worried about excited delirium or whatever.”
An autopsy said the combined effects of being restrained, potential intoxicants in Floyd’s system and his underlying health issues, including heart disease, likely contributed to his death. It revealed nothing to support strangulation as the cause of death.
There were no other details about intoxicants, and toxicology results can take weeks. In the 911 call that drew police, the caller describes the man suspected of paying with counterfeit money as “awfully drunk and he’s not in control of himself.”
After Floyd apparently stopped breathing, Lane again said he wanted to roll Floyd onto his side. Kueng checked for a pulse and said he could not find one, according to the complaint.
Chauvin had his knee on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes, 46 seconds, including nearly three minutes after Floyd stopped moving and talking, the complaint said.
Chauvin’s attorney had no comment when reached by The Associated Press.
The prosecutor highlighted the “extraordinary speed” in charging the case four days after Floyd’s death and defended himself against questions about why it did not happen sooner. Freeman said his office needed time to gather evidence, including what he called the “horrible” video recorded by a bystander.
News of the arrest came moments after Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz acknowledged the “abject failure” in responding to this week’s protests and called for swift justice for the officers. Walz said the state took the lead after the police station burned.
“Minneapolis and St. Paul are on fire. The fire is still smoldering in our streets. The ashes are symbolic of decades and generations of pain, of anguish unheard,” Walz said.
President Donald Trump said Friday that he’d spoken to Floyd’s family and “expressed my sorrow.”
He called video of the arrest “just a horrible thing to witness and to watch. It certainly looked like there was no excuse for it.”
Attorney Benjamin Crump, who is representing Floyd’s family, asked to take custody of Floyd’s body for an independent autopsy.
The doctor who will do the autopsy is Michael Baden, former chief medical examiner of New York City, who was hired to do an autopsy for Eric Garner, a black man who died in 2014 after New York police placed him in a chokehold and he pleaded that he could not breathe.
State and federal authorities also are investigating Floyd’s death.