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May 31, 2020 7 PM Press Conference Transcript

5/31/2020 10:02:36 AM

Video source: TPT Twin Cities PBS Facebook Live (May 31, 2020, 7:00 PM)

Governor Walz: Good evening, Minnesota. Last evening we asked you to honor a curfew, a stay-at-home order. We asked you so that we could regain order on the streets, but it was much broader than that as I mentioned earlier this morning. We asked you to help us create the space so we could have those important conversations to deal with the systemic problems that caused what you see to happen.          

Today tens of thousands of you took that cherished right and exercised your right to get out there and peacefully protest. You made your voices heard. You spoke loudly about the need for justice and swift justice, and you talked about the need to make meaningful change on systemic racism.  Now I’d like to address what many of you saw within the last hour, a horrifying image on our television, a semi-truck illegally entering the closed freeways, appears to be with a flammable or toxic substance, driving nearly full force into a crowd of thousands of peaceful protestors.                       

I've been briefed at this point in time. The driver was taken to Hennepin County Medical Center with injuries sustained, being pulled from the vehicle. Commissioner Harrington will follow up further.  I believe that driver was arrested.  We do not have any confirmed cases of injuries. We're hearing some things on social media that several people were taken by civilians to the hospital. I can't confirm that at this time.                             

What I can tell you is that law enforcement responded to that situation immediately. The reason for that was is to protect the peaceful protestors to make sure that it did not happen. We need to clear the bridge to ensure that there was nothing volatile with the truck and the situation as we speak is still happening. I think the incident just underscores still the volatile situation we have out there. I don't know the motives of the driver at this time. But at this point to not have a tragedy and many deaths is simply an amazing thing. We'll get followed up further on the current situation by Commissioner Harrington and Major General John Jensen. But I’d like to tell you what I heard out there today and I want to address the issue of that. Folks across Minnesota and this country as they gathered to express their frustration and their pain, one of the things they've been making very very clear, they don't trust the process. They don't believe justice can be served, and their frustrations are they believe that time and time again the system works perfectly well as it was designed to deny those rights and deny justice to communities of color. We have to make that process work for people.    

We have to start making sure trust is restored. And I spent the day and the last week in many conversations with many people about this issue. And I have made a decision that I think so many others have made, that Keith Ellison, our Attorney General of Minnesota, needs to lead this case. And I say that with much experience to say it.  I say it as someone who's known and seen the leadership of attorney General Ellison for decades.                      

I had the privilege and the pleasure to go into the United States Congress in the class of 2006 and serve for 12 years with attorney General Ellison.  I watched him lead on the issues of civil and human rights, I watched him gain the respect of the entire United States Congress, I watched him formulate and think about things that at the time people said, we can't do that, we can't get them done. Keith Ellison was the person there to get that. He understood the systemic issues that were holding us back.                             

And as a member, one, of 435 in the United States Congress, his voice was loud. It was also my privilege in 2018 when I was given the privilege of becoming the governor of Minnesota; I entered that with Keith Ellison becoming the Attorney General of Minnesota. He's my lawyer, if you will, for the State of Minnesota. And I’ve watched his vision and passion and when I say "my lawyer" in the state of Minnesota, that's the people's lawyer. He's done that with a command of the law but with the command of what the law means to people.

What it means to stand in front of justice and expect to get that. So this decision is one that I feel takes us in that direction and the step to start getting justice for George Floyd. When I spoke to the Floyd family, they were very clear; they wanted the system to work for them. They wanted to believe that there was trust and they wanted to believe that the facts would be heard and justice would be served. And I can tell you in Minnesota, having Keith Ellison as the lead on this case that will happen. With that, attorney General Keith Ellison.  

Attorney General Keith Ellison: Thank you, governor. My name's Keith Ellison; I’m the Attorney general for the state of Minnesota. And it is with a large degree of humility and great seriousness that my office, I accept for my office the responsibility for leadership on this critical case involving the killing of George Floyd. I want to thank my good friend of many years, mike freeman, for the hard work he's done. We expect to work together. 

