Jun 3, 2020
Minnesota AG Keith Ellison Press Conference Transcript: All Four Officers Charged in George Floyd Death
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison held a news briefing on the George Floyd death. He said all four police officers have now been charged and have warrants out for their arrest. Read the full speech transcript with details here.
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Attorney General Keith Ellison: (00:00)
… George Floyd is not here. He should be here, he should be alive, but he’s not. About nine days ago, the world watched Floyd utter his very last words, “I can’t breathe,” as he pled for his life. The world heard Floyd call out for his mama and cried out, “Don’t kill me.” Just two days ago, when I became the lead prosecutor in the murder of Mr. Floyd, I asked for time to thoroughly review all the evidence in the case, and we looked at the case, the evidence that’s available and the investigation is ongoing at this time. I also said that I know it’s asking a lot of people to give us time, particularly people who have suffered for decades and centuries of injustice, to be patient and yet, we did get that time.
Attorney General Keith Ellison: (00:48)
And together a very strong, experienced team, which included County Attorney Mike Freeman, his team, and my team, we reviewed the evidence together with the BCA and we have something to announce today. Before I announce it, I want to say thank you for the patience of the people who, they’ve shown me and our entire team in pursuit of justice and I’m here to make these announcements right now.
Attorney General Keith Ellison: (01:19)
First, today, I filed an amended complaint that charges former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, with murder in the second degree for the death of George Floyd. I believe the evidence available to us now supports the stronger charge of second degree murder. We’ve consulted with each other, and we agree. Second, today, arrest warrants were issued for former Minneapolis police officers, J. A. Kueng, Thomas Lane, and Tou Thao. Finally, I’d like to announce that today, Hennepin County Attorney Michael Freeman and I filed a complaint that charges Police Officers Kueng, Lane, and Thao with aiding and abetting murder in the second degree, a felony offense. I strongly believe that these developments are in the interest of justice for Mr. Floyd, his family, our community, and our state. I’m the lead prosecutor in this case, I’ll be speaking and addressing the public, but this is absolutely a team effort. We are working together on this case with only one goal, justice for George Floyd.
Attorney General Keith Ellison: (02:39)
I want to thank first Mr. Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, who has been a true partner in this matter at every step of the way. His experience and insight have been invaluable and will continue to be counted on by the team. I also want to thank County Attorney Freeman’s professional staff who have cooperated and worked together with my staff and the investigating officers from the very minute this case started. I also want to thank Superintendent Drew Evans of the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and his professional staff for the care and speed with which they are conducting this investigation. And I want to thank especially US Attorney Erica McDonald and Special Agent in Charge Rainer Drolshagen, who are conducting a parallel federal color of law investigation.
Attorney General Keith Ellison: (03:33)
I have heard directly from the leadership of the Department of Justice, that there is full support for her leadership in pursuit of her investigation. And as she put it so well, “One team, one goal, one mission.” I agree 100%. As I said earlier, I thank Mr. Floyd’s family, and I can speak for Mr. Freeman and I, jointly think, them along with Us Attorney McDonald. We thank the community for their patience for allowing us the time and space we need over these days to lay these charges. As it is so hard to do, I now ask for continued patience. This case continues to be under investigation, we will not be able to say very much publicly about the investigation, except that we encourage anyone who believes that they have evidence in this case to come forward and to be cooperative with the investigation.
Attorney General Keith Ellison: (04:38)
As we develop the case for prosecution, which we will not be able to say very much publicly about it because our job is to seek justice and obtain a conviction, not to make statements in the press, but do our talking in court. So I ask for your patience again, while we limit our public comments in pursuit of justice. I also ask for your trust that we are pursuing justice by every legal and ethical means available to us. I also want to add a word of caution. The investigation is ongoing. We are following the path of all of the evidence, wherever it leads. We are investigating as quickly as we can, because speed is important. We’re also investigating as thoroughly as we can because being complete and thorough is critically important, but it takes time. The reason thoroughness is important is because every single link in the prosecutorial chain must be strong.
Attorney General Keith Ellison: (05:43)
It needs to be strong because trying this case will not be an easy thing. Winning a conviction will be hard. In fact, County Attorney Freeman is the only prosecutor in the state of Minnesota who has successfully convicted a police officer for murder and he can tell you that it’s hard. I say this not because we doubt our resources or our ability. In fact, we’re confident in what we’re doing, but history does show that there are clear challenges here, and we are going to be working very hard and relying on each other and our investigative partners and the community to support that endeavor.
Attorney General Keith Ellison: (06:30)
To the Floyd family, to our beloved community and to everyone that is watching, I say, George Floyd mattered. He was loved. His family was important, his life had value and we will seek justice for him and for you and we will find it. The very fact that we have filed these charges means that we believe in them, but what I do not believe is that one successful prosecution can rectify the hurt and lost that so many people feel. The solution to that pain will be slow and difficult work of constructing justice and fairness in our society. That work is the work of all of us. We don’t need to wait for the resolution and investigation of this case to start that work.
