A white police officer pulled his gun within 15 seconds of encountering George Floyd in a parked vehicle in May, prompting the 46-year-old black man to cry, panic and beg officers not to kill him during a harrowing ordeal revealed in police body camera videos released Wednesday.
The footage, captured by cameras worn by two of the four officers charged in Floyd’s May 25 death, present an even more desperate scene than previously known. Floyd appeared visibly shaken and scared of police, whom he called “sir” and “Mr. Officer.” He moaned and begged for his life after they pinned him to the ground, a white officer’s knee at his throat for more than eight minutes.
The videos, made available to the public by a Hennepin County judge, were filed as evidence in the former officers’ criminal case and presented for viewing in court just hours before Floyd’s family filed a wrongful-death civil suit against the city of Minneapolis and the four police officers charged in his death. The family accused the officers of violating Floyd’s constitutional rights and the city of turning a blind eye to a culture of excessive force and racism in its police force that allowed the encounter with Floyd to happen.
The federal lawsuit did not specify damages sought. Ben Crump, an attorney for the Floyd family, said the lawsuit is seeking compensation “that makes it financially prohibitive for police to wrongfully kill marginalized people – especially Black people – in the future.”
“It was not just the knee of officer Derek Chauvin on George Floyd’s neck,” Crump said in an afternoon news conference, referring to the former Minneapolis police officer charged in Floyd’s murder. “But it was the knee of the entire Minneapolis Police Department on the neck of George Floyd that killed him.”
The body camera videos, roughly a half-hour each, add to the cellphone footage posted to social media by bystanders that shows Floyd’s dying moments on a South Minneapolis street corner. That footage sparked one of the largest and most sustained series of protests in American history, transforming the nation’s conversation on issues of race and police violence.
In the body camera videos, Floyd appears increasingly anxious and afraid of the officers and complains of being claustrophobic as they try to place him in a squad car. Floyd complained at least 25 times that he could not breathe while he was restrained, telling the police he had been diagnosed with covid-19.
As then-officer Derek Chauvin pressed a knee into his neck, he told Floyd that he must be okay because he was able to speak, saying that he was using up a lot of oxygen pleading for help.
“They’ll kill me. They’ll kill me,” Floyd gasped in response. A few seconds later, Floyd was motionless. He was later pronounced dead.
Chauvin, a 19-year-veteran of the Minneapolis police, has been charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter. Three other officers at the scene – Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao – have been charged with aiding and abetting. All four were fired by the Minneapolis Police.
The new footage came from body cameras worn by Kueng and Lane, rookie officers whose attorneys have sought to deflect blame in Floyd’s death by saying they were following the lead of Chauvin, the senior officer at the scene.
The video offered new details about Floyd’s encounter with police and perhaps lays out the arguments that will dominate the proceedings as the officers are tried. It shows that Floyd appeared to be afraid of any dealings with police, saying he had previously been shot by an officer and did not want it to happen again. He repeatedly said he did not want to be placed in a squad car, insisted he wouldn’t hurt anyone and explained numerous times that he couldn’t breathe and worried that he was going to die.
In the video, Lane pressed Chauvin whether they should reposition Floyd. Chauvin declined and opted to wait for emergency medical help to arrive, keeping his knee on Floyd’s neck. Earl Gray, an attorney for Lane, has cited this statement as proof his client sought to intervene but was rebuffed.
Officers had responded to a 911 call from Cup Foods complaining of a customer who had passed a counterfeit $20 bill. Kueng and Lane were the first officers on the scene, and the video shows that a store clerk pointed them to where Floyd and two others sat in a parked car nearby.
Lane pulled his weapon on Floyd within 15 seconds of first approaching the blue SUV where Floyd sat in the driver’s seat. His body camera shows he twice tapped on the vehicle’s window with a flashlight. Floyd initially didn’t respond, but the second time, he looked over his shoulder and seemed startled to see Lane.