There is many resources, talent and ability in his office on cases like this. And I just want to let everyone know that we are going to bring to bear all the resources necessary to achieve justice in this case. And that means that we won't leave any resources on the sideline as we pursue justice. I've had an excellent conversation with Mr. Freeman and we will be working together. This case is unusual because of the way that Mr. Floyd was killed and who did it. At the hands of the defendant, who was a Minneapolis police officer, but it is not unusual in the sense that the attorney General's office handles criminal cases and works with counties all the time. This is not something that we're not used to. We have a criminal division of highly competent prosecutors that I have tremendous confidence in and we have talked, we believe we have the capability and will work with our counterparts in Hennepin County to make sure that justice is achieved.

Now, if I may, I would like to just anticipate a few questions. Tonight we're not prepared to talk about what the charges are going to be, who's going to be charged. It's just too early to discuss that matter. 

Tonight we are announcing our role in this case and we'll begin the very earnest process immediately and have already begun to do so. Let me also note, a dose of reality, prosecuting police officers for misconduct, including homicide, murder, is very difficult. And if you look at the cases that have been in front of the public over the last many years, it's easy to see that that is true. Every single link in the prosecutorial chain will come under attack as we present this case to a jury or a fact finder. 

And we need to make sure that we are prepared. We intend to be prepared. And, so, I just want to let the public know that we are pursuing justice, we are pursuing truth, we're doing it vigorously, and we are pursuing accountability. Still, I will be asking for your trust because certainly, some people will want to know every single detail that we're working on.  We will not be able to share that with you. But I want to let you know, and I want to ask you for your trust that we are pursuing justice, we are pursuing it relentlessly and we are pursuing it on behalf of the people of the state of Minnesota.  So thank you very much. Commissioner Harrington, go right ahead.

Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington: Thank you, sir. I'm John Harrington, the commissioner of the department of public safety. I'll give you a little background on how this day started and speak a little bit to the near-tragedy of the tanker truck almost running over folks on 35w.  At the end of last night, we checked in to see how things had gone with our overnight approach to keeping the peace in Minneapolis and St. Paul and we noted that we had made about 143 arrests. 

We also noted some other trends that we mentioned earlier today. Noted the organizations of these riots. And I do once again call them riots and I differentiate them from the peaceful protests we've seen today, people coming to express their first amendment rights, coming to express their remorse about the death of George Floyd, people coming to talk about racism and police brutality. Part of the trend line that we've been tracking is we've been noticing that as we had talked about our desire to reduce fires, we are now finding caches of incendiaries all over the metro area and in greater Minnesota adjacent to spots where fires had been set or where we had large riotous confrontations. Bottles of gasoline, bottles of oil and gasoline mixed and preset into grassy areas or hidden in boxes immediately adjacent to areas where we have seen a number of the fires, a number of the arsons. We've also continued to note the presence of what we believe to be a cache of stolen vehicles with the plates removed that are being used to transport these flammables.        

We are seeing the proceeds from some of the looting and also other weapons, including rocks and other projectiles that we have seen there.  As we prepared for today, we prepared with some thought about how we thought tonight might go and as part of that, we brought forth a  recommendation for the curfew that had been very successfully used yesterday to be extended through tonight. So the curfew will be extended tonight from 8:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. on Monday. And you can expect that officers will be enforcing the curfew tonight again.              

I will ask you, I will beg you, please stay home. Please stay with your businesses. Please stay with your family. Please do not go out and about.  Please do not go for a walk or anything.  What we want you to do, we want you to be safe. And the safest place for you tonight in this very troubling time as we're finding incendiaries, we're finding weapons, we're seeing folks driving around in vehicles that are set up to avoid detection and avoid contact with the police. The safest place for you is at home.  And that is what we're asking the public to do. 