Attorney General Keith Ellison: (07:22)
We need citizens, neighbors, leaders in government, and in faith communities, civil and human rights activists, to begin rewriting the rules for a just society now. We need new policy and legislation and ways of thinking at the municipal, state and federal levels. The world of arts and entertainment can use their cultural influence to inspire change that we need. There is a role for all who dream of a justice that we haven’t yet experienced. In the final analysis, a protest can shake a tree and can make the fruit fall down, but after that fruit is in reach, collecting it and making the jam must follow. The demonstrations and the protests are dramatic and necessary, but building just institutions is more of a slow grind, but equally important and we have to begin that work as well. We need your energy and we need everyone’s help right now. Thank you very much.
Attorney General Keith Ellison: (08:33)
We’ll take a few questions. Yes ma’am.
[inaudible 00:08:36] has created massive protests and massive [inaudible 00:08:36] and massive unrest.
Attorney General Keith Ellison: (09:02)
We believe we have the duty to charge, the charges did fit the facts in this case and we have done so. And so our concern is to put all the energy we can into putting forth the strongest case that we can without fear or favor of anyone or anything. These charges are based on the facts that we have found and we’re going to pursue them.
Attorney General, the Hennepin County Attorney obviously got the case from him. Was he going to plead this case a murder three case? Is that why the state took over? [inaudible 00:09:43]
Attorney General Keith Ellison: (09:44)
The Hennepin County Attorney did an excellent job by gathering facts and has worked cooperatively with us at every single step of the way. We consulted with each other on these charges, we believe that these are the right charges. Mike Freeman and I, we’ve signed the complaint for these additional charges and so that’s what we’re doing.
The whole nation, indeed the whole world has been waiting for some type of announcement from your office. Can you describe the process involved in your deliberation and what impact do you think today’s decision might have not just in Minneapolis, but for those across the country watching you right now?
Attorney General Keith Ellison: (10:28)
Unfortunately, I can’t delve into our deliberative process, but what I will tell you generally is we gathered all the facts that we could, we reviewed the criminal statutes, we looked at case law, we consulted with each other and we arrived at these charges. We believe that they’re justified by the facts and the law.
[inaudible 00:10:47] what does this impact have on them? This decision?
Attorney General Keith Ellison: (10:53)
The pursuit of justice is always good and right. And I want to signal to them that we hope that they continue to raise the cause of justice, but do it in a peaceful manner. It is their right to express themselves and with that, I will say that they should continue in their own communities to get together, to build just police community relationships. We need the faith community to be involved, we need arts and entertainment to help inspire us toward justice. We need everybody. There’s a lot more to do than just this case and we ask people to do that.
[inaudible 00:11:32] a lot invested here. Are we talking months, are we talking months?
Attorney General Keith Ellison: (11:44)
Thank you for asking that question because part of my comments were to help set expectations in a realistic light. In order to be thorough, this is going to take months and I don’t know how many, but it is better to make sure that we have a solid case, fully investigated, researched, before we go to trial, than to rush it. And so it will take a while and I can’t set a deadline on that. Way in the back.
Chris Hrapsky: (12:23)
Attorney General, Chris Hrapsky, KARE 11. The Floyd family had asked for a first degree murder charge, as well as their attorneys. You decided to charge second degree, unintentional murder while committing a felony. Can you explain what that charge means? Unintentional murder versus second degree intentional murder, please?
Attorney General Keith Ellison: (12:43)
Well, according to Minnesota law, you have to have premeditation and deliberation to charge first degree murder. Second degree murder, you have to intend for death to be the result. For second degree felony murder, you have to intend the felony and then death be the result without necessarily having it be the intent. So that’s the state of the law. The felony would be, we would contend that George Floyd was assaulted and so that would be the underlying felony.
Will you accept any plea deals in this, or do you expect all four to go to trial? And secondly, when will the body camera footage would be released?
Attorney General Keith Ellison: (13:36)
I really don’t have any idea of what the negotiations or anything like that, it’s simply way too early to begin that conversation. At this point, we are preparing to try this case. If something else happens along the way, we’ll see. But at this point we don’t have any plans in that direction.
The body camera footage?
Attorney General Keith Ellison: (13:59)
That is something that I don’t have anything to report right now. At this time we’re focused on investigating the case. And so I think at this time I will consult with the BCA and other partners on the case and we’ll come to a conclusion about that. Again, we believe in transparency, but we also believe in a thorough investigation, most importantly.
[inaudible 00:14:23] have the three officers been taken into custody?
Attorney General Keith Ellison: (14:24)
I’ll allow Mr. Drew Evans to address that issue. Yeah.
Superintendent Drew Evans: (14:31)
Good afternoon, my name is Drew Evans. I’m the superintendent of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. We are in the process of taking the officers into custody. I can report that one is in custody now and the other two, we are in the process of taking into custody and expect them to be this afternoon.
Have these officers provided any statements to your investigators, which typically happens after a death in custody. Have you spoken with them?