As Floyd started to open his door, Lane ordered him to stay in the car and drew his weapon. “Put your f—ing hands up right now!” he ordered, while aiming at him.
Floyd raised his hands and started to cry. He told Lane he had been shot by police before. Floyd then followed Lane’s order to place his hands on the wheel and leaned his forehead there, too, as he sobbed. Lane placed his gun back in the holster seconds later and ordered Floyd to step out of the car. The footage shows he did not explain why he was asking Floyd to step from the car or what he was investigating.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Floyd responded, according to a transcript of Lane’s body camera. “I didn’t do nothing. . . . What did I do, though? What did we do, Mr. Officer?”
As Lane asked him to step out of the car, Floyd apologized several times and repeatedly asked the officer not to shoot him.
“I’m sorry; I’m so sorry. God dang, man. Man, I got shot. I got shot the same way, Mr. Officer, before,” Floyd told Lane. “Mr. Officer, please don’t shoot me. Please, man.”
“I’m not going to shoot you,” Lane replied, after putting down his gun.
Lane later told investigators from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension he drew his gun because Floyd appeared to fumble around for something in his car, and Lane believed he might drive away.
The video shows Floyd continued to ask officers not to shoot him as he stepped from his vehicle and struggled with officers as they tried to handcuff him.
“Stop resisting, Floyd!” shouted Shawanda Renee Hill, a passenger inside the car.
At several points, Floyd’s knees appeared to buckle, and the officers ordered him to walk.
As Kueng maneuvered Floyd to a sidewalk, Lane asked Hill about Floyd’s behavior.
“Why’s he getting all squirrelly and not showing us his hands and just being all weird like that?” he asked.
“I have no clue. Because he’s been shot before,” Hill told him.
Lane asked whether Floyd was “drunk” or “on something.”
“No, he got a thing going on, I’m telling you, about the police,” Hill replied. “He have problems all the time when they come, especially when that man put that gun like that.”
According to video from Kueng’s body camera, the officer sat Floyd down on a sidewalk and explained that he was being detained for suspicion of passing fake U.S. currency. Floyd said he understood.
“And do you know why we pulled you out of the car? Because you was not listening to anything we told you,” Kueng told him.
“Right, but I didn’t know what was going on,” Floyd tearfully replied.
“You listen to us, and we will tell you what’s going on, all right?” Kueng said.
“Yes, sir,” Floyd told him, appearing to cower back against a wall. He continued to sob.
Lane asked Floyd whether he was on drugs while Kueng pointed out the “foam” around his mouth. But Floyd insisted he was on “nothing” and had been playing basketball earlier. The county’s autopsy of Floyd showed evidence of fentanyl intoxication and recent methamphetamine use, but did not list them as causes of death.
“You acting real erratic,” Kueng said.
“I’m scared, man,” Floyd replied.
The video shows Floyd twisting his body and pushing back as officers tried to place him in the squad car. At one point, Lane walked around to the passenger side, where he tried to pull Floyd in. By then, Chauvin and Thao had arrived, and Lane’s body camera shows him trying to help pull Floyd into the car. But Floyd, using his feet, pushed his way out to the opposite side of the car.
As officers struggled to stand Floyd up, Chauvin asked whether Floyd is going to jail. “Get him down on the ground,” Chauvin said.
According to the video, as Floyd was placed on the ground, his blue sweatpants were half off, exposing black underwear, and he appeared to have lost at least one of his sneakers. Floyd’s legs continued to squirm as Lane took a position holding down his legs; Kueng knelt at his back, and Chauvin pinned his knee at Floyd’s neck.
Floyd’s mouth appeared to be bleeding at that point, after he’d bumped his face inside the vehicle, and Lane requested emergency medical help to the scene.
By then, Floyd had started to complain that he couldn’t breathe. “I just had covid, man,” Floyd said. “I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. Please one of you listen to me.” He repeatedly called out for his mother.