This afternoon as we prepared for our officers to go out, we staged a similar number of officers we had yesterday. We have rapid response teams that are out already, and you would have seen that if you were watching the video about the tanker truck. We were able in no small part to get to the tanker truck as quickly as we could because we had bike officers and we had rapid response teams out there.

In addition to that, we have mobile field force teams that are also out tonight in case we do run into a major confrontation with a significant body of people that want to riot. Once again, I think that's an important distinction. We are out to stop criminal behavior. We are out to keep the peace. But given the curfew, we want everyone to stay home, which will make it far simpler for first responders, fire, police, and medics to take appropriate action with that. 

This afternoon as we were gearing up, we saw a tanker truck. I do not have the owner or the name of the tanker truck yet; I’m waiting for that, literally drive through what we believe, we were estimating a crowd of between 5 and 6,000 protestors, demonstrators, who were at us bank stadium.  They had moved on to 35w, and as we did yesterday, we had shut down the freeway because we wanted to keep these protestors safe. We have recognized that having people on the freeway is a dangerous, hazardous place for them to be. 

So one of the things that we have learned over the years is that by shutting down the freeway, we put them in a place where they will be safe or at least safer to get them to move as they demonstrate and make -- have it done safely. Amid that crowd, the truck drove through at high speeds, was chased down by protestors, and the truck stopped.  The driver was taken out of the truck by the protestors and he was then taken to Hennepin county medical center, as I understand it, or to the closest available medical center for injuries sustained. While at the medical center, he is being taken into custody. Minnesota State Patrol and the BCA are jointly investigating this case as a criminal matter.  And we will have more information about who and what and where and all the rest of that as it further develops. 

In closing, I want just to say one more time; the curfew starts tonight at 8:00. We have been working with community groups all over the twin cities, native American community groups, Somali community groups, African American church leaders, we have been talking to community leaders throughout the twin cities area and they have been helping us get the word out that the curfew has been continued for another night. Please, if you hear me, tell your family, tell your friends, tell your young ones that the best place for them tonight is at home with them where they will be safe. At this time I’ll introduce major adjutant General John Jensen of the Minnesota National Guard.  

National Guard Major General John Jensen: Good evening, everybody. I apologize, my throat's a little sore today. I spent most of the day traveling through Minneapolis/St. Paul visiting my soldiers and my airmen and spent a long day encouraging them, thanking them and just generally having a conversation with them. Today and through tonight, Minnesota National Guard will be on 29 missions and we have two that are currently pending. The vast majority of these missions, of course, are in Minneapolis and St. Paul. But in coordination with the department of public safety, we're also conducting operations in Brooklyn Center, Eagan, and Bloomington. The Brooklyn Center one I’d like to highlight very quickly because it's a very unique mission for us at this point. In Brooklyn Center, we are assisting the Red Cross in a shelter in place facility for people who have been displaced due to the protests and demonstrations. My second, my last item for tonight is just a point of clarification to clear up what has been shown on recent media posts that I’ve seen.  And it deals with an immediate and credible threat against the Minnesota National Guard.  This afternoon as part of a National Guard bureau media roundtable, myself and two other adjutant Generals were interviewed by approximately 30 members of the national media. And on a specific question as it related to arming the Minnesota National Guard and why was the Minnesota National Guard, I covered an FBI threat that we had received last week, and if you remember last week when we addressed this between myself and the local media, I talked about that.  Well, this was new information for the national media, and they picked up that story and ran it.  And a couple of stations here in Minnesota picked that up as new information. It's not. It's the exact threat report that we had received last week, and, again, made available to governor Walz and was one of my key reasons for wanting to arm the Minnesota National Guard as I felt we had a credible immediate threat against the Minnesota National Guard. That's all I have this evening.  Thank you. 

Governor Walz: Thank you, General Jensen. We were just updated, Commissioner Harrington and myself, that the truck driver of the incident on 35w has been released from Hennepin County medical center and is in police custody at this time. Before I take questions, I’d like just to mention in this time as we said of stress, of heartache, of us as Minnesotans and as Americans understanding how we address some of these toughest issues, you don't have to look very far to see how we do it. We do it as a community. At 94 and Lexington, a food drive was going on and people lining up around the corner.