Superintendent Drew Evans: (14:57)
As the Attorney General said, we can’t speak about all the details of the case, other than what’s really in the complaint at this time. I will tell you with any investigation, as I’ve told you all from the very beginning, we have teams of investigators from the BCA jointly investigating this with the FBI, trying to obtain all information. In this case, I will tell you that as a regular course of all of our investigations to attempt to interviews with all of the officers. We have interviewed numerous individuals in this case and additional information will be provided as we move forward.
Attorney General, do you have the folks you need to do this outside or will you be seeking some sort of outside counsel or special counsel that’s you’re authorized to do under the law?
Attorney General Keith Ellison: (15:37)
At this time, I believe we have the team to complete this work. I’d like to just introduce David Voigt as well. He is a deputy at the attorney general’s office. He heads the criminal division and he has the lawyers to get this done. And also we have some experienced lawyers that head up the the county attorney’s office, we’re working on this thing together.
[inaudible 00:16:00] timing of this decision, I know the Floyd family was hoping to have more information about the charges before the memorial tomorrow. How much did that factor into your decision as well as the protest [inaudible 00:16:13] across the country as well [inaudible 00:16:17]?
Attorney General Keith Ellison: (16:17)
I can say that I did not allow public pressure to impact our decision making process. I was prepared to withstand whatever calls came. We made these decisions based on the facts that we have gathered since this matter occurred and made the charges based on the law that we think applies. So that’s my answer.
Attorney General Keith Ellison: (16:53)
It’s going fine. It’s going great. I spent a lot of time in Hennepin County when I was a trial lawyer myself, and I know all the lawyers there. I respect them all, admire them all we’re going on fine. Can I introduce you? Okay. [inaudible 00:17:19] represents Hennepin County’s attorney’s office, he’s the first deputy for Mike Freeman.
Attorney General Keith Ellison: (17:31)
No, I’m going to let the people who prosecute cases every single day prosecute this case. Now it is true that I’ve tried a lot of cases and I’ve tried homicide cases, but on the other side of the courtroom. The people who know how to prosecute, I’m going to let them do that work.
[inaudible 00:17:51] gravity of these charges?
Attorney General Keith Ellison: (17:55)
I think it helps me anticipate what some of the attacks on our case might be.
[inaudible 00:18:04] fair trial here?
Attorney General Keith Ellison: (18:06)
I see no reason why we can’t get a fair trial here.
Real quick, the charges that were just filed, if my math is correct, do the three officers now face the potential same maximum sentence as Officer Chauvin?
Attorney General Keith Ellison: (18:21)
Yes. Well… yes, sir.
I’d like to apologize if you’ve addressed this before, but does your involvement in this case now put you on the sidelines in terms of the legislative process in working for police reform legislation?
Attorney General Keith Ellison: (18:41)
No. I’ll continue to do all the duties that I have, which involve legislative, which involve a lot. We’ve been very active in the civil space. We’ve been active in representing state agencies and government. I’ll continue to supervise that as I always do, but I feel very confident in it because I have excellent professionals who are going to be focused on this, like a laser beam every single day.
Attorney General, could you just take us into that room where the decision was made, where you [inaudible 00:19:17] for this case filed these charges, the moment you had [inaudible 00:19:24].
Attorney General Keith Ellison: (19:23)
I feel a tremendous sense of a weight. I feel this is a very serious moment. I can honestly tell you, I take no joy in this, but I do feel a tremendous sense of duty and responsibility.
Are [inaudible 00:19:47] in max security, or are they going to be put somewhere else.
Attorney General Keith Ellison: (19:49)
I don’t know the answer to that question, maybe…
Superintendent Drew Evans: (19:54)
I would just answer that in terms of that is left up to the various sheriffs that we work with on this. They make as Commissioner Schnell noted the other day, security decisions and the best place for everybody in light of everything that’s going on right now in the Twin Cities. Again, those are decisions based on the analysis of the sheriff and they work closely with the Department of Corrections to make sure that they have everybody in their custody where they should be based on safety assessments.
Speaker 1: (20:24)
Thank you everybody, you’ll have [inaudible 00:20:25] later.
Attorney General Keith Ellison: (20:24)
Thank you all very much.
Attorney General Keith Ellison: (20:36)
I will say to them that I pledge and I promise to hold everyone accountable for the behavior that we can prove in a court. And that if I don’t charge it, it means that we did not have the facts to do that. So I’ll simply say that as the people who are legal professionals, professional prosecutors, we are taking our duty seriously. And we are working with the people who have gathered the facts, and we have done the work that we believe is possible, ethical, and right.
Attorney General Keith Ellison: (21:25)
Yeah. Well, I mean, look, let me be honest here. I mean, our country has under prosecuted these matters in Minnesota and throughout the country. And so I think the trust as a result of historically not holding people who are public guardians accountable for their behavior in situations where we should have, so that I think is the origin of the trust problem. But we can’t control the past. All we can do is take the case that we have in front of us right now, and do our good faith best to bring justice to this situation, and we will.