Attorney General William Barr said he is confident that justice would be served in the federal investigation into the death of George Floyd, who died in Minneapolis police custody earlier this week.
His comments echo President Donald Trump’s Wednesday remarks expressing similar confidence after calling on the Justice Department (DOJ) and FBI to expedite their investigation into the death of Floyd, which sparked national outrage and days of violent protests in Minneapolis. A widely circulated video showed Floyd lying down and handcuffed as a police officer was seen kneeling on the man’s neck for nearly nine minutes.
“The video images of the incident that ended with [the] death of Mr. Floyd, while in custody of Minneapolis police officers, were harrowing to watch and deeply disturbing,” Barr said in a statement on Friday.
Barr added that the DOJ and FBI are “proceeding quickly” in their investigation to determine whether any federal civil rights laws were violated. He said the federal investigation is separate but parallel with the probe being led by state prosecutors who are in the process of determining whether any criminal charges are appropriate under state law.
“Both state and federal officers are working diligently and collaboratively to ensure that any available evidence relevant to these decisions is obtained as quickly as possible,” he said.
He noted that as normal practice, the state will announce charging decisions first.
“I am confident justice will be served,” Barr said.
The attorney general’s statement comes on the same day a county attorney announced that the former police officer who was seen kneeling on the man’s neck, Derek Chauvin, has been arrested and charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said in a press conference on Friday that they are still reviewing the evidence and subsequent charges may be filed later.
The charges come less than four days after the incident. Chauvin and three other police officers involved in the arrest were fired from the police department earlier this week.
Footage that recorded the arrest showed Floyd had told the officers that he “can’t breathe” before his body went motionless. According to a Minneapolis Fire Department report (pdf), Floyd was unresponsive and “pulseless” when being transported into an ambulance by paramedics from the site of his arrest to the hospital.
Minneapolis police said in a statement on May 26 that officers were responding to a report of forgery when the man resisted. According to the statement, Floyd died after “suffering medical distress.”
A preliminary autopsy conducted by the Hennepin County Medical Examiner revealed that there was “no physical findings that support a diagnosis of traumatic asphyxia or strangulation” but a combination of being restrained by police, his underlying health conditions, and potential intoxicants in his system likely contributed to the man’s death, according to the criminal complaint.
On Thursday, U.S. Attorney Erica MacDonald and FBI Special Agent in Charge Rainer Drolshagen said in a joint statement that they were conducting a “robust criminal investigation” into the circumstances surrounding Floyd’s death and has made the probe a “top priority.”
Isabel Van Brugen contributed to this report.