Numerous stories being reported by the local media and here of schools gathering and helping out folks and then my wife, Gwen, and I were down on lake street this morning to watch and look at people coming out to help their neighbors scrubbing graffiti and sweeping and cleaning and showing the pride in their community and the support they had. So, Minnesotans that part of us is there and it is there strongly. I would ask again to make the case, this is not done yet with those who seek to disrupt. We're asking you once again to please stay home. Please, by 8:00, get off the streets, get home. Please assist and allow our folks to make sure those people who have placed those flammables around and mean to do damage to us are not allowed to do so. And let's move another step forward towards that healing. At this time any of us would be glad to answer questions. 

Reporter: Are you still finding -- are there areas that have already burned, have you found some new areas? 

Governor Walz: John.

Commissioner John Harrington: So a question about where we're finding flammables. We have found them in areas that were having heated protests, for a bad word, where there were protests last night. We found them in neighborhoods over in the lake street area where there had already been fires over the last several days. And we have seen them in cars that we stopped as recently as this morning. So we're finding them in caches that look like they may have been planted a little while ago, maybe three, four days ago. And we're finding them in some places where it really looks like this is within the last 24 hours or more recently than that even. In terms of where we're finding them.                     

Reporter: And then on the truck, do you know yet where -- how, where it got onto the freeway?    

Commissioner John Harrington: The MNDOT cameras, as best as we can determine, the truck was on the freeway already as we were closing the freeway. So it doesn't -- does not appear from the cameras that we've seen that it went around any barricades or went through any barricades.  So our best estimation at this point, it's early in looking back at the video, is that it was on the freeway when it was -- but that does not in any way absolve the driver from driving through a crowd of people at speed. He may have been stuck on a freeway, we certainly would understand, and we would have understood him stopping to get our assistance to get him off of the freeway or any number of different things that could have been done. That is not and I think most people have seen this video that is not anywhere close to what was done. 

Reporter: Thank you.

Reporter: We saw something on social media regarding the possibility that there weren't enough resources to stop the semi from getting onto 35.  Is that true? Was this a loophole, if you will, a literal break in the barricade that allowed the semi to continue? 

Commissioner John Harrington: In terms of this being a lack of resources, no. We had more than adequate resources out there. We were shutting down the freeway because that was -- we were going to shut down the freeways as we did last night later.  We moved that in our timeline up, but we had adequate resources that way. That was not the issue at all. And as to more than that, that will be something that the state patrol and our folks and MNDOT will look at as we reconstruct this case, look at the video and get more detailed information. We'll have more once we've done that.

Reporter: The injuries sustained that you mentioned, was that related at all to the driver being pulled out of the cab and possibly attacked by any of the group there, or what were the injuries? Was it related to the abrupt stop on the bridge? How did he get those injuries?

Commissioner John Harrington: I do not have that information at this time. But we will certainly get that information for you.  But at this time, all we know is that he was injured, and it was deemed the appropriate ems response to take him to a close hospital, but the fact that he has already been released from medical custody at that point tells me that the injuries are not life-threatening.  If he were in serious or critical condition, I would expect he would still be in medical care.  

Reporter: Regarding injuries in general, so no one was hit by the truck as it plowed through that crowd?

Commissioner John Harrington: As far as we could determine from the witnesses and the folks we've talked to, we have not found anybody that's reported an injury to us. I’ve heard from some of my staff who has been tracking social media that there were possible injuries and people may have been transported by friends or others, but at this point, if they were, they haven't reported to a local hospital because we would have picked up on that. And they haven't reported to state patrol or local police because we would have gotten wind of that. So at this point, I don't have any information that there were, in fact, injuries. 

Reporter: Do you have information on who the driver is? You have him in custody.  What's his name?

Commissioner John Harrington: I will have that information. But I don't have that information at this time. 

