The Justice Department (DOJ) said May 28 that it’s conducting a “robust criminal investigation” into the circumstances surrounding the death of George Floyd and has made the probe a “top priority.”
The department had also assigned experienced prosecutors and FBI criminal investigators to determine whether former Minneapolis Police Department officers involved in Floyd’s death had violated federal law, U.S. Attorney Erica MacDonald and FBI Special Agent in Charge Rainer Drolshagen said in a joint statement.
The statement comes after President Donald Trump said he had ordered the DOJ and FBI to expedite their investigation into the death of Floyd and subsequent violent protests, which were accompanied by looting and vandalism, in Minneapolis that were reportedly sparked by anger over Floyd’s death.
Floyd, 46, a father of two, was pronounced dead May 25 after he was taken into custody by police in Minneapolis. A widely circulated video showed Floyd lying down, handcuffed, and gasping for air as a white police officer was seen kneeling on the black man’s neck.
He was heard repeatedly saying, “I can’t breathe,” before becoming 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.”
The video prompted Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey to call for the arrest of the police officer who was seen kneeling on Floyd’s neck. That officer and three others involved in the arrest have since been fired.
The DOJ and the FBI said they are currently compiling information and evaluating evidence and are seeking witnesses who believe they have relevant information.
“Upon conclusion of the FBI’s investigation, the U.S. Attorney’s Office will determine whether federal criminal charges are supported by the evidence. If it is determined that there has been a violation of federal law, criminal charges will be sought,” the statement said.
The probe will be conducted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Minnesota, the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, and the FBI’s Minneapolis Field Office.
On May 28, Frey requested that the governor deploy the Minnesota National Guard to help with protests that have erupted across the state in response to Floyd’s death.
In a social media post, he called for an end to the violence as protests escalated.
“Please, Minneapolis, we cannot let tragedy beget more tragedy, the area along Lake has become unsafe. We are asking for your help in keeping the peace tonight,” he wrote.
Isabel Van Brugen and Katabella Roberts contributed to this report.