(Reuters) – The U.S. Department of Justice said on Thursday it had made an investigation into police involvement in the death of George Floyd a “top priority,” after a second day of violent protests in Minneapolis over the unarmed black man’s death.
FILE PHOTO: Protesters gather at the scene where George Floyd, an unarmed black man, was pinned down by a police officer kneeling on his neck before later dying in hospital in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S. May 26, 2020. REUTERS/Eric Miller/File Photo
Experienced prosecutors and investigators from the Federal Bureau of Investigation had been assigned as part of a “robust” probe into whether the police officers involved had violated federal laws, the department said in a statement.
The demonstrations, accompanied by looting and vandalism, began on Wednesday, hours after Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey urged prosecutors to file criminal charges against the white policeman shown pinning Floyd to the street.
A video, taken by a bystander, showed a handcuffed Floyd, 46, lying face down, groaning for help and repeatedly saying, “Please, I can’t breathe,” before becoming motionless. He died in hospital shortly after.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Minnesota, the Justice Department’s civil rights division and the FBI’s Minneapolis Field Office will carry out the investigation.
The victim’s brother Philonise Floyd told CNN on Thursday that he was “tired of seeing black men die” and understood people’s anger but urged protesters to be peaceful.
“To the police, I want them to get everything right, start doing your job the right way because I haven’t been seeing it,” Floyd said.
On Wednesday, President Donald Trump called Floyd’s death a “very, very sad event” after a reporter asked him about it.
White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany on Thursday urged demonstrators to curb the violence and looting.
“Everyone has the right to protest, there’s no doubt about that, but it needs to be peaceful…and in accordance to the law,” she told Fox News.
The city identified the four officers involved in the encounter as Derek Chauvin, Thomas Lane, Tou Thao and J Alexander Kueng. It did not say who knelt on Floyd’s neck, and gave no further information.
Local media has identified Chauvin as the officer who knelt on Floyd. His attorney, Tom Kelly, said in a email to Reuters that he did not have a statement about the incident.
A petition on Change.org calling for authorities to arrest and charge the four had more than 1.1 million signatures on Thursday morning.
In 2007, Chauvin received a letter of reprimand for violating the department’s mobile and video recording policy, according to disciplinary records obtained by Reuters through a public records request.
The Star Tribune also reported that Thao, who went through the police academy in 2009, was one of two officers sued by a man who accused them of excessive use of force. The case settled out of court for $25,000, according to the paper.
Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago, Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut and Maria Caspani in New York; Editing by Alistair Bell