Reporter: What would you say to them, you know, protestors, those who are going to the demonstrations during the day, particularly as they're trying to draw that distinction between what is a peaceful protest during the day, what you're asking people to do by going home at night, they thought they were abiding by these rules set forth and then they ended up being targets themselves.  Was there any kind of message that you would share with those Minnesotans that perhaps they need to know as they continue to demonstrate?

Commissioner John Harrington:  I don't have a clear message for that. We respect the first amendment right.  We supported their right, when they were at our bank stadium. As I mentioned, any time anybody walks onto a freeway, it is a dangerous, dangerous thing to do.  We recognize that many people have done that as a way of highlighting their need for making sure that their message is noted. But we always -- we would never suggest that that is a good vehicle. There are better places to make your message known. But regardless of that, nobody should be run over. Nobody should get -- should risk that kind of injury or should have to fear that kind of injury for expressing their first amendment rights. That's just fundamentally wrong. I've got staff who said this was shades of the case in Charlottesville, that this is -- that this reminded them of. Fortunately, at this time, it does not appear to have had the same fatal result. But there are no mincing words around this. A truck at speed, a tanker truck at speed driving into a  crowd, I don't know what his intent was, I don't know -- I don't have the information that you're asking about, a name, but there's just no way for me to see that as being anything other than one of the most dangerous things I’ve ever seen. 

Reporter: Mr. Floyd's family has rejected the medical examiner's cause of death and is expected to release an autopsy report tomorrow. Have you prepared for that? 

Commissioner John Harrington:  I have not, no. That's on the side -- the other side of the house from the work in the executive office. So I don't know.  The Attorney General said he's not going to speak on specifics on that. So, no, not at this time.  Part of the process.

Reporter: Question for the Attorney General. If you and Hennepin county attorney mike freeman disagree on a decision, who gets the final say? 

Attorney General Keith Ellison: The governor has asked me to take this case and that's what we're going to do.  I anticipate that we're going to be working constructively together. You know, attorney General -- I mean, county attorney mike freeman called me as well.  He and I are friends. We have a working relationship. And, so, I don't anticipate any problems.

Reporter: You have the final say?

Attorney General Keith Ellison: Yes.

Reporter: Attorney General, is it possible for you also to please address a picture that has gone somewhat viral on social media with you holding a book that some consider somewhat controversial, as you're taking a lead role in this case?  Can you address that and what that means?

Attorney General Keith Ellison: It means nothing. I mean, look, I was at a bookstore, I saw a book, and it means nothing. It's just a complete diversion. And it's nothing. 

Reporter: One more question. Are you going to release like a full list of folks who have been arrested post-curfew? And then are there folks now who have been held, arrested in custody, who are not in Hennepin County or Ramsey County but are other places? 

Commissioner John Harrington: The information on who is booked is public information and is available from the county jails where they were booked at.  At this point, I had not intended to put together a list of people that were arrested. That might be something as we're looking at our after-action reports that might make some sense. And we have had people that were arrested in Dakota County. In other venues, Anoka county, so we have been primarily focusing on the twin cities, and, so, Ramsey and Hennepin counties have been the jails that we have worked with probably the most extensively. Still, we do know that individuals have been arrested during the last five, six days in other counties in the metro area and other counties around the state of Minnesota, frankly. So that will be one of the challenges of trying to give you a comprehensive list that if they were arrested in Anoka County on Tuesday night, we weren't looking for that particular piece of information at the time and we'd have to go sort of backward and retrospectively try and piece together a history. But it does make some sense to try and catalog the arrests. Once that's done since all that information is public data, I don't think we've arrested very many juveniles at this point, aside from those that would have a data practices reason for them being redacted, I would expect that that information is public.

Reporter: Well, we have looked at those lists, and most of them are from Minnesota. So, how does that fit with what you've been telling us that they're from out of state?