“You’re under arrest, guy,” Chauvin told him.
“All right, all right. Oh my god. I can’t believe this. I can’t believe this,” Floyd said. “Mama, I love you. . . . Tell my kids I love them. I’m dead.”
“You’re doing a lot of talking, man,” Chauvin replied.
As the officers held Floyd to the ground, Chauvin asked the other officers whether Floyd was high. Kueng told him they’d found a pipe on him. Floyd again told the officers he couldn’t breathe.
“You’re doing fine. You’re talking fine,” Kueng said, as Lane told him to take a “deep breath” and Chauvin told him to “relax.”
“They going to kill me,” Floyd said. “They’re going to kill me, man.”
“Takes a heck of a lot of oxygen to say that,” Chauvin said.
Attorneys for Lane and Kueng, rookie officers who had been on the force for less than a week before Floyd’s death, have argued that their clients were merely following orders from Chauvin, the senior officer at the scene, as they kept Floyd pinned to the ground, even as he complained of struggling to breathe.
The footage shows Lane twice asked Chauvin whether Floyd should be moved. In the videos, Lane’s voice is more inquisitive than challenging.
“No, leave him,” Chauvin told him. “Staying put where we got him.”
Lane told Chauvin he was worried about “excited delirium,” citing a term used by medical examiners to describe the sudden in-custody death of people who may be under the influence of drugs or in an agitated state.
“That’s why we got the ambulance coming,” Chauvin said.
“OK, I suppose,” Lane replied.
A few seconds later, Floyd’s legs stop moving, and it’s unclear if he’s breathing. Chauvin had been holding Floyd’s left hand, handcuffed behind his back, and both body camera videos show Floyd’s fingers have become limp.
Lane told Chauvin that he believed Floyd had passed out. When an off-duty firefighter on the scene pressed the officers to check Floyd’s pulse, Kueng couldn’t find one.
At this point, Lane and Kueng appeared to ease their bodies off Floyd’s, but Chauvin keeps his knee atop Floyd’s neck for roughly two more minutes. A responding paramedic is seen checking Floyd’s neck for a pulse, and a few seconds later, after prodded, Chauvin stands up.
Lane’s body camera shows that he jumped in the ambulance and performed CPR on Floyd for at least four minutes trying to revive him. But Floyd’s body was limp, his arms hanging loosely off a gurney. At points, the camera captures Floyd’s mouth agape, his eyes slightly open. His shoulder is scraped and bleeding, apparently from scuffling with police. There is no movement, even after paramedics continue to try to revive him by a machine performing chest compressions.
The roughly hour-long footage, along with transcripts, were filed in court last week by Lane’s attorney as evidence supporting a motion to dismiss charges against his client. But only the transcripts were disclosed in court filings.
The Minneapolis Police Department had previously declined to release body camera footage from the four officers involved in the fatal altercation with Floyd, citing the ongoing investigation. But because the videos from Kueng and Lane were filed as evidence in court, they are considered public data under Minnesota law.
A consortium of local and national media filed a motion Monday calling on the court to publicly release the footage, calling the refusal a violation of public records laws and the First Amendment.
Judge Peter Cahill, who is presiding over the case, responded by making the videos viewable by appointment at a Hennepin County courthouse on Wednesday. The viewings were set up for 11 people per hour between 9 a.m. and 4:15 p.m., with breaks to allow the disinfecting of laptops displaying the footage in an effort to prevent the spread of covid-19.
The media consortium has asked to make a case for releasing the body camera footage to the public next Tuesday, arguing the court has not identified “extraordinary circumstances” that would limit the videos’ release. But Cahill has not responded.
Last week, Cahill issued a gag order in the case after repeated warnings to public officials, prosecutors and defense attorneys that public statements about the case were jeopardizing the four officers’ rights to a fair trial and would likely result in a change of venue.
(c) 2020, The Washington Post · Holly Bailey