SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (KRON) – On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Justice announced they are conducting an investigation into the death of George Floyd.
This comes as civil unrest continues in Minneapolis after a night of rioting by those protesting against the police.
KRON4’s Haaziq Madyun spoke to a Bay Area civil rights attorney about potential charges in this case.
“Is this a murder case, first or second degree murder, or is it a manslaughter? These are important questions,” Civil rights attorney John Burris said.
Burris answered some of the legal questions surrounding the death of George Floyd, who died on Monday while in the custody of officers with the Minneapolis Police Department, an incident recorded on cellphone video that has been seen nationwide.
“Here you have a case of a man with his knee on his neck and the man is pleading saying he can’t breathe and you continue to do it,” Burris said. “Well that may raise the question of malice, if so then you may have a murder case here.”
What would be the potential charge if the officer thought the use of force was justified?
“An officer might say that he didn’t think we was killing this person, that wasn’t his intent, he was trying to hold him down. That may put him in a situation of negligence or mistaken belief that the degree of force that used was necessary,” Burris said. “Then that’s an issue of voluntary manslaughter.”
The four officers involved in the incident were fired within 24 hours. Something the civil rights attorney says he can’t recall seeing in over 40 years of practicing law.
“It’s shocking that it happened so quickly but it is a good thing,” Burris said. “It is the right message that the chief has sent but it may not put him in good stead with his troops. I can tell you that because officers stick together no matter what.”
Burris believes the chief likely made the unusual decision to fire the officers after seeing their police camera videos.
“Absolutely! He would not take any position, such as the one that he did, without first having seen the body worn cameras,” he said.
He talked about the similarities between the death of George Floyd and death of Oscar Grant who was shot dead by a BART police officer on the Fruitvale BART station platform in Oakland back in 2009.
“They both were on the ground. They both were being held down. Granted one was a gun shot and the other isn’t,” Burris said. “Both were not threats to the police officers.”
Civil unrest followed both incidents as well.
“I am not a proponent of lawlessness and beating up people. I don’t believe in that,” Burris said. “The rioting and being out of control like that is not helpful.”
Burris says he is not surprised that there has been no charges or arrests in the Floyd case. He says it typically takes a week or two for the investigation to be complete before charges are filed.
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