Governor Walz: We addressed the issue this morning. We talked about as this goes in a chaotic situation, more data is coming in. I mentioned the case this morning as we find out where folks are from, that's where they're from. It doesn't excuse the behavior; it doesn't change anything. We're not trying to set a narrative. I mentioned this morning very ability, first of all, to watch this, to believe it, find it hard to believe that our people would burn our buildings, burn down and ruin our businesses that are decades in the making, threaten the safety of their neighbors.  

But I don't -- wherever they're from, they're doing that type of behavior. So I’ll keep going.  We'll get you that.  There's not a narrative other than, if you're doing something illegally, you shouldn't be doing it.  And when the state is coming in, we will try and update it as quickly as possible. What I would tell Minnesotans is, you've proven this. You've proven that if we do this, and we lift our voices, in a horrific situation, we need to listen, we need to hear that.  Today we heard you loud and clear. My expectations are, we have the best person with attorney General Ellison to prosecute this case. The justice system will work its way out.

The conclusion will be the one that we base our system on, which is fairness. And then the justice is doled out. What cannot take away from these messages is firebombs being thrown on our businesses, by people running rampant at a time to instill fear into this. This is where the social compact is coming back.  We are squeezing them out.  That peaceful crowd today had to jump and fear for their lives and subduing that truck with the help of law enforcement made sure the person who was driving to hurt peaceful protestors is in police custody and will be charged to the fullest extent that we can do. So I’ve asked you all, you've seen it in your streets last night, when we do this right when we communicate together. I understand the fear, I understand the mistrust, we hear it loud and clear, I understand the results are that was played out horrifically in the murder of George Floyd, but we do this right together and we get a change.  

So I’m going to ask you, we're about 30 minutes away from asking you, on this night, to create more space for this positive dialogue and changes. Create more space to show the community. Create more space for us to continue to rebuild trust, rebuild our community. The team here at the state's emergency operation center will continue to update throughout the night for the media and I would ask each of you, again, parents, call your children. Friends, call your other friends. Go home tonight, and let's gather again tomorrow and bring about more positive change. Thank you.

Reporter: Should more be done about the cars driving around without license plates? Should more of them be getting pulled over? Do we have any plans with that? 

Governor Walz: John, do you want to answer that one?  

Commissioner John Harrington: Yeah. It's an operational question. 

Governor Walz: Thank you, all. 

Commissioner John Harrington: We have flagged that for all the police chiefs and all the sheriffs in the state of Minnesota. And we're also sharing it with the chiefs of police and the public safety centers in our adjoining states to see if there is a pattern here. We are beginning to track those cars that we have stopped and that we have towed in. To try and see if there is a nexus in terms of where they were stolen, whether we can find any physical evidence that helps us link these together. The fact that we've seen so many of them in so many places now makes us believe that this is part of that pattern that shows that this is, in fact, organized activity and not some random act of rage.   

Reporter: So if you see them, you're pulling them over?

Commissioner John Harrington: We're pulling them over. In Bloomington, that one, as he got out, he pulled out a gasoline can and doused the car himself and tried to light the car on fire.  Which is not something you see on most traffic stops, frankly.

Reporter: Can I ask another question about this? Are there any new updates on what you're finding with more arrests, with more of these stops, the groups involved, the people involved? Who is driving this? The specific groups that are organizing. 

Commissioner John Harrington: I’m not sure if I understand your question. So if you could just restate it.   

Reporter: Reports of different kinds of online groups, organizing, whether they're right-wing extremists, other groups, the president has suggested Antifa, you know, is involved. What do you know about who is coming to town, who is doing this? 

Commissioner John Harrington: What I know is, there are many rumors. There's much stuff up on social media and that we are feeding that to our intelligence units to try and see if we can validate or vet any of those things and at this point, I don't have any credible evidence of any specific group being here in Minnesota. I have lots of people calling me to say, have you heard. Still, I haven't had anybody that can bring me any evidence, either through social media or through the information that validates that or makes that a credible piece of information.   

Governor Walz: I’ve got to get the commissioner back to command. Thank you, everybody. 

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